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Multi-ethnic, religiously diverse democratic societies such as the United Kingdom’s are faced with the rising threat of extremism and terrorist activity. In recent times, Western countries have suffered at the hands of both Islamist-inspired and far-right terrorism. There is no denying that Islamist-inspired and far-right terrorism “feed off” one another – in other words, “cumulative terrorism”. Indeed, there is ideological convergence between Islamist-inspired and far-right white-supremacist terrorists. Whether it is the martyrdom videos left by Islamists or the writings of white supremacists, terrorists on both sides often talk of pan-national allegiances and call for cross-country alliances based on “shared identities”.

In the case of Islamists, fellow Muslims – irrespective of their nationality – are called upon to take up arms with the objective of securing the worldwide implementation of sharia.  The concept of Ummah – a global Islamic community – is used by Islamists in an effort to delegitimise nation-based loyalties and convince others to join their extremist cause. Indeed, the one Islamic sect which openly speaks of loyalty to the nation in positive terms – the Ahmadiyya community – is often the target of victimisation at the hands of orthodox Muslims who do not view Ahmadis as “proper followers” of Islam.

Close examination of the accused New Zealand mosque attacker Brenton Tarrant’s manifesto, The Great Replacement: Towards A New Society, also brings to our attention his complete disregard for the modern nation-state. He speaks of a “brother of nations” tied together by a shared white European ancestry. Indeed, he uses this concept in a dubious effort to reconcile his aggressively anti-immigrant position with his own status of being an Australian citizen living in New Zealand. The far-right identitarian movement Generation Identity, which was the recipient of donations made by Tarrant, makes a similar pan-national appeal for the “defence of Europe” – one motivated by “white preservation” and the “protection” of the continent’s Judeo-Christian heritage.

What both represent is a fundamental loathing of inclusive national identities and the modern nation state itself.

Security and intelligence are of course critical in this context. But the battle against extremism also needs to be ideological. The construction of compelling anti-extremist counter-narratives is essential – and needs to rise above the conventional but broken politics of left and right. In aggressively promoting materialistic individualism, the right has been complicit in the destruction of the national community. By indulging in identity politics and championing difference over integration, the liberal-left has sowed the seeds of group-based social division. What we are left with is a nation in which different groups increasingly live separate existences, without any real sense of common purpose and shared destiny. Indeed, this is something that has been discussed for some time by leading academic Professor Ted Cantle, and featured prominently in the 2016 government-commissioned Casey report into integration in the UK.

Trust and patriotism, then, are both critical in this battle. Diversity is only a strength if people of different ethnicities and faiths can come together around shared goals, often national causes, for the common good. Lack of contact between groups breeds suspicion of the unknown, undermining trust. It is under this condition where the peddling of sweeping generalisations and negative stereotypes by extremists find the most success. Experiences of positive contact through participation in cross-community projects – skills schemes, health awareness workshops, inter-school sporting competitions – can help to foster meaningful intergroup relations which act as an effective “shield” from deliberately divisive narratives constructed by extremist forces.

Therefore, lack of social cohesion – particularly in our urbanised, diverse parts of the country – is deeply problematic from a counter-extremism perspective. In this context, political leadership is crucial. More than ever, we need visionaries who understand the divisive effect of identity politics, the deeply damaging nature of social segregation, and the importance of developing a civic and inclusive conception of nationhood. Trust, inclusiveness and patriotism hold the key.

Dr Rakib Ehsan is a Research Fellow at Henry Jackson Society’s Centre on Radicalisation & Terrorism. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.