Muslims hold placards as they march towards the U.S. embassy in London May 6, 2011
Muslims hold placards as they march towards the U.S. embassy in London May 6, 2011

The British government is to publish an updated strategy for tackling extremism and terrorism, on Tuesday afternoon.

According to The Times newspaper a review identified serious failings with the existing Prevent policy set up four years ago.

Home Secretary Theresa May is expected to confirm fears that most of the £63m annual budget was spent on overseas projects which have produced no security benefits. The report is also expected to call far increased spending on countering radicalism in prisons.

Other recommendations expected include monitoring people convicted of terrorism offences on their release and a renewed focus on the use of the internet, as it is said that the government considers a "national blocking list" of violent and unlawful websites.

The report comes following Mrs May's accusation yesterday that universities are complacent in tackling Islamist extremism.

She told the Daily Telegraph: "I don't think they have been sufficiently willing to recognise what can be happening on their campuses and the radicalisation that can take place. I think there is more that universities can do."

In February, Prime Minister David Cameron said organisations seeking to present themselves as a gateway to the Muslim community were showered with public money despite doing little to combat extremism.

Baroness Neville-Jones, until recently a security minister at the Home Office, said the plan now was to encourage people to integrate and build a single society based on values like democracy and equality.

However Mrs Neville-Jones statement raises some serious questions as it implies that non-European migrants do not share those values. Another important point to make is that while religious fundamentalism has been widely used by Muslim radical groups in the last decades, extremism and violent radicalism are not necessarily Muslim in essence and the roots of their causes do not always lie in religion. While making sure that migrants learn more about the culture of the country they have moved to is generally seen as a good move, in the case of France the "integration" system also has shown lot of downsides as migrants tend to feel pressured into fitting a model that often regroups nationalist archetypes and caricatures. Also one need to remember that against all expectations the people responsible for the London bombings in July 2005 were at first glance perfectly "integrated", they had jobs, talked to their neighbours and did not appear to be disconnected from the non-Muslim population.

Talking about the government's stance, Azad Ali, chairman of the Muslim Safety Forum and an advisor to the previous government on extremism, said the government should not attack ideologies.

"Everyone's happy to help, including the Muslim community, in catching criminals who want to perpetrate crimes," he said.

"But what we're moving to is now getting into policing people's thoughts and ideas. What is extremism? We're talking to the Muslim community in particular - let's be honest about it - through the prism of security. Why?"

Theresa May explained over the week end that, "One of the things we were very clear about here at the Home Office was we needed to look at extremism, not just violent extremism".

However the move has left parliament divided as a committee of senior MPs already complained last year that "Holding extreme views is not illegal and Prevent should clearly focus on violent extremism".

They added they feared that by marginalising 'radical' but non-violent opinions, the Government would end-up pushing those groups beyond the democratic process. "No organisation, unless proscribed," the committee concluded, "should be excluded from debate and discussions."

In March Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg backed the MPs as he insisted that "Smart engagement" means "distinguishing between violent and non-violent extremism". Organisations and individuals may hold deeply unpalatable, illiberal views, he noted, "but you don't win a fight by leaving the ring".

Since the beginning of the war on terror many western governments have insisted on the need to introduce new policies and debates on radicalism and extremism violence and claimed that the move was driven by the tangible threat emanating from Al-Qaeda inspired terrorism. However it is a shame that the Prevent policy introduced by the government focuses exclusively on Muslims communities. As much as al-Qaeda use Islam as a symbol for their fight, the Muslim community in its vast majority opposes radical Muslim organisations and their violent extremism.

Critics warn such a policy risks achieving the opposite of its aim - that those organisations excluded gain credibility by being seen to be challenging secular liberal Western culture, while those given a governmental tick of approval lose credibility.

But on the other hand, the main argument emanating from radical discourses that oppose themselves to the West is not the presence of Western liberal values, but rather the alleged pressure from the West to prevent the rest from being itself. In the case of Muslim fundamentalists, they have become more influential when they started using the ideological card of the voice of the poor and persecuted. In every conflict or stand off there is a self and another and both discourses seem here to turn around misconstructions that both have from one another and that are socially constructed.

Last year's report on Prevent warned that: "The Government's current approach to engagement with Muslim organisations has given the impression that there are 'good' and 'bad' forms of Islam - some endorsed by the Government, others not," the MPs noted. "Government interference in theological matters must be avoided."

However, David Cameron recently implied that at the root of the problem, are Muslims who may reject violence but "who accept various parts of the extremist worldview including real hostility towards Western democracy and liberal values."

But what are exactly Western democracy and liberal values? Ethnicity, culture, language, ideas and values are not fixed and evolve through time, creating a complex web of ramifications. Political leaders it seems whether in the West or the rest are increasingly misusing concepts to justify their own policies. Maybe they should stop trying to map out the world where people are either liberal Christians or extremist Muslims as it in itself represent an extremist view. Maybe, in order to truly get to the roots of extremism they ought to look at the real causes such as endemic poverty and inequalities as the wide academic literature on the subject demonstrates. Yes states must protect themselves from terrorism and as such come up with new policies, and yes debate is needed, but assuming that extremism is synonymous with Islam is certainly not the right way ahead.