Countering Extremism 

Another remarkable discussion at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. This time on countering extremism. How best to handle radical Islam is a contentious issue. And that’s a significant impediment in itself. But first and foremost, we have to be better informed.

Peter Frankopan, who chaired the panel of three (see * below for the participants) asked the audience, a full house in the town hall, how many of us had read the Koran. Maybe two or three put up their hands. We rely too much on opinions, commentators and hearsay, selective reporting and prejudice. Sadly I guess most of us won’t be rushing off to buy and read copies. But we owe it to ourselves, to the Muslim communities in our midst, and to our own futures, to be better informed.

Continue as we are now, and we will continue as polarised communities.

Radical Islamists argue that the West and Islam are incompatible, put a distorted view of Islam up against a immoral West beyond redemption. So young Muslims, already feeling excluded, feel they have to take sides.

As a society, whatever faith or non-faith we profess, we need counter-arguments, and at the core of these arguments must be inclusion – Muslims should be, must be, as much a part of this society as Christians. Prejudice is a conflicting and self-defeating agenda.  Achieve inclusion, and we can make  democracy, liberty, free speech shared values, across all communities.

Inclusion requires commitment on both sides, on all sides. We have a long way to go.

*Chaired by Peter Frankopan, and drawing on the experience of Sara Khan, founder of the charity Inspire, which challenges extremist ideologies in Muslim communities, Peter Neumann, academic and author of ‘Radicalised’, and Hanif Qadir, a one-time recruit to radical Islam now working with young people in danger from radicalisation.

A story about lemmings 

Hard to post anything on the subject of Brexit. Zenpolitics has been quiet for a while. The level of absurdity is too high. Talk of hard or soft as the only alternatives. Business, scientists, economists, all against. Incredulity that it could get this far.

Martin Wolf, in the FT, argues that we’re underperforming against our European partners of similar size, whether we look at increases in GDP, exports or productivity, proof surely that it’s not European regulation that holds us back but something more deep-rooted in British attitudes and industry – attitudes to the wider world, an over-focus on our home territory.

Jeremy Warner in the Telegraph recognises the same infirmities, but imagines that Brexit will somehow shake industry up, that it’s the EU that’s holding us back. Industry needs the shock: the mechanism by which the shock transforms isn’t mentioned.

Divorce is a shock, relationships are soured, couples don’t normally get back together. Could ‘just good friends’ ever be enough?

Companies having to divulge the number of foreign workers, as if by doing so they’d take on any more British workers. (It seems this may not now happen, a step too far, but other measures with the same intent remain under discussion.) A Home Secretary whose past record suggest she knows better, but who falls into line.

And so to the Tory party conference, an assembly of lemmings gleefully finding a cliff and looking to leap over, some in hope of a soft landing, others unconcerned if it’s hard. Maybe a few of the soft landers will live. Maybe not. Theresa May, our turncoat (loyalty to Cameron? closet believer in Brexit all along? serving her own ambitions?) PM, admits there will be bumps in the road. Some road.

The whole process is deeply unedifying. Once the Tories were split between supporters and opponents of the EU. Now the supporters are cowed, MPs looking to save their seats. Defying the logic of history and events. Falling in behind an anti-immigration agenda. Playing along with the racists closet or otherwise in their number. There’s a cowardice, a self-serving mentality about it all. They and we will look back in shame on this example of how mass hysteria can take over a political party. On a press which soaks it all up, and reflects it all back.

As a country we are bigger and better than all this. But Labour is obsessed by internal wranglings, old obsessive loyalties clouding the minds of those who ought to be out there, strident in their arguments. Anti-establishment loyalties on the left encompass the EU as well – anti-capitalist means anti-EU. We turn inward, pay heed to ideologies of left and right, we shuffle nervously, and accept ‘it’s going to happen’. Let Brexit take its course. We will get on with our lives. Phoney war. Nothing’s happening now. The stock exchange is buzzing with revenues taken in a depreciated currency. Because nothing is happening now a hazy logic suggests nothing ever will.

God help us all.