November 2, 2022 - 1:53pm

Home Secretary Suella Braverman is reported to be updating the British government’s flagship counter-terrorism programme, CONTEST, amid claims that not enough is being done to stop radical Islamists. This is a sensible reason for a revamp, but the Home Office must ensure that any change looks at how the strategy has been weakened over the years by treating far-Right extremism as more of a pressing concern than its Islamist counterpart.

The primary aim of CONTEST is to reduce the risk to the UK and its citizens and interests overseas from terrorism, so that people can go about their lives freely and with confidence. But this aim is hindered when it seems that the rights of terrorists are being prioritised over those of their victims. For example, Usman Khan, the Islamist terrorist responsible for the London Bridge attack which killed two people, Jack Merrit and Saskia Jones, is to be removed from a council report amid claims that his inclusion could play into the hands of far-Right extremists.

The Safeguarding Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting which was held at Staffordshire County Council was reviewing the Chief Coroner’s report following the death in the attack of one of its local citizens. Councillor Gillian Pardesi suggested that including Khan’s name and the fact that he was of Pakistani decent would further “demonise the Muslim community” and embed a “stereotypical profile of what an extremist is.” Pardesi went on to suggest that, given the country is facing a financial crisis, the far-Right and neo-Nazis — who pose far more of a threat than Islamist jihadis — will be looking for scapegoats. The Muslim community will therefore be at risk from further attacks.

These statements run contrary to reality. To suggest that including the name of Usman Khan in the report will demonise the Muslim community is tenuous, given the same argument doesn’t apply to the general UK population with the inclusion of a far-Right extremist. Additionally, removing the name of an Islamist extremist plays more into their hands than it does the far-Right, as jihadists will be able to achieve anonymity when the same would not be true for other types of terrorism. This gives them a pass and empowers them more when even official bodies are refusing to name them. 

As for the claim that the far-Right pose far more of a threat than Islamist jihadis, this is not rooted in fact. When you look at conviction rates for terrorism, offences connected to far-Right terrorism are dwarfed by Islamist jihadism year on year. The highest number of far-Right terror-connected offences in a year is 44, whereas the lowest number of Islamist offences is 79. What’s more, there is no comparable far-right terrorist organisation that can match the likes of al-Qaeda, Islamic State (IS) or Boko Haram.

Situations where the rights of terrorists are being prioritised over that that of their victims show a mismatch between CONTEST’s stated purpose and its application. For example, if official bodies appear to be appeasing the terrorists by not accurately describing them — under the misguided belief that the Muslim community will be put at risk — they have no business dealing with matters of national security. Not only is this potentially risky; it also creates ‘victims’ who are nothing of the sort. 

The revamp of CONTEST will also need to be proportionate to the level of threat being posed by all types of extremism. Therefore, it would be sensible to devote funding and resources based on need, rather than ideology. The Shawcross review of PREVENT, which is one strand of CONTEST, will likely argue this point when it is released. We can only hope that policy from now on will tackle extremism wherever it exists, and not skirt over that which is politically inconvenient.

Wasiq Wasiq is an academic specialising in defence and terrorism.