Thank you John for that introduction. And thank you to you and the IISS staff for organising yet another successful Dialogue.
I’m delighted to be back in Bahrain and to join my distinguished colleagues on this panel. Although this is only my 2nd Manama Dialogue, you are now entering your 2nd decade, so I offer my congratulations on what is a remarkable series of conferences.
Your Royal Highnesses, fellow Ministers, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.
The region is engaged in an existential struggle against extremist Islamist terrorism. And before I make some remarks about the challenge of extremism - and how we in the UK are seeking to tackle it – I want to say something about security in the region.
Last year at this conference, I set out Britain’s commitment to our partners in the Gulf and our commitment to the security of the Gulf. I announced the construction of a new Royal Navy facility at Mina Salman, just a few miles down the road from here, thanks to the generosity of his Majesty King Hamad. A return to a permanent British presence east of Suez.
A lot has happened in the intervening year, including the landmark Iran nuclear deal and, following it, the re-opening of the British Embassy in Tehran.
So I want to start my remarks by reiterating, today, Britain’s commitment to the security of our traditional partners in the Gulf. I said last year that “your security is our security”. That was true then, and it’s true now.
At the heart of the relationship we have with our key allies in the region is a joint commitment to defence and counter-terrorism. A commitment that is keeping Britain safer, and keeping the Gulf safer.
Over the next few months we will publish our “Gulf Strategy” setting out our vision for Britain’s relations with its Gulf partners over the next 20 years or so – including how we will operationalise our commitment to a more sustained military presence in the region – on land, at sea and in the air.
And as a former Defence Secretary, it will come as no surprise to you that I am looking forward to the time – early in the next decade – when our two new aircraft carriers, currently under construction, will be sharing in the task of keeping the waters of the Gulf safe, with their compliment of F35 stealth fighters.
But back to my principal theme:
The challenge of extremism is not, of course, new. We have confronted extremist ideologies in the past – most notably, fascism and communism in the 20th century – and we’ve overcome them.
But the threat we face today is of a different nature.
Because the ideology that underpins the extremism we face is not an invented one, like communism or facism, but is rooted in a corrupt interpretation of one of the world’s great religions; because of that, it has deeper roots and wider reach – and it is harnessing the power of the internet to spread its message across the world in a way that has not been available to any previous extremist movement.
Countering Islamist extremism is, perhaps, the great challenge of our time. And it’s a challenge which every country must face.
The terrorist atrocities of 9-11 in New York, 7-7 in London, and more recently in Sydney, Paris and Sousse demonstrate the global nature of the threat.
But it is here, in this region, that Islamist extremism has had the greatest impact – with many millions of people forced to flee their homes, and in many cases their countries, by Da’esh’s seizure of territory in Iraq and Syria; and hundreds more killed and injured in indiscriminate attacks around the region.
Da’esh’s extreme doctrine is subversive as well as barbaric: it pursues its objective through a reign of terror and violence, murderous towards anyone – Muslim or non-Muslim – who does not subscribe to its perverted world view. Its fundamental tenets, besides violence and intimidation are discrimination, subjugation and sectarianism. And it seeks to undermine and destroy the nation states that are the very building blocks of our international system with its so-called caliphate.
Da’esh, and the extremist Islamist ideology it espouses, represents a fundamental threat to all of our security.
So we must adopt a common response to this common threat if, together, we are to confront them, and defeat them.
And, indeed, we’ve done so in responding to the military challenge of Da’esh.
I know, from my visits in the region earlier this week and over recent months, that few countries are more heavily invested in the fight against Da’esh – and few are facing more starkly the consequences of their rise – than the nations of this region.
I pay tribute to your efforts and offer condolence for your sacrifice. Together, as an international coalition, we can be confident that we are degrading Da’esh; and we will, in time defeat it.
But the argument I want to make today is that defeating Da’esh is not enough. To eliminate the underlying threat to our security, we have to defeat the extremist Islamist ideology on which Da’esh is based.
As Prime Minister David Cameron has said, this is a generational struggle. And 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. We have to tackle head-on the narrative of extremism – including, crucially, the claim that Islam is incompatible with good citizenship of a Western country and that voting is “haram”; as well as the celebration of, or apology for, violence, wherever it appears. Because even in forms that we have hitherto tended to ignore, extremist narrative, unchecked and uncountered, fosters the environment in which violence flourishes.
And to do that we have to understand why people are drawn to extremism in the first place. And how they progress from early curiosity about extremism to violent engagement; why in Britain, educated young men and women give up good jobs and good prospects to fight and, often, die under Da’esh’s black banner. Why, in Iraq and Syria, so many have been attracted to Da’esh’s barbaric cause. And why, from across the region and across the world, thousands of people have made the journey to the heartland of this evil empire.
