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"British values" and the Home Secretary's March 2015 speech on extremism

This major speech set out the broad policy on extremism and integration which the UK Government is continuing to follow. Promoting "British values" is a key part of the strategy, but the name "British values" is counterproductive.

Summary

Posted 10 April 2015 Updated 19 December 2016

On 23 March 2015 the Home Secretary the Rt Hon Theresa May MP made a very important speech on extremism, with the title "A New Partnership to Defeat Extremism."

The speech was trailed on the BBC Radio 4 "Today" programme, and from memory Theresa May was interviewed that morning on the subject. In the early afternoon I was telephoned by Channel 4 News asking if I would go on the 7:00pm news to be interviewed in support of the speech. While I was aware of the broad message from the "Today" programme, at that stage I had not read the speech. Accordingly I agreed to look at the speech and then call Channel 4 News back.

I downloaded the speech from the Home Office website, which had the full text as delivered. (Sometimes websites only have the advance copy, with the cautionary legend "check against delivery".) After reading it, I decided that I would be happy to speak supporting it and informed Channel 4 News accordingly. I then re-read it again as being familiar with the material makes a big difference when you are in front of a TV camera!

Sadly shortly before I was due to set off for the studio for the recording, Channel 4 News sent me a text message cancelling the appearance. I suspect that they found a more heavyweight speaker!

That evening instead of regarding the time I had spent studying the speech as wasted, I decided to write a piece for Conservative Home about it. That piece, with the title "Good implementation is vital for the New Partnership to Defeat Extremism" was submitted just before midnight for publication. Due to an error, the Conservative Home piece did not get published until 9 April 2015, and the editor (with my encouragement) changed the title to something catchier.

You can read my piece on the Conservative Home website and it is also reproduced lower down on this page.

When I began composing this website page, I saw that my Conservative Home piece had not linked to the text of Theresa May's speech. As I always encourage readers to engage with original sources where possible, I went to the Home Office website page for the speech to create the link. As I did so, it caught my eye that the website page as accessed today states "Delivered on:23 March 2015 (Speaker's notes, may differ from delivered version)."

The mystery and changes to the Home Office website

I recollected that when I had downloaded the speech on 23 March 2015 (by copying and pasting it into a Microsoft Word file) that the website had stated that the text was that of the speech as delivered. My computer files confirmed my memory, and the text downloaded on 23 March 2015 does indeed state "Delivered on: 23 March 2015 (Transcript of the speech, exactly as it was delivered)."

I suspected that there might have been a glitch on the Home Office website and that there might be another page with the delivered text. Accordingly I performed a Google search for the transcript. That did not find it, but the search did throw up an interesting blog by Inayat Bunglawala dated 1 April 2015 "Theresa May and the Mystery of the Missing Pledge About Hate Crimes Against Muslims."

After reading the blog, I downloaded the text from the Home Office website today. I then used Microsoft Word's facility for comparing documents to produce a redlined version. This redlined version shows that the changes on the Home Office website between the 23 March 2015 text as actually delivered to the text available today (described by the Home Office website as "Extracts from the speech") are far more extensive than simply deleting the commitment to require all police forces to record anti-Muslim hate crimes as mentioned by Inayat Bunglawala.

Virtually all of the concrete proposals made in the speech as delivered are absent from the version now on the Home Office website.

However the full text of the speech as delivered is available on the press section of the Conservative Party's website.

What has happened?

The Home Office website provides no explanation. Inayat Bunglawala's blog contains a footnote dated 2 April 2015 with the following guess: "...it does look like this issue could well be part of an ongoing internal policy debate between the civil service, the Tories and the Lib-Dems."

That is also my guess. It would appear that the proposed actions which the Home Secretary set out in the speech were subsequently challenged within Government, leading to the text on the Home Office website being amended. I cannot think of any other logical explanation.

Mohammed Amin: The values that can defeat extremism aren’t British values only – they’re shared, human, universal values too

Mohammed Amin is Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum. He is writing in a personal capacity.

Theresa May’s speech last month “A New Partnership to Defeat Extremism” set out the next Conservative government’s vision for the way forward on this vital issue. I read it twice on the day it was delivered as I was lined up for a TV news interview; sadly, that appearance was cancelled!

