The leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols shared his reflections during a lecture last night and said that the Government’s counter-extremism plans risk doing extreme damage.
The archbishop of Westminster, responding to a question from the former Business Secretary Sir Vince Cable, who asked what the cardinals thoughts were on the Government’s Prevent Strategy.
The Cardinal replied: “There is no doubt that the threat of active terror is real… But my impression is that we are at a very delicate point at which the defining of extremism could go quite seriously wrong."
Addressing a full room at Archbishop’s House during an interfaith event last night in London. The Cardinal said he had no doubts that terrorism is a threat, but stated firmly that the thinking behind government policy to counter radicalization should be more “profound".
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and the leading Islamic scholar, Maulana Sayed Ali Raza Rizvi, sat alongside the Cardinal to converse about “Living as a Creative Minority in the UK". Rizvi speaking on the matter condemned the strategy saying:
“Unfortunately I do think that it will fail because of the amount of complaints they are receiving…The Government has not looked into it deeply enough to give a clear guideline to teachers and to community workers", he said. “There should be more consultation with community members from the Muslim community – it will help improve the entire strategy."
The cardinal added that the Prevent strategy may alienate those who come under suspicion. He gave the example of teachers contacting police about pupils suspected of extremism. This “can do immense damage" to levels of trust, he said.
During a Secondary Leaders’ Conference of the Catholic Association of Teachers, Schools and Colleges, Cardinal Nichols warned delegates to guard against internet recruitment of vulnerable secondary school students by ISIS saying that “One month is all it takes to transform a dissatisfied and disorientated teenager into a terrorist."
In his presentation, Cardinal Nichols suggested that “British values" should be placed on a deeper foundation of values such as the inherent dignity of the human person, building a better society, and “the openness to the spiritual and the transcendental".
The Prevent strategy has been criticized for the way it requires authorities, including teachers, to report suspected extremism. In one case, a 14-year-old boy was reported after using the phrase “eco-terrorism" in connection with environmentalist campaigners. He was taken out of class and asked whether he was affiliated with Isis.
Speaking at the lecture, Cardinal Nichols also warned listeners about an intolerant secularism which seeks “to clean the streets of religion".
He said: “A society which privatizes religion and says it ‘doesn’t do God’ is weakening itself." A country which marginalizes faith, the cardinal added, will lose some of its most generous and creative resources.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis speaking on loyalty concepts, cited the “Norman Tebbit test" also known as the Tebbit test, saying (audio here at 11.42): “Minorities are responsible to maintain their own traditions, to be proud of their background, loyal to their faiths, and at the same time to be proud members of their countries.
The Tebbit test is controversial phrase introduced by British Conservative politician Norman Tebbit. He suggested that those immigrants who support their native countries rather than England at the sport of cricket are not significantly integrated into the United Kingdom.
In a 1990 interview with the Los Angeles Times Tebbit said, “A large proportion of Britain’s Asian population fail to pass the cricket test," Tebbit said. “Which side do they cheer for? It’s an interesting test. Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are?"
Rabbi Rizvi said he believed the Muslim community had much more to contribute to British society and he lamented the fact that some Islamic leaders had failed to represent a faith that is all about respect, love and justice.