UK 'late' to recognise need to tackle extremist views

Philip Hammond

The UK was late to recognise the need to tackle the extremist views behind terrorism, the foreign secretary says.

Philip Hammond also said there had been a reluctance to "recognise the link between non-violent extremism and violent extremism" in the past.

He said the importance of tackling all forms of extremism was now realised.

Addressing a security summit in Bahrain, Mr Hammond described countering Islamist extremism as "the great challenge of our time".

In the speech, in Manama, he said: "We in Britain, have recognised - perhaps later than we should have - that to prevail in that struggle, we have to tackle all forms of extremism, not just violent extremism."

'Too anxious about offence'

He added: "For decades we have clung to a false distinction between the two.

"We have tolerated - in fact we've even celebrated in the name of multiculturalism - ideas, behaviours and institutions that have encouraged separateness of identity and intolerance of difference.

"With hindsight, we've been too tolerant of intolerance.

"Too anxious about causing offence instead of standing up for what is right and tackling head-on the radicalisers and the extremists peddling their messages of hatred and division."

Mr Hammond said details about British strategy in the Gulf would be published in the coming months.

He was also in Bahrain to take part in a ground-breaking ceremony marking the start of construction at a new Royal Navy base at Mina Salman Port, which will allow longer-term deployments in the Gulf.

Work has already begun to construct what will be the UK's first new permanent military base in the Middle East since 1971.

'Turn a blind eye'

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Hammond also said the UK needed to show more of a "duty of care" to vulnerable people at risk of being radicalised by extremists.

Asked by BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner if the new counter-extremism strategy was an admission of failure, not just by this government but by previous governments, Mr Hammond said: "I don't think it's just a failure by governments, I think it's a question about how our society has dealt with these issues in the past.

"And the doctrine of multiculturalism that we clung to for a long time in the UK, I'm afraid, encouraged us to turn a blind eye to things that we should have addressed.

"It allowed us to overlook intolerance that was going on under our very noses."

He said the new strategy was intended to tackle that.

"We can no longer allow the consequences of that, in terms of radicalisation of young men and women in Britain, many of whom have gone to Iraq and Syria to fight, some of whom have died there," said Mr Hammond.

"So we have to be more mindful of a duty of care to counter extremist agendas, to intervene, to protect vulnerable people from being radicalised."

Referring to the Trojan Horse affair, during which it was claimed some conservative Muslim groups were attempting to take control of a number of schools in Birmingham, he added: "We've had to learn from this about what's going on in our schools, our prisons, our mosques, our internet and make sure we address it."

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