While I thought it was an excellent speech, I was disappointed but not surprised by the number of Muslim organisations queuing up to criticise it. The Muslim Council of Britain’s response is at this link. I have mentioned the MCB specifically only because their response is readily available. While no respectable Muslim organisation does anything other than condemn terrorism, there is widespread refusal to recognise that non-violent extremism is a pathway and contributor to violent extremism.

Violent Islamist extremism is the greatest domestic threat

As explained at this link, I avoid using the word “Islamism.” However in this piece for brevity I will use “Islamist extremism” in the same way that Teresa May uses it. Given the death toll of the 7 July 2005 London bombings, and the vastly greater number of casualties if various thwarted plots had proceeded to fruition, I find it appalling when some organisations downplay the threat from violent Islamist extremists by citing actual or failed terrorism from other sources.

Non-violent Islamist extremists are everyone’s enemy

As May points out, such people poison the life chances of many young people by coercively inculcating a false narrative of history and a fundamentally false view of Islam. They seek to deny people the right to decide what level of religious practice (if any) they wish to engage in by social coercion or worse. I could quote from the speech at length but will limit myself to just one paragraph:

“Because extremism is not something that can just be ignored. It cannot be wished away. It must be tackled head on. Because where extremism takes root the consequences are clear. Women’s rights are eroded. There is discrimination on the basis of race and sexuality. There is no longer equal access to the labour market, to the law, or to wider society. Communities become segregated and cut off from one another. Intolerance, hatred and bigotry become normalised. Trust is replaced by fear, reciprocity by envy, and solidarity by division.”

Banning orders

There are some people who lead others on to commit violent extremism while themselves staying on the right side of the criminal law. If we can draft legislation that enables them to be identified and then banned without sacrificing the right to freedom of speech, I will support it wholeheartedly.

The challenge will be in implementation. If a banning order is received by most British Muslims with the reaction “About time!” then we will be winning. Conversely if the banning order is widely seen as unjust and unfair, then we risk government action creating more potentially violent extremists than might have been created by the individual just banned.

The Extremism Analysis Unit

The analytical work of this unit promises to be very valuable as it should enable the Government to decide which people are non-violent extremists “beyond the pale”. However the Government should not keep the results of the Unit’s work to itself. Instead of trying to force universities to ban particular speakers, which gives rise to freedom of speech concerns, the Government should use the Unit’s work to publish a list of unacceptable people, along with explanations of why they are unacceptable. If the list is genuinely persuasive, universities themselves can then take action to deny or restrict the giving of platforms to such people on university premises without having to be coerced to do so. This was explained in more detail in my 2013 piece "A Government register of hate preachers" at this link.

Given the extent of the opposition to Banning Orders since Mrs May’s speech, the alternative approach in this section may be a way of achieving essentially the same goals.

Enquiry into the application of Shariah law

There are real issues about the way that some Shariah councils conduct their affairs and whether they discriminate against women seeking a religious divorce. I recently wrote about religious divorces on Conservative Home. However, as I wrote three years ago, Shariah is an extremely precious concept for Muslims.

If the “independent figure” Theresa May mentions in her speech does not have credibility with British Muslims, then the entire exercise will be a waste of time. In my view the independent figure must be a Muslim; why would most British Muslims give credence to a non-Muslim on fundamental matters of Islamic doctrine? Furthermore the individual needs to be seen as knowledgeable on Shariah which requires somebody who is qualified as an Islamic scholar. If Mrs May selects a Muslim like me who does not have the appropriate credentials, (I am not available) the exercise will also fail to convince.

Calling them British values is counter-productive

While I am not aware of knowing any violent Islamist extremists (if I did I would phone the security services) I do know some people who probably qualify as non-violent extremists and interact with others electronically from time to time.

This has taught me that the phrase “British values” grates with many Muslims who tell me so in no uncertain terms. While reasoned explanations of their problems with the term are less forthcoming, I suspect that it comes across to them as the “white colonial master” lecturing the “backward native” about civilisation, a civilisation which is the exclusive property of the “white colonial master.” That is obviously not how Theresa May intends to be seen, since such a response causes the individuals concerned to react negatively to the entire values concept.

When you look at the list of British values in the speech: “regard for the rule of law, participation in and acceptance of democracy, equality, free speech and respect for minorities” they are obviously the values that underlie British society. They have my unequivocal support and these are values that I would fight and die for.

However, in no sense are they exclusively British. These values equally underlie American society, Canadian society, Swedish society, and even underlie French society although I have some concerns about the way that the French implement “Laïcité”! I could list many more countries which also implement those same values.

