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Latest AHRC faith debate

Date: 07/03/2012

Academic claims current definition of extremism includes his 'Spectator reading step-mother' and may increase rather than reduce the likelihood of terrorism.

New research presented at this Wednesday's Westminster Faith Debate, co-funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Economic Science and Research Council (ESRC) as part of their Religion and Society Research Programme, suggests that the Government's attempts to narrow the focus of the Prevent strategy have not gone far enough. Mark Sedgwick argues that targeting radical or 'intolerant' beliefs casts the net too wide, and risks making violence more rather than less likely. What is needed is a narrower focus on known signals such as recruitment activities by known terrorist groups, preparation of terrorist acts, travel to conflict zones and a history of violent behaviour.

Citing the current Prevent 2 definition of extremism as including "vocal or active opposition to... mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs", Mark Sedgwick challenges the government to explain why this doesn't include his Spectator-reading stepmother and large sections of the British population. Intolerant attitudes, hostility to democratic institutions, or belief that duty to God overrides duties to the state, are not reliable indicators of support for violence.

Marat Shterin shows how state attempts in Russia to eliminate non-violent expressions of 'radical' political, religious and ideological positions make violent expressions of these positions more likely by creating an 'us and them' culture. After 10 years in force, loosely defined provisions of the Russian Law on Combating Extremism have led to hundreds of police raids on Jehovah's Witnesses, a ban on the Glen Movement, and not a single arrest leading to preventing terrorism.

Drawing on his research in the UK, Matthew Francis describes attending a workshop to raise awareness of the Prevent programme during which he was shown a film clip from 'This is England' showing 'vulnerable' people sitting chatting in a council flat, and told that this was a good example of 'the process of radicalisation'. He argues that lots of money is being spent on an initiative that, because it casts the net too wide, doesn't work.

Charles Clarke, former Home Secretary and co-host of the Westminster Faith Debates said: "For the last decade there has been a tension between averting potential terrorist threats and alienating broader communities. This is not an easy balance and no government has yet got it right. This research shows the need to focus very closely on those at risk of violent behaviours, not broader groups holding illiberal beliefs."

Ed Husain and Mehdi Hasan will respond to the research presented at the debate.

View the three main presentations for the debate this evening.


AHRC Media contact: Jake Gilmore, Communications Manager

Tel:01793 416021
Email: j.gilmore@ahrc.ac.uk 

Notes to editors:

More information about the research can be found on the new Radicalisation Research website sponsored by the Religion and Society Programme.

The Westminster Faith debates are designed to bring the best academic research into the public eye, making the very topical debates on the role of religion in society more informed on subjects from extremism to multiculturalism, welfare reform to religious freedom. All details are available on the Religion and Society website. The Westminster Faith Debates are organised by the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society programme, Charles Clarke and Theos.

Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC): Each year the AHRC provides approximately £100 million from the Government to support research and postgraduate study in the arts and humanities, from languages and law, archaeology and English literature to design and creative and performing arts. In any one year, the AHRC makes approximately 700 research awards and around 1,100 postgraduate awards. Awards are made after a rigorous peer review process, to ensure that only applications of the highest quality are funded. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK.

The ESRC is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. We support independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. At any one time, we support over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.

The Religion and Society Research Programme is a collaborative venture between the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Economic and Social Research Council. Together, these UK government funded research councils have contributed £12m to fund research of the highest quality on the interrelationships between religion and society. The Programme started in January 2007 and finishes December 2012. It has funded over 70 original projects across the arts, humanities and social sciences in three phases, with Phase 2 focused on Youth and Religion. Four types of projects (large grants; small grants; collaborative studentships; networks and workshops) have been funded. These awards are held across UK universities. Research is historical as well as contemporary in focus and many projects are investigating international contexts.

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