READING A report like this can give an impression of overwhelming grimness, with British society awash with hateful and divisive characters. However, that would be a total misrepresentation of where we are right now. For everything that is included in this report, it’s vital to acknowledge that 2020 also brought out the best in our communities and in our nation.
For most the onset of the pandemic meant an opportunity to get involved in supporting the vulnerable in our families, streets and communities. Not to mention the absolute superstars who, by dint of their jobs, put themselves on the frontline for all of us – from everyone working for the NHS to care workers, supermarket staff, delivery drivers, public transport workers and the emergency services.
When our children and grandchildren learn about the COVID-19 pandemic in years to come, there will be much to teach about solidarity and about how our country can pull together in a crisis.
It is also important to remember what is good about our country. HOPE not hate Charitable Trust’s recent European State of HATE report, produced earlier this year in conjunction with Expo (Sweden) and Amadeu Antonio Foundation (Germany), found that the UK had the least negative attitudes towards immigrants, Muslims and Roma of any of the eight European countries surveyed.
Our own polling for this magazine, finds similar results. Almost half of Britons (43%) have a positive attitude to Muslims, compared to just 22% who have a negative attitude. A slightly bigger number (49%) have a positive attitude to refugees and asylum seekers, compared to 29% who have a negative attitude. And 35% of people have a positive attitude to people from the Traveller community, as opposed to 29% who are negative.
Compare this to Italy and France: in Italy, 67% have a negative attitude towards Roma, and 62% in France, while only 6% in both countries had a positive attitude. In Germany, 39% hold a negative attitude towards the Roma, compared to just 12% who take a positive view.
None of this is to say that there are not still big problems that we all have to tackle in the UK, as this report clearly shows. However, it is vital that we harness the good to overcome the bad – HOPE has to beat hate.
HOPE can both be a great antidote to hate as well as acting as a mobiliser. We came up with the name HOPE not hate back in 2004 precisely for this reason. Our polling in areas where the far-right British National Party (BNP) was winning local elections made it clear that even in these areas, a majority of people rejected the politics of hate. But highlighting the BNP’s politics of hatred was not enough alone to win people over. We needed to offer an alternative – an alternative vision – and HOPE gave us that.
“HOPE” gave us an alternative worldview to the vision of hate offered by the BNP. HOPE suggested a world where people came together in solidarity, collaborated and overcame their problems through dialogue. Not the conflict, competition and anger encapsulated by the BNP.
We have tried to carry that positive vision ahead in everything we do. Our education work challenges prejudice in the classroom. Our community work seeks to bridge divides. And our policy work attempts to address some of the underlying issues that create the conditions that extremists then exploit.
Even our research and campaigning offer hope. By exposing, challenging and confronting extremists, we hope to reduce their ability to spread hate. By ensuring they are beaten at the ballot box, we are aiming to create a space for those with more positive and inclusive policies to step forward.
When we look at challenging and overcoming the hate and extremism highlighted in this report, it is important to understand that there is no single solution or simple remedy.
Many people are drawn to extremism because of other factors affecting their lives, factors often outside their immediate control. Some will not understand, or accept, that what they are doing is wrong or needs changing. There are, of course, a few who are very dangerous and for them arrest and potentially imprisonment is often the only solution.
Just as there are multiple reasons why people are drawn into extremism, so there are numerous ways that extremism can be combatted. Some cases will require legal intervention, including arrests and imprisonment, but most extremism needs to be addressed in other ways, addressing the concerns and grievances (real or imagined) that give it oxygen, challenging disinformation and conspiracies that sour the political landscape, and bringing communities together to break down barriers and misconceptions.
It is a combination of all these, coupled with a message and vision of hope, that are required to defeat the nihilism of hate.
It is for this reason that we are increasingly concerned about the noises coming out of Government which seem to suggest it is about to deprioritise counter- extremism work inside communities, instead preferring to tackling online hate and hate crime. While these are important issues that must be addressed, they cannot be done at the expense of community engagement and more localised initiatives that bring divided communities together and push extremists to the margins.
Of course, you can criminalise the key perpetrators of hate and deny them the online platforms to propagandise and spread their extremist poison, but this does nothing to address the underlying issues that give rise to extremism in the first place.
Tougher laws and increased enforcement can certainly be part of any strategy to defeat extremism: they cannot be the main plank of an anti-extremism strategy. You can’t legislate hate away, not least because such approaches have a habit of backfiring in the longer term. People become more alienated from the system and over-focusing on a legalisative approach can play into the “cancel culture” and “thought police” narrative which is already so persuasive in the extremist mindset.
HOPE not hate is set up to reflect a myriad of approaches – research, education, community engagement and policy work – that we feel are proven and necessary to truly combat extremism. We also believe that it is the combination of these different elements that makes us stronger and more effective.
HOPE must lie at the heart of this strategy: the promise and vision that hate can be replaced with something better. It is, after all, the absence of hope that makes many people so susceptible to hate. And with the threats highlighted in this report, coupled with the economic impact of the COVID pandemic, Brexit and a possible constitutional crisis, the need for HOPE, and we think “HOPE not hate”, is required more than ever.