Somewhat more controversially, because many non-violent extremists would object to what I am about to write, these are the values that underlie my understanding of Islam. I can see how Muslims have applied aspects of them throughout their history. As just one example, Muslim societies treated minorities much better than did Christian societies before the enlightenment.

Instead of talking about “British values” I recommend talking about “the values underpinning British society” or even “our shared human values.”

A challenge to my statement that that the above values "underlie my understanding of Islam"

On the Conservative Home website, I was challenged on this statement. While the person challenging me, Fletcher_Xtian, is anonymous, I believe from seeing many previous posts by the same person that he or she is not a Muslim non-violent extremist but someone who holds views quite hostile to Islam.

The challenge however did lead me to write down concisely the thinking underlying my statement, and I have reproduced my own text below:

The rule of law is an important concept in Islam. Even the caliph was subject to the requirements of Islamic law, very different from the equivalent in Christian Europe at that time where the king's word was the law.

Democracy - look back at how the first four caliphs were chosen after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Equality - It is a fundamental principle in Islam that all humans are equal before God. Read the last sermon of the Prophet, available at the link http://www.introductiontoislam.org/prophetlastsermon.shtml

Free speech - early Islam has a commendable record of ordinary citizens "speaking truth to power" until Muslims began to be governed by hereditary despots like those found in other civilisations at that time.

Respect for minorities - already covered in my main piece above.

Judging Islam by looking at the worst of Muslims today is about as sensible as judging Christianity by the German Christians who took part in the Holocaust; Judaism by looking at people like Baruch Goldstein; or atheism by looking at people like Stalin.

Addendum 19 December 2016 - The list of values

In her 23 March 2015 speech, then Home Secretary Theresa May listed the values in the extract quoted below from the original speech:

These values – such as regard for the rule of law, participation in and acceptance of democracy, equality, free speech and respect for minorities – are supported by the overwhelming majority of British people. They are sustained by our most important local and national institutions. And they are the means by which we have made our multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious society succeed.

They are the values that unite us. They are what allow us all to enjoy our individual freedoms, to lead varied lives, to live in diverse communities and to do all of these things while still living peacefully, respectfully and harmoniously alongside one another.

At the heart of our values is a simple – and inclusive – proposition. Everybody living in this country is equal and everybody is free to lead their lives as they see fit. We are free to practise any faith, follow any religious denomination, or ignore religion altogether. We are free to wear whatever clothes we choose. We are free to establish our own faith schools and give our sons and daughters the best education possible. We are free to build our own churches, temples and mosques and worship freely.

The values are also enumerated in on the Department for Education website. The "Academy and free school funding agreement: single academy trust" published on 18 March 2015 and updated on 11 May 2016 contains the following paragraph:

"2.47. The Academy Trust must ensure the Academy actively promotes the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs."

This list appears to have gradually become standard within the Government. For example, then Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan speaking at Bethnal Green Academy on 19 January 2016:

"And for the whole school’s commitment, as he outlined to me at the time, to ensure that pupils here continue to thrive in a safe, tolerant environment where the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance are enshrined in everything you do."

In his speech on extremism on 20 July 2015 then Prime Minister David Cameron mentioned values on many occasions. His enumeration was phrased somewhat differently:

"We are all British. We respect democracy and the rule of law. We believe in freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of worship, equal rights regardless of race, sex, sexuality or faith.

We believe in respecting different faiths but also expecting those faiths to support the British way of life. These are British values. And are underpinned by distinct British institutions. Our freedom comes from our Parliamentary democracy. The rule of law exists because of our independent judiciary. This is the home that we are building together.

Whether you are Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Christian or Sikh, whether you were born here or born abroad, we can all feel part of this country – and we must now all come together and stand up for our values with confidence and pride."

The Government's Counter Extremism Strategy published on 19 October 2015 contains the following paragraph on page 9:

"Extremism is the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also regard calls for the death of members of our armed forces as extremist."

Accordingly, I think it is reasonable to enumerate the values as follows:

  1. Democracy,
  2. The rule of law,
  3. Individual liberty,
  4. Mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs

Obviously that does not mean that our society has no other important values. However the above can be regarded as the standard list of values underlying our society. (I explain above why it is inaccurate and counterproductive to call them "British Values."

 

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