It is welcome to see the Prime Minister opening a public conversation and debate about Islamic radicalisation and the need for a more cohesive and united Britain.
There is no doubt that any comprehensive conversation about radicalisation must also explore issues around integration and identity in Britain’s diverse modern society. But the relationship between these subjects must be explored with care – especially when one considers that many past Government efforts to enhance integration have, through their almost exclusive focus on counter-extremism, ultimately alienated communities even further.
Building improved trust between Government and Britain’s Muslim communities through enhanced collaboration and cooperation will be integral to achieving any progress here – so too will promoting dialogue, understanding and interaction between all parts of society. If the Prime Minister is truly committed to a One Nation Government, its counter-extremism policies must be matched by efforts to foster greater cohesion and inclusivity, and policies to tackle issues like unemployment and discrimination – which can so often challenge a sense of belonging in young people. After all, Britain will be a much stronger nation – both socially and economically – if we can improve opportunities for a much larger proportion of young people to participate fully and positively in the labour market and in their communities.
While undoubtedly a difficult balance to manage, the Government must ensure that its efforts to address radicalisation do not threaten the pre-eminence of free speech: one of the most critical foundations of the democratic, open and secure society that terrorism seeks to undermine. As previous Demos research – including our report, The Edge of Violence – on the appeal of Islamic extremism to young people has shown, terrorist organisations such as ISIS can appear exciting and purpose-giving; without positive and non-violent outlets for dissent, we risk making extremism more exotic, attractive, and difficult to address through early intervention.