|Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, yesterday delivered a speech in Luton on the subject of creating an open and confident society; the values which underpin it, and the role of government within it. |
The approach outlined in his speech toward extremism, multiculturalism and engagement with radical views signalled a departure from the approach outlined by David Cameron in his speech in Munich last month. A Guardian report today quoted Mr. Clegg’s advisers as having said that “neither men’s speech was meant to be the last word on the issue and instead would feed into Lord Carlisle’s independent review, which is due to report shortly.”
The Deputy PM said:
“Today I want to talk about the UK as an open, confident society. It is by being confident – confident in ourselves, in our communities, and in our values – that we can remain an open, liberal nation.”
“I also think the Prime Minister was right to make a sharp distinction between religious belief and political ideology. Religious devotion is completely separate from violent extremism. The overwhelming majority of devout people of all faiths reject violence and terrorism. There is some evidence that those Muslims who do turn to violence have a shallower understanding of Islam than Muslims who may have radical views, but reject violence.
“The enemies of liberty are those people who have closed their minds, closed off the possibility that there may be other valid ways to live, other than their own. They believe they have discovered the prescription for how to live - which everyone should follow. Closed minds can lead to closed communities, to extremism, and in some cases to violence.
“There are nationalistic or racist extremists, like the members of the English Defence League, or the BNP. There are black extremists like the Nation of Islam. There are Muslim extremists like the members of Islam 4 UK. Very often these groups have a symbiotic relationship with each other, maintained by the media: extremist Muslim groups giving birth to extremist white hate groups, and vice versa.
“My point is this. We need a perfect symmetry in our response to crime and violent extremism. Bigots are bigots, whatever the colour of their skin. Criminals are criminals, whatever their political beliefs. Terrorists are terrorists, whatever their religion.”
After delivering his speech, David Cameron faced calls of hypocrisy and of handing a victory to the far-right due to his speech focusing exclusively on Muslim ‘extremism’, while ignoring the far-right – on the same day that the English Defence League were marching in Luton. Nick Clegg has seemingly learned the lesson of this and delivered a much more nuanced argument. He is right to say that a coherent response is required for all forms of extremism to avoid the charge of double standards.
Nick Clegg also seemed to stayed away from the simplistic analysis of Cameron when explaining the factors which seduce people toward violent extremism. While Cameron had fallen for the neoconservative view of blaming ‘Islamism’ and a weak affiliation to ‘British values’, (in contradiction to available evidence), Clegg was again more nuanced. Among the reasons given by Clegg was economic insecurity (as highlighted by the findings of the Searchlight Educational Trust survey) and, quoting the words of Louise Richardson, “a lethal cocktail containing a disaffected individual, an enabling community and a legitimising ideology.”
He advocated “smart engagement” by the government. “This means calibrating Government action in the following ways: targeting resources in a way that clearly promotes liberal objectives; maintaining a clear distinction between social policy and security policy; distinguishing between violent and non-violent extremism; supporting free speech, but taking the argument to the bigots; and implacably confronting violent extremism.”
In this formula of government action is found the greatest difference between Mr. Clegg and Mr. Cameron’s approach.
While Cameron denounced “a passively tolerant society [which] says to its citizens, as long as you obey the law we will just leave you alone”, Clegg said, “In an open, liberal society, individuals are free to live in the manner of their choosing, so long as they do not harm others.”
While Cameron’s argument that individuals were seduced toward violent extremism by a weak affiliation to British values and apparent ‘segregated communities’ means a continuation of Labour’s disastrous policy of conflating counter terrorism work with community cohesion, Clegg called for a “clear distinction” between the two.
On how to deal with ‘non-violent extremists’, Clegg said:
“The third battleground against violent extremism is at the level of ideas, values and ideology. The dangerous ideas that underpin violent extremism must never be allowed to go unchallenged.”
“It requires engagement, assertion. Muscular liberals flex their muscles in open argument.”
“If we are truly confident about the strength of our liberal values we should be confident about their ability to defeat the inferior arguments of our opponents.
“Smart engagement means engaging in argument at public events, where appropriate and at the right level. Of course these are always difficult decisions to make. But to take one example, the Global Peace and Unity conference attracts around fifty thousand British Muslims each year and is an important opportunity to engage in argument – and so Andrew Stunell, the Government’s Communities Minister did this year. Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader, also spoke at the event.
“Now there may well have been a small minority of organisations and individuals at that event with deeply unpalatable, illiberal views.
“But you don’t win a fight by leaving the ring. You get in and win. The overwhelming majority of the people attending this conference are active, engaged and law-abiding citizens. We don’t win people to liberal ideals by giving ourselves a leave of absence from the argument.”
“Liberal societies do not expect everyone to live in the same way, or believe in the same things; conformity can crush liberty. But in liberal societies, all of us must defend the freedoms of others, in exchange for freedom for ourselves. In an open society, values compete but do not conflict.”
‘Leaving the ring’ has been the policy thus far of Cameron’s Conservatives. He allegedly banned Baroness Warsi and all Tories from attending the GPU event last year. However, this is not just confined to the Conservatives. In a continuance of this trend, Lord Carlisle recently threatened that schools which allow the “promotion of extremism will either risk losing charitable status or seeing their governors face civil injunctions in the courts.”
While Clegg said that liberal societies do not expect everyone to believe the same things, Lord Carlisle stated that the Prevent review will clamp down on ‘unpalatable’ views such as “advocacy of sharia law” – a prime example of conformity crushing liberty and potentially criminalising dissenting views.
Thus far, the approach of this government has been to outlaw unpalatable views rather than engage them in a battle of ideas.
The need for “perfect symmetry” in responding to all crime and violent extremism, regardless of the perpetrators; the departure from the simplistic neoconservative narrative on the causes of violent extremism; and the recognition that a confident, liberal society is built on the freedom of ideas, are all welcome themes from Nick Clegg’s speech.
Peter Oborne highlighted last month that there were two forces at work in the coalition, competing to frame the debate surrounding extremism, the Muslim community and multiculturalism – that of the neoconservatives (which include Education Secretary Michael Gove and Defence Secretary Liam Fox) and their rivals, led by Nick Clegg and Sayeeda Warsi. David Cameron’s Munich speech indicated that it is the neoconservative viewpoint which has the upper hand. With the outcome of the Prevent review due this month, we will witness further whether the neocon influence has continued over government policy or whether the camp of Clegg has prevailed.
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