The murder of Drummer Lee Rigby has prompted consideration as to what could be done to defeat the merchants of hatred and division in our communities. Local councils have an important responsibility. They can start by not making matters worse.
Political Correctness – such as Radstock Town Council's recent proposal not to fly the England Flag on the grounds it would be offensive to Muslims – makes matters worse.
School governors should keep track of the reading lists in their schools. Are there supposedly "anti racist" books which actually emphasise division and promote racial antagonism? For example there is an unpleasant book called The Edge by Alan Gibbons, commonly handed out in secondary schools. Its general message is that white people are racist – it gets across the theme to ethnic minority teenagers reading it that white people don't like them.
Tower Hamlets Council, under its Mayor Lutfur Rahman, offers a helpful example of what not to do. Andrew Gilligan has done a lot of work on this and here is a summary. Huge sums of council funding have been given to front organisations for the extremist Islamic Forum of Europe and those with IFE links are recruited to senior positions in the council. The contrast with Newham Council's efforts to promote good community relations is instructive.
Councils should check carefully the nature of the organisations they are funding. The DCLG's paper 50 ways to Save includes:
"34… do not give community grants to organisations which promote segregation or division in society."
The priority for funding should be for those working to ensure all residents are able to speak English. Making the right decisions on voluntary sector grants can do good – making the wrong decisions can do great harm.
Similarly councils should also check that groups using community halls and other council's premises are not promoting hatred.
Councils often provide a bridge between the armed forces and the community. Yesterday Paul Goodman wrote about how few Muslims there are in the armed forces at present and how often young Muslims are unaware of this opportunity to serve. What are councils doing about this?
Toby Young has described a new free school for Oldham which will have a military ethos. It is hoped it will be the first in a chain of such schools. This is the sort of development which councils can encourage or obstruct.
How will this prevent disaffected Muslim youths from falling into the hands of Islamist hate preachers? Well, for one thing, the Headmaster will be Affan Burki, a British Muslim and a serving captain in the Royal Corps of Signals. Thanks, in part, to the involvement of Captain Burki, a majority of the parents who've signed up to the new school are Muslims. Now, there's no guarantee that all these children will grow up to be responsible democratic citizens, but they're likely to emerge from the school with more sympathy for the men and women who make up our Armed Forces than Michael Adebolajo. Indeed, many of them may go on to join the Armed Forces themselves – a welcome development, given how few Muslims there are in the British Army are at present.
Poignant that the school won the go ahead on the same day as the murder on Woolwich.
The efforts and judgements that councils make on this have limits. They can never guarantee that the mind of an individual will not be so poisoned by fanatical hatred that violence is embraced. But councils must do whatever they can to make this more rather than less likely.