Freedom vs Extremism
I deliberately didn’t post in the immediate aftermath of the appalling murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich last week. News reports in the immediate hours following such an emotive event are often misleading and sometimes inaccurate. However, some facts are now becoming clear. The two murderers were British residents and at least one of them was born in this country. They appear to have been converted to their extreme brand of Islam after listening to so-called radical preachers in this country.
We have become used to the necessity to deal with external threats but it seems that we have a new problem of a few people who are British born and bred but who become “radicalised” following contact with extremist preachers and teachers in the UK. They then often head overseas to undergo jihadi training and sometimes also take part in combat operations against British and allied forces in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Under the last Labour government there was a huge increase in net migration to this country. Immigration surged, and while emigration also increased a bit, there was a significant overall increase in net immigration from under 100,000 a year to around 300,000 a year at its peak. Some estimates put the total number of immigrants during Labour’s time in office at 2.2m people, a large number of whom came from the new EU accession states in Eastern Europe. To make matters worse Labour completely lost control of the borders with large numbers of migrants also coming into Britain illegally during the period 2000-2003. Labour left a backlog of around 750,000 immigration cases with piles of letters unopened and boxes of “lost” files being uncovered in various cupboards of Whitehall departments. The huge numbers who came into the UK under Labour proved impossible to manage effectively and led to a collapse in morale amongst those charged to protect our borders. Anyone who doubts Labour’s failure should read this article.
The overwhelming majority of all migrants came to work hard and contribute to their new country and few could argue that Britain has not benefitted from their talents, cultural variety and experience. However, amongst the many decent law-abiding migrants came a minority of extremists who quickly infiltrated themselves into places where they could spread their hate amongst impressionable young people. Security services have identified a worrying number who have accessed British Universities to preach revolution and jihad to students. Some of them have also been given platforms in certain well known mosques.
The problems arising from such mass immigration and the extremist preachers who came with them are being acknowledged by some in the Labour Party. There is now an internal debate going on in the party about to what extent they should accept that such high levels of immigration caused problems, with some advising Ed Miliband to concede that mistakes were made while others prefer to skirt around the matter. But Labour is still torn between attacking people who want to see net migration reduced as “racists” and at the same time its spokemen call for “radical” preachers like Abu Qatada to be deported, despite having failed to do this throughout their 13 years in office.
David Cameron and the Coalition Government are right to seek to restrict net migration to this country. They have succeeded in reducing the numbers by around a third in the last couple of years. It is important at the same time to ensure that those coming into the UK only have honorable intentions and that extremists (of any type) are weeded out and refused admission. Theresa May’s reforms of the Borders Agency are a good start to recreating a system which can effectively control our borders and keep all our citizens safe.
The government is also, rightly in my view, stepping up attempts to identify and tackle both the extremist preachers and their disciples. However, it would be wrong to jump into knee-jerk responses which could affect and damage the freedoms which we have come to expect in a democratic and free society. This would only play to the agenda of the BNP and EDL. It has been sickening to see the attacks on law-abiding Muslims and Mosques following the murder of Lee Rigby. All communities must come together now to identify and report extremists in their midst to the security forces and to refuse to give them the platforms they desire to spread their hate. That is in the interests of all decent law-abiding people. However, the government must also ensure that its response is measured and consistent with our democratic traditions.
The most high profile suggestion in recent days is to reintroduce the Data Communications Bill to compel internet providers to store records of email and internet browsing activity in order that security agencies can access these. It is known by opponents as “the snoopers charter”. The government and the security services already have sweeping powers to intercept communications of all types when they can demonstrate just cause to a Judge. I am not convinced that widening the ability to monitor internet communications is either right or necessary.
In responding to the appalling events on the streets of Woolwich last week it is important that we do not undermine the freedoms that we have come to take for granted in our democracy and which members of our Armed Forces are there to defend. That balance between freedom and extremism is a delicate one and it is vital that we do not compromise what makes our democracy work and the extremists do not win by default. If the extremists win, the rest of us lose!