We have to recognise that you do not have to engage in, or even espouse violence in order to be drawn to the ideology. No-one becomes a terrorist overnight. There is a process of radicalisation, a journey along a spectrum. A journey that all too often starts with naïve experimentation with a beguilingly simplistic value system, but ends up with suicide bombing.
In the UK, we’ve been too reluctant in the past to recognise the link between non-violent extremism and violent extremism. 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.
But no longer. We have fundamentally changed our approach. A few days ago, we published a comprehensive counter-extremism strategy based on four strands: countering the ideology of extremism; building social cohesion; supporting moderate mainstream voices; and disrupting the extremists wherever they seek to operate – from our schools and mosques through to our universities, prisons and even charities.
To defeat Islamist extremism, we have to fight it at all points along the spectrum.
We’ve created an Extremism Analysis Unit, in our Home Office, in our Ministry of the Interior, to identify behaviours and activities that require intervention; we are reviewing the misuse of Sharia in British Muslim communities; we are contesting dangerous content on the internet and social media and supporting moderate voices to put the counter arguments.
We are tightening governance of our schools in the wake of the alarming “Trojan horse” case in Birmingham. We will inspect regular schools and we will impose new duties on those running our universities, colleges and prisons to prevent radicalisation, as well as preventing misuse of our charities.
And we will shortly introduce legislation to parliament to allow us to ban the most dangerous extremist organisations, to close premises used for extremist purposes and to impose restrictions on individuals who pose a threat through their extremist activities.
Perhaps most important of all, I and my colleagues in Government, as politicians, will be making the case at every opportunity that it is possible to be a good Muslim and a good British citizen – as millions of British Muslims demonstrate every day. The best defence, we believe, against extremism is that British Muslims who are proud of their faith and proud of their nationality.
This is a battle of ideas; a battle for the hearts and minds of young Muslims worldwide. And all of us need to support Muslims and their Governments as they reclaim their religion from the extremists who have hijacked and corrupted it for their own immoral purposes.
But if we are to ensure that the next generation is not at risk of radicalisation, all of us have to subject ourselves to the soul-searching exercise that we in the UK have just been through; a process of asking ourselves whether the well-intentioned policies we’ve pursued have perhaps inadvertently fostered and nurtured the growth of the monster we must now fight. And when the answer is ‘yes’, we must not flinch from that reality. We cannot change the past, but we can move swiftly to protect the future. If I can put it this way: we should be intolerant of the consequences of our past tolerance of intolerance!
But before my friends at the Guardian newspaper rush to interpret my words as advocacy of an end to free speech, I should enter a very important caveat:
An essential tool in defeating extremism is tolerance of difference and it is essential that in our enthusiasm to tackle extremism, we don’t allow ourselves to confuse intolerance of intolerance with intolerance of difference.
In every successful, stable society, there has to be a public space in which differences – difference of religion, of politics, of social norms – are allowed peacefully to be expressed, without fear of persecution. But - and here’s the rub - always acknowledging the right of others to a respect for their different views, values and beliefs.
I’d go further and say that in a stable society, the teaching of tolerance and understanding of different religions, or even of different, mainstream interpretations of the same religion, is a vital part of denying extremism the medium in which to breed.
Because the alternative to openness and understanding is that those different beliefs and views are driven underground – into the arms of the extremists we all seek to defeat.
Of course, we must respect different cultures, traditions and histories.
But we also have to be clear that the failure to allow space for difference – or even dissent – can create a breeding ground where extremism and its bedfellow, terrorism can quickly take root.
So there will be no single approach, no one-size-fits-all formula for tackling extremism in every country.
We each have to take different actions to address different specific problems.
But we can and we must work together, sharing experience of what works and what doesn’t, building practical effect across borders.
Just as we’ve taken an inclusive approach in building the broadest coalition of countries taking military action against Da’esh, so we need an inclusive approach to the defeat of extremism in all its forms.
For our part, the UK is committed to working with all our international partners and allies – recognising the particular threat to our friends here in this region.
We will demonstrate our commitment to our shared security through a “full spectrum approach”. Not just with our growing military presence in the region, but in our ever-closer collaboration on cyber security and anti-terrorism - and our
increasing engagement with our partners in the region on countering the ideological threat from extremism too. And alongside that work, we will support our partners as they develop their own distinctive mechanism for allowing the appropriate expression of difference.
Together, as nations, partners and allies in our coalition, we will demonstrate that we are more powerful than Da’esh. But more importantly, if in slower time, we will demonstrate that our values are more powerful than the values of the extremists. That tolerance of our differences is not weakness, but is the greatest strength of all.