Preventing Far Right Extremism – Will Baldet
Tackling the hatred in far-right extremism
William Baldet is a Prevent practitioner working in Leicester and is based at The St Philips Centre, an inter-faith charity that specialises in promoting dialogue between communities. The Leicester approach differs from other ‘priority areas’ in that it is a community-based grass roots delivery of Prevent that collaborates closely with the local authority. William has worked within the Prevent strategy since 2008 – see http://www.stphilipscentre.co.uk/community/prevent/
One of the greatest criticisms of the Prevent strategy is that it doesn’t pay attention to other forms of extremism, such as far-right and extreme right wing. This is simply not true. Those of us who work in Prevent should make no apology for spending much of our time supporting our Muslim communities – the overwhelming risk to the UK comes from those who sympathise with the Al Qaida and ISIL brutal brand of politics and sinister distortions of religion, and these groups are brazen in their attempts to recruit naïve and disaffected young Muslims – but that doesn’t mean we Prevent practitioners ever turn away from the evolving threats of other types of extremism. In fact, I would argue that the rise of ISIL has led to a reciprocal increase in far-right sympathies for us to address. The challenge in tackling far-right extremism is in understanding how to effectively focus your attention and resources on the most vulnerable areas of a town, city or county.
I was recently told of an incident in Leicestershire on St George’s Day when a group of football supporters adorned the front of a pub, waving the St George’s Cross flag and all dressed head-to-toe in Klu Klux Klan outfits. Prevent can respond to that. We can work in that area with local youth groups, schools, and colleges to raise awareness of the Prevent strategy, the risks of radicalisation, the extreme right-wing groups, anti-racism strategies, Prevent workshops, how social media is used to recruit and reinforce ideologies etc. etc.
But how can we be pro-active? By and large, the majority of far-right sympathies are harboured in the larger, rural areas of our counties. There are exceptions to this of course, but as a general rule it applies. That’s a huge area to cover with such limited resources. So we have to work smarter.
I recently played host to Michael, a visitor from Oslo who had heard about the extremism training we run in Leicester and flew over to attend our two day course. I was shocked by his revelation that, in his opinion, Norway was still not effective at tackling right-wing extremism, even after the murderous rampage of Anders Behring Breivik, but I thought they had an intriguing strategy for dealing with it and one I felt no shame in borrowing.
In Oslo, they work on the assumption that violent extremism is a hate crime. Their ‘Handbook on Concern’, a reference guide for front-line practitioners to help them identify and tackle extremism, was published in January 2014 and specifically draws this parallel. They do not avoid the traditional interpretation that “violent extremism carries an intent to use violence to achieve political, ideological or religious goals”, but they do also draw a direct parallel with hate crime. Which got me thinking.
Does it follow that if we can map certain hate crime hot-spots we can identify those areas at greater risk from issues of far-right extremism? If we work on the assumption that far-right groups are particularly hostile towards Muslims then it would follow that peaks in anti-Muslim hate crime could identify those areas in the county where we could deliver pro-active Prevent activity and resources and hopefully reduce the risks of such sentiments escalating into the kind of violence that befell Mohammed Saleem in Birmingham at the hands of Ukrainian neo-Nazi Pavlo Lapshyn.
As a hypothesis it seems logical, but sadly current research does not support this. There is surprisingly scant research in this area, but I know that in Sweden in 2008 and 2010 there was research conducted to assess the links between reported hate crime and right wing extremism which yielded results of only 4% and 1% respectively.
But that shouldn’t deter us from exploring this approach. For my own part I now sit on the Hate Incident Monitoring & Reporting Steering Group which collates data from across Leicestershire (County only) to identify which areas have spikes in particular types of hate crime. It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s a start. We still need people to have confidence in reporting hate crimes, or even recognising that the abuse they have suffered is classified as a hate crime. In Leicester City we monitor community tensions and this can help us pick up on hostilities towards faith communities which in turn can inform where those far-right pockets might be forming and what kind of risk they represent. All of the training we do for Prevent in Leicestershire includes details of the risks and threats from far-right extremism, so regardless of who is getting the message, they are getting the whole message. We have even built extremism awareness into the Mental Health Trust’s hate crime training and trained charging lawyers in the CPS to recognise where some hate crime cases may be linked to far right extremism and encouraged them to reflect with police officers a potential need to involve Prevent. This helps us support item 2.4 of the Government’s ‘Extremism Task Force’ paper published in December 2013: Police will ensure that the extremist dimension of hate-crimes is properly logged and taken into account when conducting their investigations.
I don’t think hate crime is the whole solution and it wouldn’t work for all politically or religiously motivated extremism, but it is part of the solution. I would like to see the research justify this approach and I would like to see more hate crimes reported so we can assess this approach more clearly. But for those who refuse to acknowledge the work Prevent is doing to tackle far-right extremism, they are either cognisant of this work and choose to ignore it (we can only presume why), or they are mistaken and would benefit from some time with those of us at the sharp end, for whom the threat from far-right extremism is admittedly smaller but nevertheless real.
 Islamic State in Syria and the Levant.