Together with my Birmingham colleague Katherine Brown and her PhD student Jessica White, I was commissioned by the Commission on Countering Extremism to undertake research on human rights and countering extremism. The result of this work is a report entitled “Embedding human rights in countering extremism: reflections from the field and proposals for change”, which was published by the Commission early in August 2019. The abstract summarises our findings:
Countering Extremism (CE) programmes and policies have been criticised for infringing on human rights because they are state-centric and security orientated in design, and because they can have unintended disproportionate impacts on rights such as those to freedom of expression, assembly, family life, and non-discrimination. The expanding remit of CE (and counter-terrorism) since 2001, but particularly since 2005 in the UK, means that state and security agendas now infuse many more areas of ‘ordinary living’ than would previously been countenanced, with disproportionate impact on socio-economically disadvantaged parts of society. As a consequence CE can be ineffective: extremist beliefs regarding state excess and victimisation of populations can inadvertently be affirmed, extremist behaviours strengthened as the state loses trust as the provider of human security or wellbeing, and extremist modes of belonging and identity normalised. As a result, there are vocal demands for alternative approaches to CE in the United Kingdom.
There are two main challenges to unpacking these critiques and responding to calls for change. The first is recognising ‘how’ CE produces outcomes of this kind, and the second is identifying alternatives that may mitigate such impacts and produce better outcomes. This paper begins to address these two knowledge gaps. It does so through utilising expert and practitioner testimony via a small number of interviews (18) and an expert workshop, as well as a review of existing research on countering extremism. It proceeds by (a) outlining our participants’ general understanding and critiques of CE in the UK, (b) drawing out specific critiques requiring attention, and (c) proposing the instigation of a rights-based approach to CE and of independent review of CE activities so that the effectiveness and outcomes (including negative societal impact) of CE initiatives can be identified through systematic and robust independent processes.
The report is available from the Government website here.