All readers of this blog are invited to the event, “Islamophobia & Religious Discrimination: new perspectives, policies and practices”. Details as follows. If you are intending coming along to the event, please ensure that you register beforehand – scroll down for details:
Wednesday, 09 December 2009
14:00 – 17:00
G15 (Main Lecture Theatre), Muirhead Tower, Main Campus, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT
More than a decade ago, the Runnymede Trust report Islamophobia: a challenge for us all noted that Islamophobia had reached previously unprecedented levels. Shortly after, a Home Office report suggested that other forms of religiously-based discrimination was also on the increase. Since then, a whole raft of legislation has been introduced in an attempt to address this issue. Most recently, the Equality Act 2006 introduced a ‘religion or belief’ strand of equalities protection that has regularly made the headlines through a number of high profile cases, for example where a Christian registrar asked to be excluded from performing same-sex civil registrations.
A recent report by the National Community Forum (available here) has once again highlighted how some white working class people in today’s Britain feel that their concerns on a range of issues are being ignored. In fact many believe that the Labour Government have abandoned them completely.
Based on a series of interviews that were undertaken on four predominantly white housing estates around the country, the report found that some in the white working classes felt a sense of resentment, unfairness and betrayal. As a result, many were prone to believe the many rumours that are routinely spread by the far-right about migrants and other minority communities thus exacerbating tensions between them.
One particular issue was the belief that white working class families were failing to be allocated their rightful social housing due to immigrants who were – or so it is alleged – going straight to the ‘front of the queue’.
For those who have been following the thread on whether the Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) agenda is divisive and more importantly whether it’s working, here is the letter that I sent back to the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) following their inherently bland response to me a few weeks ago (read their letter here):
Thank you for your recent letter, ref P1/PD/027933/08, of which I have noted the comments.
I would like you to clarify two particular points for me.
The first relates to the sixth paragraph in your letter where you state that:
“…we have seen that violent extremism can emerge from even the most cohesive and empowered communities. It is clear that we need a specific response to this challenge.”
Could you detail what ‘specific response’ including examples you have made in this respect.
The second relates to your final comment:
“As a Government we are clear that all forms of extremism should be challenged, and we are taking action on this front – including work to tackle extreme right wing groups.”
When I was requested to attend the Cabinet meeting in Birmingham a short while ago, I was invited to put a question forward to Hazel Blears at the Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG). For me, the question had to be about the PVE programme:
Given that the PVE Pathfinder programme in Birmingham primarily funds Muslim groups and organisations to address perceived issues and challenges within Muslim communities, to what extent do you think that this deepens the divides that already exist between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities across the city paying particular reference to the fact that the British National Party (BNP) attracted a greater percentage of the vote at this year’s local authority elections in Birmingham than it did in London where it won its first seat on the London Assembly?
Below is the response that I have received from the CLG:
Dear Dr Allen,
Thank you for your recent email to the Downing Street website. Your message has been sent to me in Communities and Local Government with apologies for the delay in replying.
The threat from terrorism and violent extremism remains perhaps the greatest threat facing the UK.
Our overall aim as a department is to create strong, prosperous and empowered communities which are positive environments of which we can be proud, and where people want to live, work and raise a family. To achieve this vision, we need to create an environment where every person can realise their full potential and feel that belong. Everyone, regardless of background, has the right to similar life opportunities and to freedom and respect. Our aim is to create communities where people know and act on their rights and responsibilities and where people trust one another and local institutions to act fairly.
Communities and Local Government’s role in preventing violent extremism is to put real power in the hands of local people – enabling a community-based and community-led campaign. Local authorities play a key role in this by supporting grassroots organisations to deliver local solutions for local challenges.
As part of this response, we need to ensure we foster community cohesion: building strong and positive relationships between people of different backgrounds, a sense of belonging and a shared vision for the future. Furthermore, strong, organised and empowered communities are better equipped to effectively reject the ideology of violent extremism, to confront and isolate apologists for terrorism, to channel legitimate grievances through democratic means and to provide support to vulnerable individuals.
Despite this, we have seen that violent extremism can emerge from even the most cohesive and empowered communities. It is clear that we need a specific response to this challenge.
It is, however, important to see these agendas as mutually supportive rather than contradictory. Our recent publication ‘Preventing Violent Extremism: Next Steps for Communities’ sets out the importance of a ‘whole community’ approach to Preventing Violent Extremism – engaging all communities as we seek to strengthen the resilience of those communities who are most at risk from violent extremism. As a Government we are clear that all forms of extremism should be challenged, and we are taking action on this front – including work to tackle extreme right wing groups.
I hope this addresses your concerns.
