Speech: Prime Minister on ISIL at UN General Assembly

We will play our part militarily, we have carried out 300 strikes in Iraq, we’ve trained over 1,000 Iraqi troops. We are going to play a particular role helping with the counter-IED part of what’s happening in Iraq and we’ll play our part politically.

We’ll support Mr Abadi with all the vital work he is doing. Britain has spent 1.6 billion dollars in supporting Syrians in those refugee camps in Lebanon and in Jordan, and we’ll go on doing that because it is so vital as part of this effort. We’ll support transition in Syria, Barack, that you spoke about and that we need to see so badly.

We also will play our role in the propaganda war that we need to win, because frankly we need to call out ISIL for the mass executions, for the rapes, for the killing of innocent Sunni Arabs, while they are selling oil and wheat to the Assad regime at the same time.

We need to win this propaganda war far more effectively than we have today. We are going to be establishing the Coalition Strategy Communications Cell in the United Kingdom, which will give some funding of 15 million dollars to start with and I think it needs to be an important part to win, as people have said, the battle of hearts and minds amongst the young Muslims around the world.

I want to make just one point in my remarks, and it’s this – I think what we are saying about countering violent extremism, I don’t think it’s enough. I think we need to focus on the extremism that lies behind the violent extremism as well.

Why do I say this? Well, I say it because the boy who straps a bomb to his chest and blows up an Iraqi town, the guy that stands in the desert with a knife having just beheaded a British hostage or whoever: they don’t get there from a standing start – they have extremist views and an extremist mindset before they make that final decision to be an extremist terrorist.

Now maybe it starts with being told that Christians and Muslims can’t live together. Maybe it moves on to being told that Muslims everywhere in the world are under attack, the grievance narrative. Sometimes it’s being told that the terrible attack that took place in the city on 9/11 was somehow a Jewish conspiracy.

And then it goes on to being told that violence is sometimes justified, that a suicide bomb if it happens in Israel well maybe that’s not so bad. And you get an extremist mindset that then moves on to the belief that taking part in violent jihad or joining ISIL or joining any other of these franchises, Al Shabab or others, is justified.

My point is simply this: we have to stop this process at the start, not at the end. So of course we have to win militarily; we have to have the political solution; we need all the propaganda I’ve spoken about – but we also need to challenge the extremist world view right at the very start.

What does that mean? Well, in Western countries, it means that we have to root out the extremist preachers that are poisoning the minds of young Muslims in our country. We have to build more integrated societies so that young people feel they truly belong.

We need to make sure we don’t allow the incubation of an extremist world view even before it gets to justifying violence. We’ve got to get it out of our schools, get it out of our prisons, get it out of our universities. I believe in freedom of speech, but freedom to hate is not the same thing.

I think the King of Jordan who just spoke made a very powerful intervention about the special responsibility there is amongst Muslim countries and Muslim leaders. Barack, you said – and you are quite right – that every religion has its extremists. We have to be frank that the biggest problem we have today is that Islamist extremist violence that has given birth to ISIL, to Al Shabab, to Al-Qaeda and so many other groups.

Now these people claim to act in the name of the Islamic religion, they don’t. I can say they don’t. I can say they don’t over and over again. You can say they don’t, but there is nothing more powerful that what for instance the King of Jordan has just said, when Muslim leaders and Muslim countries reclaim their religion and explain why what these people are saying is not Islam, it is a perversion of Islam.

So we have to do that and to take away the building blocks of extremism that lead people to an extremist world view, that then takes them to an extremist terrorist view.

That I think is as important as the military, political, diplomatic and other steps that we’ll take as part of this vital campaign.

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