Classroom extremists will be rooted out: Cameron orders crackdown on ‘conveyer belt’ of hate in schools and universities
David Cameron today ordered a crackdown on extremism in the classroom in the wake of the brutal killing of solider Lee Rigby.
Education and business ministers have been told to step up efforts to root out those spouting extreme views in schools and universities.
The Prime Minister convened a new taskforce aimed at tackling the spread of the sort of ‘poisonous’ views which can lead to violent acts on Britain’s streets.
Senior ministers covering the police, education, local government and faith met in Downing Street to plot the official response to the threat posed by radicalisation.
In a statement to the Commons Mr Cameron said it was important to learn the lessons from the attack on the soldier in Woolwich.
He told MPs: ‘Those who carried out this callous and abhorrent crime sought to justify their actions by an extremist ideology that perverts and warps Islam to create a culture of victimhood and justify violence.
‘We must confront this ideology in all its forms.’
Mr Cameron, who chaired the first meeting of the new taskforce in Downing Street, said the Government’s Prevent Strategy had closed down websites and helped people vulnerable to radicalisation.
Since 2011, more hate preachers had been excluded from the UK than ever. And 5,700 items of terrorism material had been taken down from the internet with almost 1,000 more blocked when they were hosted overseas.
But he hinted that he will attempt to resurrect the controversial Communications Data Bill – dubbed a ‘snooper’s charter’ – to give security services more power to track web and telephone use.
Mr Cameron added: ‘It is clear that we need to do more. When young men born and bred in this country are radicalised and turned into killers, we have to ask some tough questions about what is happening in our country.
‘It is as if that for some young people there is a conveyor belt to radicalisation that has poisoned their minds with sick and perverted ideas.
‘We need to dismantle this process at every stage – in schools, colleges, universities, on the internet, in our prisons, wherever it is taking place.’
The taskforce meeting was attended by ministers including Deputy PM Nick Clegg, Chancellor George Osborne, Home Secretary Theresa May, Justice Chris Grayling, faith minister Baroness Warsi and policy minister Oliver Letwin.
They were tasked with working ‘on practical suggestions which the task force could discuss at future meetings’.
The meeting agreed that it is ‘necessary to tackle extremism head on, not just violent extremism, particularly in light of the appalling murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich’, a spokesman said.
Mr Grayling will look into similar issues in prisons while Baroness Warsi will draw up work in communities. Experts in these areas will address future meetings of the taskforce.
Mr Cameron said: ‘What happened on the streets of Woolwich shocked and sickened us all.
‘It was a despicable attack on a British soldier who stood for our country and our way of life and it was too a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country.
‘There is nothing in Islam that justifies acts of terror and I welcome too the spontaneous condemnation of this attack from mosques and Muslim community organisations right across our country.
‘We will not be cowed by terror, and terrorists who seek to divide us will only make us stronger and more united in our resolve to defeat them.’
Mr Cameron said Tory former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee, would look at how the suspects were radicalised, what the security services knew about them and whether anything more could have been done to stop them. The committee would conclude its work by the end of the year.
The coalition has been split on the Communications Data Bill, which would give police and security services power to track email, web and mobile use.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has warned the plans are disproportionate and a threat to civil liberties
But Mr Cameron told MPs that 95 per cent of serious crimes involve the use of communications data.
‘That is not the content of a fixed or mobile telephone call, it’s about the nature of the call – when it was made, who was it that made it, when did they make it,’ he added.
‘As telephony moves from fixed and mobile telephony on to the internet, our intelligence and police services will have a problem.
‘We need to address this problem, we should address it in a sensitive and careful way, we should look at all the non-legislative options there are, but I hope we can have a measure of cross-party support on all sides of the House to try and get this right because we will suffer if we don’t.’
Labour leader Ed Miliband said extremists would fail to divide Britain because ‘British people know this attack did not represent the true values of any community, including Muslim communities who contribute so much to our country’.
Mr Miliband said he supported action to bring the perpetrators to justice and work to unite communities and learn the lessons of the attack.
Mr Cameron’s official spokesman said: ‘The point around the extremist taskforce is to look at what further concrete measures can be done in areas such as disrupting extremist activity, challenging poisonous narratives and tackling radicalisation across the board.
‘People will absolute understand that following the horrific incident in Woolwich, that the government looks into what more can be done to tackle extremism.’
In theory the taskforce will look at all forms of extremism, including far right groups.
But the spokesman added: ‘It is a reasonable expectation for the majority of its work focus to be linked to the type of extremism that those who hold those views claim they are justified by the Islamic faith.
‘It will look at violent extremism but also the types of extremism that can sometimes lead towards and contribute to violent extremism.’
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair made an extraordinary intervention into the debate at the weekend, launching an outspoken attack on ‘the problem within Islam’.
He departed from the usual argument that Islam is a peaceful religion that should not be tainted by the actions of a few extremists.
Instead, Mr Blair urged governments to ‘be honest’ and admit that the problem is more widespread.
‘There is a problem within Islam – from the adherents of an ideology which is a strain within Islam,’ he wrote in the Mail on Sunday.
‘We have to put it on the table and be honest about it. Of course there are Christian extremists and Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu ones.
‘But I am afraid this strain is not the province of a few extremists.
‘It has at its heart a view about religion and about the interaction between religion and politics that is not compatible with pluralistic, liberal, open-minded societies.’
He added: ‘At the extreme end of the spectrum are terrorists, but the world view goes deeper and wider than it is comfortable for us to admit. So by and large we don’t admit it.’