Local Partnership Support Officer
Preventing Extremism Division
Communities and Local Government
Zone 6/J10, Eland House
London SW1E 5DU
Tel: 020 7944 4993
Given the news this morning that a growing number of voices are concerned about the Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) agenda and its funding in Birmingham, I am reproducing below a short briefing paper that I put together through my role at BRAP in July 2007 for the Birmingham Strategic Partnership and the Equalities Department at Birmingham City Council. Many of the issues raised today are in line with those flagged up over a year ago, long before the PVE Pathfinder budget was allocated: on paper at least. Unsurprisingly, none of the recommendations were considered and the paper was immediately discarded.
Are we preventing extremism?
This is a short paper to provide a brief analysis of the Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) programme – formerly known as Preventing Extremism Together (PET) – including the way in which this is approached at the local level in Birmingham. We feel that before the city commits to a large-scale series of projects as part of a PVE Pathfinder, it should carefully consider the limitations of previous projects in other parts of the country and discuss associated learning points.
Following the 7/7 terrorist attacks, ‘extremists’ and ‘extremism’ have been given a much more important emphasis in public and political life. Whilst ‘extremist’ typically refers to Muslims who have become radicalized and who advocate violence against society at large or the Government, ‘extremism’ has become much more politicised and is used to describe a flammable mixture of ideology, methodology and religion without differentiation. The shift has occurred not least through the Government’s PET programme. Setting up various working groups in partnership with Muslim communities to combat the threat from ‘home-grown terrorists’, the programme initially made 64 recommendations: 27 for Government, 37 for Muslim communities covering youth, education, women, imam training and the role of mosques amongst others.
Whilst many of these recommendations are yet to be taken up, the PVE Pathfinder fund has followed some of them and has funded a variety of projects and initiatives designed to tackle violent extremism at the local level. On the whole, these have focused on three strands that have sought to build the capacity of: leaders; organisations; and women in Muslim communities. An indicative list of some of the projects funded is set out below (further information about projects can be found in the PET Progress Report available on the DCLG website):
Tottenham Hotspur Youth Forum, Haringey
A scheme to improve self-esteem, confidence, and other important skills using high-profile Muslim footballers and coaches as role models for young Muslims who are not in education, training or employment and who lack positive aims.
Barking and Dagenham Islamic Awareness
Here the local authority supports organisations through providing education about Islam and its teachings, contrasting the reality of Islam against the rhetoric of violent extremism.
Black Country Imams
Dudley Muslim Association, the Black Country Sunni Ulema Council, the British Muslim Forum and other local authorities are developing a programme to give new skills to imams and help develop future ‘home grown’ British imams. This includes offering language courses; training in citizenship, British history and the British legal system; training on health and safety, child protection and other necessary governance functions.
Kirklees Webspace and Radio Activity
A scheme create a managed webspace for young people to express, share and develop their views on issues of identity and community relations as an alternative to extremist websites.
Life In Britain: Rights and Responsibilities
Calderdale Authority, the Local Education Authority, schools and local faith bodies are developing citizenship education resources to be used by young people of all faiths in schools as well as youth groups and madrassahs to address the specific challenges that face the Muslim population.
Crawley Awareness Training
A programme of Islam awareness training for key service providers including police, teachers, neighbourhood housing managers, youth workers, and college lecturers amongst others. It will focus on inter-generational issues; community structures and relationships; challenging stereotypes and ‘myth busting’; the impact of national or international events on local minority communities; and how negative impacts can be mitigated.
Watford Bridge of Peace
This Women’s Group works by bringing Muslim women and Christian women together to share experiences and understanding, and support each other in promoting tolerance.
Has the PET Programme made an impact?
At a national level, the answer to this question is fairly close to ‘we don’t really know’. One of the overwhelming characteristics of the projects listed above and with other projects and recommendations made as part of the PET programme is the lack of empirical evidence available to show how and indeed whether projects of this type are having an impact on the levels of extremism. Whilst we recognize that the PET programme came about largely as an urgent reaction to acts of terrorism two years ago, it would appear that monitoring or evaluation of the projects is still relatively scant. A review of the PET Progress Report identifies that certain projects are currently underway, yet the report does not discuss whether these projects have helped to prevent the emergence of extremism or address its root causes.
We face a situation then where it is extremely difficult to identify which projects might be best to build upon, which might be rolled out to a wider constituency, which are merely chasing red herrings and which – if any – are just too little, too late either because they are completely ‘missing’ where extremism occurs (as with the Crawley project for example) or that it has already gained a firm foothold.
For example, whilst the Black Country Imams project seeks to develop ‘home-grown’ British imams, there have been for many years imams trained in British Deobandi ‘dar ul-uloom’ or seminaries. If these have been unsuccessful in reducing extremism, is it not more important to understand ‘why’ seminaries of this type have failed to make an impact? At least before commissioning a scheme of the type we see in the Black Country.
