Eastern Eye interviews John Denham

Phrases that ‘label’ Muslims hurt fight against extremism

By Aditi Khanna

Eastern Eye, 7 August 2009

The government is to undertake a major re-labelling drive to redefine its relationship with Muslim communities.

The reason behind the plan is because phrases like “Preventing Violent Extremism” as part of its anti-terror strategy seem to be alienating the very groups it plans to work with, according to communities secretary John Denham.

The newly-appointed minister for communities and local government is taking a personal interest in matters concerning race equality and cohesion. He said his key focus would be on a clear policy shift away from defining the government’s relationship with Muslims entirely around tackling extremism.

Denham told Eastern Eye: “I am very concerned at the extent to which the relationship between the government and Muslim communities is defined by the issue of international terrorism and extremism.

“Muslims want to engage on a range of wider issues and while we are committed to that, it may not always come across as such. They are communities of high aspirations, and need to feel that we consider issues of social mobility and access to professions as absolutely crucial.

“It has been brought to our attention that some of the labelling around government policy may be working as a disincentive. Some local authorities have already dropped the phrase ‘pre- venting violent extremism’ because they feel it identifies them as part of the problem.

“We want the Muslim community to play a positive role. If labelling is preventing them from participating in our efforts, then it defeats the entire purpose.”

A new, revised guidance around preventing extremism is being drawn up and will be re-launched in the coming months.

The communities and local government department is also working on a document aimed at addressing the rise in “white racist extremism”.

Denham added: “We have had a formal police warning recently about the threat of terror attacks from extremist far-right groups. We are determined to have a consistent approach towards extremism wherever it exists.

“There is not just one type of extremism that raises concerns. The recent European elections say more about voter abstention than support for far-right groups like the BNP.

“But a major push in tackling far-right extremism is high on our agenda. We will make sure unfairness, whether real or perceived, is tackled.”

At least 100 council wards in England will be identified for the scheme. Measures include meetings for residents to express concerns about immigration and ensuring councils are transparent about housing allocation.

The initiative comes after the British National Party won two seats at the European Parliament elections for the first time in June.