Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, is calling for improved and renewed efforts to tackle violent extremism in the capital after new research found that nearly two-thirds of Londoners would not know how to seek support from the authorities if they were worried about an individual being vulnerable to violent extremism.
Amid the threat from violent Islamist groups – and the growing threat posed by far-right extremists – Khan has welcomed the announcement by ministers of an independent review of the Government’s Prevent strategy. An independent review is one of the early recommendations from the Mayor’s Countering Violent Extremism programme following a full and frank assessment by City Hall officials of existing counter-terrorism initiatives in London. Initial findings have shown that significant improvements need to be made to increase trust and transparency among some of London’s communities.
To inform London’s efforts to tackle radicalisation and violent extremism, the Mayor commissioned research in April last year to understand what Londoners’ views and experiences of extremism are, focusing on how they would identify and refer any concerns they had to the police or another authority.
Key research findings
This research forms an early part of the innovative and extensive engagement undertaken as part of the Mayor’s Countering Violent Extremism programme and found that:
*61% of respondents thought that the threat from extremism is increasing
*25% had witnessed or experienced extremist views in the past 12 months
*17% of respondents had witnessed or experienced views promoting or supporting acts of terrorism in the past 12 months
*65% see strong, cohesive and integrated communities as the most effective way of reducing the risk of people carrying out extremist acts, hate crime and terrorism
*64% of respondents wouldn’t know how to seek help from the authorities if they were worried about an individual being vulnerable to manipulation or exploitation towards extremism or terrorism
*24% would feel confident about being able to spot the signs that someone might be vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation towards extremism and terrorism
The Mayor launched his Countering Violent Extremism programme as a recognition of the growing threat from extremism and radicalisation that’s operating at a heightened scale and pace across the country. This recognition was reflected in the research where 61% of respondents thought that the threat from violent extremism is rising.
More work to be done
Khan is clear that more work needs to be done involving all of London’s communities, charities, civil society, faith groups, the Government, the police and relevant authorities in order to help Londoners understand the risk of radicalisation, as less than a quarter of respondents said they were confident they could spot signs that someone might be being exploited towards violent extremism.
The programme’s findings also indicated that, while there have been good examples of the Government’s initiative preventing vulnerable people from being radicalised, there’s evidence which shows there are sections of society that will not engage with the Prevent strategy. The Mayor is concerned about the impact this could have on people that arguably need this support the most.
Even the Government’s own Home Office statistics reveal that referrals from communities to Prevent have remained incredibly low for three years running, which suggests that the strategy is not reaching the areas of London that are harder to engage.
This is why Khan welcomes an independent review into the Government’s Prevent strategy, as his programme found that while the strategy was effective in reassuring some communities, it alienates others. Improvements must be made to ensure this is a strategy that works across London and is able to engage its diverse communities.
One of the foremost threats
“Violent extremism is one of the biggest threats facing London and our country,” asserted Khan. “We simply must do better at safeguarding the vulnerable and stopping people from promoting these vile ideologies with such horrific consequences. There’s a role for all Londoners in tackling the spread of violent extremism, but this research shows that, unfortunately, the Prevent programme is failing some of the communities that most desperately need it. I welcome the Government’s announcement of an independent review of Prevent to ensure a better programme that has greater community confidence.”
Khan added: “We have to do more to empower communities to speak out and challenge hate crime and extremist views. We need communities to report concerns to the police and local authorities, and also find lasting solutions that will stop the spread of violent extremism completely.”
The Mayor recently brought together some of the key organisations that have been working with his Countering Violent Extremism programme to provide an update on the progress of this work and discuss their findings. The programme was designed to identify opportunities to safeguard people who may be vulnerable to extremist views, stop the spread of these harmful ideologies and strengthen London’s minority and marginalised communities.
To achieve this, the Mayor appointed six specialist advisors who have provided independent guidance on the programme. Khan has also delivered small grants to organisations who went out and spoke with ‘at risk’ communities that often don’t engage with the police or other authorities. As well as these organisations, in attendance at the gathering were victims of terrorism whose tragic stories and experiences reinforced the importance of having a counter-terrorism strategy that works for London.
Specialist advisor Councillor Clare Coghill, leader of Waltham Forest Council, said: “All communities need to understand the ever-changing threat from extremism in London and what part we all play in challenging extremist views. It’s through the leadership being shown by the Mayor of London that we can empower Londoners to speak out against extremist views and ideologies that, left unchallenged, lead to violence on the streets of the capital.”
Engaging and listening
Grant holder Adam Matan OBE, managing director of the Anti-Tribalism Movement, added: “The Mayor’s Countering Violent Extremism programme enabled us to engage and listen to a wide range of Londoners, from young people and mothers through to members with special needs, about their understandings and challenges of the wider Countering Violent Extremism space. The proactive and honest engagements of the programme have enabled Londoners to propose realistic and collective ideas to root out violent extremism within our society.”
John Powell MBE FRSA, CEO at Met-Track, observed: “Met-Track has changed the lives of thousands of vulnerable young Londoners. We recognise that the changing landscape presents new challenges in this day and age. Being able to present young people with an open discussion on the perils of violent extremism was a unique and priceless opportunity that we fully intend to develop and pursue.”
Specialist advisor Sasha Havlicek, CEO of the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, explained: “To tackle the rise of hate crime, extremism and polarisation we need all parts of our society contributing to a solution. We need cultural institutions, local businesses, sports centres and NGOs working within and alongside communities. The Mayor of London and City Hall are uniquely placed to bring this wide range of constituencies to the table for the first time and to engage them in investing in and mainstreaming locally relevant responses to hate and extremism. In this way, the Mayor of London can empower local problem solving and communal pride across London’s diverse population.”
Specialist advisor Nigel Bromage, founder of Small Steps, concluded: “I welcome the Mayor’s leadership in improving City Hall’s efforts to counter violent extremism. London is the most diverse city in the UK and its significance on the world stage makes dealing with extremism a major priority. Only by working together, and united by a common goal, can we safeguard vulnerable communities and stop the spread of extremist ideologies.”