Yvette Cooper, Shadow Home Secretary said today:
A barbaric murder and a British voice; it is the starkest evidence yet of a problem that our security agencies have warned about for months. The rapid rise of Isil [also known as Isis] may be happening hundreds of miles away. But we cannot pretend the barbarism is none of our business when so many British citizens are being drawn in. A concerted international response is needed. But we need more action here at home too.
This is no Spanish civil war. Isil extremists are beheading people and parading their heads on spikes, subjugating women and girls, killing Muslims, Christians and anyone who gets in their way. This is no liberation movement — only a perverted, oppressive ideology that bears no relation to Islam.
The foreign policy challenge is immense. As Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, has said, the UK government is right to join a major humanitarian effort and to support the Kurdish and Iraqi forces who face Isil on the front line. It should pursue a United Nations summit to build a unified effort.
But we need a stronger domestic response. The head of MI5 warned last year that the threat from Islamist extremism was becoming “more diffuse. More complicated. More unpredictable.” Many Britons were joining the conflict. We support work by government, police and agencies against extremism but now further action is needed.
Theresa May, the home secretary, talked last week about last year’s recommendations from the taskforce, but details are limited. More must be done to stop British citizens joining the barbarism and to keep the country safe if they return.
For a start that means an overhaul of the Prevent programme. Preventing radicalisation and challenging extremism isn’t simple. But the current government programme has gaps and needs to adapt.
For example, there is too little support for communities and parents desperately trying to stop their own young people being drawn in. Muslim community groups and youth organisations have been among the most vocal in condemning extremism.
Community-led approaches can be effective, yet Prevent support for local programmes has dropped from £17m to less than £3m. And the programme is too patchy across the country.
More needs to be done to respond to new methods of radicalisation too. Some are being recruited not through theological arguments or extremist preachers but by social media calls from friends to join an “adventure”. Other countries are looking at how to challenge these narratives and myths on social media with brutal facts.
As Professor Neumann from King’s College London points out, of the 16 Britons to have died fighting so far, 15 have lost their lives fighting rival Sunni groups. Far from defending people against oppressors, foreign fighters are likely to be fighting or oppressing other Muslims — men, women and children too.
Ministers also need to look again at the powers to deal with those who have become radicalised. That doesn’t mean the reflex politics of returning to things such as 90 days — that wasn’t ever justified by the evidence. Strong powers should always be balanced by strong checks and balances and should be proportionate to the threat. But it does mean following the evidence where stronger action is justified to defend democracy and liberty.
More should be done to disrupt the travel plans of those planning to go out to fight — through better monitoring of the borders’ watch list, as well as access to passports. Those returning should face criminal investigations and prosecutions, but they should also be required to engage immediately with the Channel programme which works to de-radicalise people.
Theresa May needs to rethink her decision four years ago to end control orders and replace them with the weaker Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act. David Anderson, the independent reviewer for terrorism legislation, has recommended those powers should be strengthened, as has his predecessor, to deal with the most serious and high-risk cases with judicial safeguards in place.
Of course there is no quick fix to tackling the radicalisation of British youth. But more can be done — both to stop the escalation abroad and to keep our country safe back home.