Can conversations challenge dangerous radicalism?
There are many things about which, I suspect, Baroness Warsi and I would disagree very strongly – she is ‘Chairman’ of the Conservative Party, a role to which I am unlikely ever to aspire. But there does seem to be one thing about which, if reports are to be believed, we would see eye to eye: I gather that she, like me, believes that keeping channels of communication open is critical.
Apparently, following a fundamental split in the government’s counter-extremism strategy, Baroness Warsi was barred from attending the 4th Islamic Global Peace and Unity Event held on 23-24 October 2010 in London.
The view of Prime Minister David Cameron is, it seems, that there should be no platform-sharing with extremists, of which it is held there are a number amongst this event’s speakers. The other main political parties hold the converse view, as does Baroness Warsi, herself currently the UK’s most senior Muslim politician: they think that it’s generally good to talk.
We can debate whether religion has a place in public life at all, but this doesn’t help when a real and major public event based on belief is the issue. There’s plenty of evidence that people can and do hold extreme views without being violent – and indeed that most of those with ‘extreme’ views about their creed (Muslim, Christian or otherwise) in fact decry violence and believe their faith to be peaceful.
And there’s also evidence that the small minority who do embrace violence as instigators (rather than as naive and sometimes tragically young followers) are often educated and displaced, unconnected with the wider world rather than unaware of it.
How can it help, given the grave challenges of violent extremism, not to attempt connection when the opportunity arises?
How, without dialogue, can anyone tell when extreme views take on the potential for actual violence? And can open channels of communication sometimes even reduce this possibility to a degree?
The message that violence is absolutely unacceptable is surely not diminished by dialogue which seeks to affirm non-violent comunication.
* Is dialogue the most effective way to bolster moderate and non-violent opinion in the face of dangerous extreme opinion? Does this approach accommodate the belief that sometimes potentially violent people can be dissuaded from actually adopting such a grim way forward?
* Or is it better to demonstrate total rejection of their views, by shunning extremists entirely? Is this option based on the belief that people’s views are fixed?