Given that those who were behind the atrocities of 7/7 – as well as those who failed on 21/7 and more recently in London and Glasgow – would have been very unlikely to have ‘bought-in’ to the types of projects listed above, surely we need to reflect critically upon their appropriateness as a tool for ‘preventing violent extremism’. There is also a case to be made for considering the influence of broader political debate on the direction of the PET programme (in particular, debate about the influence of ‘living parallel lives’ and the wearing of the niqab on integration and cohesion).
Who speaks for the ‘Muslim community’
‘Representation’ has been the means through which Government have sought to engage with BME groups in the past and has on many occasions been highlighted as having serious flaws. However, when issues around faith and religion are involved, some of these flaws could be further accentuated, as with the Barking & Dagenham programme for example when it states that it aims to contrast ‘the reality of Islam against the rhetoric of violent extremism’. Can we ever be certain for instance that those representing the ‘reality of Islam’ are actually doing that? In a number of cases, it is the ‘usual suspects’ that are asked to ‘represent’ Muslims. This has led some of those within the Muslim community to question the ‘representatives’ ability to ‘represent’. It has also led to a number of charges of ‘cronyism’ from those outside Muslim communities.
How useful are ‘projects for Muslims’?
Group representation is often used to advocate and lobby on behalf of views and interests of particular groups. Historically this dynamic has encouraged groups to play up their victimhood and unique cultural/religious identities in a bid for public funds or social influence. In a programme like PET, unduly focusing on the needs of Muslims as expressed by self-appointed Muslim representatives can have a number of negative effects. Most significantly, it can reinforce divisions and encourage those from outside Muslim communities to believe that Muslims are getting preferential treatment (consider for example the use of ‘grants for Muslims’ statistics used by the BNP in their campaign material).
By focusing primarily on Muslims, the ‘problem’ of extremism is also seen as being about ‘them’ rather than ‘us’. In this way emphasis is placed upon how Muslims should be changing, rather than on how society as a whole can take shared responsibility for promoting integration and preventing violent extremism. This latter point and the need to go beyond understanding individuals and communities through the lens of a ‘single identity’ was also something that was identified as being particularly problematic in the findings of the recent Commission on Integration & Cohesion report, Our Shared Future. The Commission’s decision to restrict ‘single-identity funding’ in the future has significant implications for the development of the PVE programme.
Opportunities for the Birmingham PVE Pathfinder
The Birmingham PVE Pathfinder fund offers a unique and real opportunity to do things differently. In line with the PET Working Group ‘Supporting Regional and Local Initiatives and Community Actions’ observations, Birmingham should be leading the way by encouraging projects and initiatives that are “stimulating and supporting inter-community communication and co-operation”. The PET Working Group stated “…what is missing is the exchange of best practice…valuable experience is not being captured or shared in ways that would prevent the repetition of past mistakes or stimulate new advances”. We think that the Birmingham PVE Pathfinder has a real opportunity to ‘prevent this repetition of past mistakes’, stimulate and support ‘inter-community communication and co-operation’ and make ‘new advances’. To do this BRAP recommends:
Initial research should be commissioned into extremism – both Islamist and far-right – in the city. The research should also consider the link with socio-economic factors such as inequality, deprivation and disengagement.
More rigorous processes of looking at how the success and impact of projects and initiatives are and indeed might be measured.
More inclusive projects are commissioned so that preventing extremism is achieved ‘together’, rather than placing the responsibility squarely within Muslim communities. This will help to redress a number of the associated negative cohesion issues that can result from single-identity funding of this type.
A clear message is communicated that ‘extremism’ is not a ‘Muslim-only’ issue in order to reduce the sense of victimization experienced by Muslim communities. This will also go some way towards challenging the perception that Muslim communities are being afforded ‘preferential treatment’ and that far-right extremism in the outer city can also be tackled That projects and initiatives go beyond ‘Muslim representation’ and that a broader collaboration of groups, organizations and institutions – both Muslim and non-Muslim – from the private, public and third sectors have the ability to ‘buy-in’ to the Pathfinder and embed preventing extremism into all that they do.
The recommendations of the PET Working Group ‘Supporting Regional and Local Initiatives and Community Actions’ as well as the Commission on Integration & Cohesion more recently, should be more closely adhered to and used as a benchmark against which all projects and initiatives are undertaken.
Everything on this site by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. www.chris-allen.co.uk.
Having gone through four ‘waves’ of security including showing my passport to get into the ICC and watching a guest in front of me being forced to drink half the contents of his ‘Buxton Spring’ water (because it might have contained some ‘chemicals’ so I was told later…!!!), the first thing that struck me was that it was unbelievably corporate. There were few that were not in ‘suits’ and as I said to one of my colleagues accompanying me, if we wanted to be taken seriously we must buy some ‘big pin stripes’ (pin stripe suits that is). As the event went on, this became even more apparent – most of the guests were from trade and industry backgrounds something that was apparent in much of the reporting that followed the event, many describing it as being one where the Cabinet met with business leaders.
