For the last four months our focus has been on tackling the devastating impact of Covid-19. Life as we know it has changed dramatically as we’ve all made huge sacrifices and played our part in reducing the spread of the virus.
One of the many results of lockdown has been a drop in overall crime. This is, of course welcome. But behind these falling numbers, there are still some areas of real concern. One is the rise in extremism.
We know that times of uncertainty and hardship can create fertile breeding grounds for hatred and division as extremists take the opportunity to prey on the vulnerable. As more people than ever are at home, isolated and online, I worry that extremists are using this period to promote hate and conspiracy theories on social media.
Extremists of all persuasions are using the digital landscape as a battleground, where they are seeking to inspire and recruit the vulnerable and disaffected, exploiting and twisting faith and patriotism for their own deadly ends.
The awful attacks in Reading and Streatham are just two recent incidents that show the threat of terrorism is still very present. We have also seen the far right’s efforts to hijack the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the ongoing threat from Isis and similar groups - stark reminders that extremism is still a very real threat to our communities.
This is a matter of huge concern to me, as it should be to our government.
A recent report by the Commission on Countering Extremism highlighted the urgent need to do more to stop those who are seeking to sow division and undermine the social fabric in our country. We need the government’s support to tackle this national problem, which is one of the biggest threats to our country.
The government must start by acknowledging the urgency of the situation: those who seek to sow hatred and intolerance towards ethnic, racial or religious groups are actively using this time of national crisis to target and radicalise vulnerable people towards their twisted aims. It should also actively follow London’s lead by committing significant resources to supporting communities up and down the country to tackle extremism.
While the government delays, I’m already taking action to empower our communities to work together against hatred and extremism as part of City Hall’s £1m Countering Violent Extremism programme. Earlier this year, I joined forces with Google.org to invest £800,000 in the capital to support grassroots organisations at the heart of our communities to deliver projects that stand up to racism, hate, intolerance and radicalisation.
This investment is part of my Shared Endeavour Fund, which is now in its latest phase of supporting projects that are challenging the most pressing and current manifestations of extremist ideology and hate filled conspiracy theories. This includes projects such as Exit UK, which has former members of far-right organisations working across London to help spot the warning signs of vulnerability to far-right radicalisation, and the Anne Frank Trust, which is equipping young people with the knowledge, skills and confidence to stand up to racism, hate, intolerance and extremism.
There’s no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought communities together. In these difficult and uncertain times, we’ve shown the world that our values of decency, tolerance and mutual respect remain as strong as ever. But we must always be alert to the danger posed by those who seek to divide us and spread hatred.
l will continue to do what I can in London, working closely with the police, security partners and communities across the capital as we battle the scourge of extremism.
However, we urgently need the government to step up and do more now to prevent the rapid spread of extremism. Insidious voices are growing louder and targeting our most vulnerable people. We must act together now to stop it and save lives.
Sadiq Khan is the Mayor of London