Extremism is “thriving” in parts of the UK, but its true scale is unknown, a top Government advisor has warned.
Sara Khan, who was appointed as lead commissioner for countering extremism earlier this year, said what we know about extremism is the “tip of the iceberg” and the issue is affecting the “very fabric of our society”.
Speaking as she launched a call for contributions to a landmark review on extremism, Ms Khan warned that extremists are “increasingly professional” in their efforts to spread hateful ideologies.
Her warning comes as a new report concluded that opportunities to stop the Manchester Arena bombing were missed as a result of a catalogue of failings by security services.
Plans to set up the independent Commission for Countering Extremism were announced by Theresa May in the wake of the bombing in May last year – one of five terror attacks in Britain in 2017.
The commission is carrying out an evidence-gathering exercise ahead of a landmark review to be published next year and Ms Khan is asking members of the public to share their views on, and experience of, extremism.
Launching the call for contributions, she said: “Extremism is thriving in some parts of our country, but we do not know the true scale of the problem and the full impact it is having on our society – what we do know is very likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.
“I know from meeting more than 400 experts and activists in 13 towns and cities across England and Wales over the last six months that extremism is affecting not just individuals but also our communities and the very fabric of our society.
“It is weakening trust in the very institutions we cherish, is undermining our democratic values and is inciting violence, hatred and hostility.”
She added: “Extremists appear increasingly professional and we have heard how they deliberately employ anti-racist and pro-free speech arguments, try to intimidate and promote a warped us versus them mentality to shut down debate and spread hateful ideologies.
“They rely on social media to normalise conspiracy theories and disinformation. Brave counter-extremists who take them on suffer horrific abuse both online and offline.”
The commission is asking for evidence from any individual or organisation concerned about rising extremism, including personal accounts, insight into extremists’ tactics and suggestions for how to strengthen the response.
It study on extremism, the first of its kind, is due to be published in spring next year.