At the final security check-in (that’s now five times), I was handed a card. On the card I was told that I had to tick one of the boxes. These boxes – health, education, crime, the economy or employment & skills – were followed by a space to add your name, table number and question. Outside of these five boxes, it was obvious that you had no chance of getting your question heard. Where was equalities in all of this, where was the space to ask about living in Birmingham, where were the questions (and the people) about ‘normal’ things…???
We I went to my table, I found out I was with Hazel Blears (amazingly small but someone I warmed to immediately). The rest of my table was made up of representatives from the manufacturing industry – all wearing suits. As such, the discussion was skewed towards growing and supporting businesses including inspiring young people and providing them with the skills to be ‘work ready’ (their term not mine).
This enabled me to get an angle and I suggested that if we are to inspire and provide skills, then we need to get a level playing field established for all. Yet in a time of economic downturn, funding equalities projects and our commitment to equalities, may be one of the first ‘luxuries’ to be slashed. How can we ensure that the work to address inequalities and discrimination wouldn’t be ‘lost’ along the way?
Hazel Blears responded by saying that it was necessary for equalities policies and programmes to be seen as valuable to all, not just minority or excluded minorities. She gave an example of the value that the REACH programme was making in trying to address the educational attainment of young black males but also highlighted the problems currently being faced by young white males. She added that Government couldn’t do everything themselves and so needed the support of parents, families, communities and organisations to make equalities work and to bring about the change needed to level the playing field.
As an insight to the level of engagement with equalities issues and how important these were to the people round the table, the representative from the Chamber of Commerce stated that whilst this was fine, we had to focus on ‘work readiness’ because many of the businesses they represented were employing people that didn’t have the necessary skills required. The reason why this was a problem for him and those he represented was because they could not ‘get rid of them’ (his words not mine) once they found out that they didn’t have the right skills and/ or knowledge.
Surely, this is a rallying cry for more protection and a need for businesses to improve the recruitment process rather than reduce the legislative protection rightly afforded to employees? Since this comment I’ve been nouyed by the rhetoric and stance taken by the TUC at their conference. Thankfully, it seems that some are still focusing on the protection of the employee rather than the maximising of the profit.
At the end, Hazel Blears acknowledged our contribution and said that she would respond to all the issues that were raised whether on the card or in person round the table. If and when I get this, I’ll publish it here on the web.
Ever the opportunist, I took the opportunity to give everyone around the table a copy of Speak Out magazine including the minister herself.
The event then opened up and selected questions were put to various ministers around the room.
Jacqui Smith said that addressing the ‘guns and gangs’ issue in Birmingham was going well and that positive development were well underway. Gordon Brown spoke of wanting a local, regional and national campaign – involving footballers – that sends out the message that carrying knives is wrong.
Ed Balls said that academies were often in the most deprived parts of the country and that they were making serious in-roads into increasing the attainment levels of those who were previously expected to fail. He said that the Government were breaking the cycle of poverty and low education.
Alan Johnson said that the role of carers was vital but were also placing new and quite unprecedented demands on the benefits system not least because people were living longer. James Purnell said that the Government were considering the costs and financial Implications of providing care for the elderly along the lines of childcare whilst stating that this sounded extremely expensive.
Hilary Benn compared the technological advances that were occurring in Britain today as being similar to the advances being made during the Industrial revolution. He said this would add towards improving the environment and halting climate change.
John Denham said that £1 billion was being invested into the creation of better skills for adult learners and this too would improve on climate change (???).
David Miliband stated the foreign policy would increasingly focus on the battle for resources and the issues of climate change.
Liam Byrne said that the West Midlands had a strong heritage of development and innovation. But more importantly had been the unity between industry and culture. Through this partnership, the regeneration and rejuvenation of the West Midlands was gathering steam citing the development of Stratford upon Avon. He also cited the shortly to be announced the establishment of Channel 4’s new digital media studios in the city. He concluded that in Birmingham and the West Midlands, “we have more in common than what sets us apart”.
Alistair Darling said that the US purchasing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was a sign of good governance: of government standing behind the economy to stabilise it. This is what the British Government was also doing with the economy. He was also confident that the UK would get through the current economic downturn and come out of it even stronger.
Gordon Brown opened and closed the event but in all honesty, I lost a little interest – it wasn’t that engaging and if you want to read his speech, then click here.
On the whole, slightly disappointing in the way that Government sees consultation and in the way that it was skewed towards trade and industry, but an interesting insight into British politics and the personalities that make up the Cabinet.
Would I do it again if invited…???
Of course…EVERYONE given the opportunity to speak or engage with politicians and politics at whatever level should take the opportunity. You never know, you may actually make a difference.
This work by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. Based on a work at www.chris-allen.co.uk.