Last month I represented Extremely Together at the Defence IQ Global Countering Violent Extremism conference here in London.
As military personnel and industry experts gathered to share ideas and best practice in defence, and how these can be used to counter and prevent both far-right and Islamist extremism – I found myself wondering how to harness this group of people, their expertise and knowledge.
I gained an insight into sector specific work, and found, quite reassuringly that there are numerous groups of people; ranging from the think-tank world, to the data giants of Google, to even the soldiers and officers of the RAF that are continuously working to fight the ills of terror.
As I stood to take up the podium, I marvelled for a while, at the defence industries innovative approach to CVE. As I shared with them my personal history and experiences of violent extremism here in the UK, there was a silence cast across the floor.
Each and every person in that auditorium was intent on listening to my story. They were engaged, inspired and some empowered to take the fight against extremism a step further. They all agreed to move beyond the confines of defence and cut across the sector to support the youth led movement of ET.
My message to them was simple: A call to action – to join the ET crusade and help us in our endeavours to take out extremism, using voice, education and peer-to-peer engagement. This it seemed, was a radical approach to the existing ways in which the military and defence sector operate.
Controversially I spoke of the need for a robust digital defence and agreed that despite a strong military strategy, the best way to counter extremism is at its roots and often through digital tools.
I called for a dynamic and multi-faceted online defence that is being pioneered by the youth of today. I argued for the need to fight extremism online as much as we do offline. At this, there was widespread agreement across the floor. As I looked at the officers and army generals, I half expected resistance, but instead was met with an abundance of support and admiration.
With this in mind I delivered one final message directly to those who seek to sow division in our communities. They may have an army of militant fighters, but there’s only so far hate can travel.
Here at Extremely Together are building our own army. An army of young people who are ready and willing to tackle violent extremism head on.
It was on that note that a senior RAF officer got up and said to me – with you and Extremely Together flying the flag of CVE – I am assured as a father, that my young daughters will be safe from the harm of terrorism.