Tucked behind its firewall the Sunday Times of 3 July 2011 had an interesting article about Jared Cohen, of Google ideas.
Cohen, Google and the Council on Foreign Relations were behind the recent Summit Against Violent Extremism (SAVE) held in Dublin. An advisor to first Condoleeza Rice and then Hilary Clinton, Cohen's conference brought together former gang members, terrorists, fascists and Islamists to discuss their experiences. There is also an accompanying website for this project - Against Violent Extremism.
Am I the only person to feel slightly uncomfortable with all this? It is hardly surprising that senior figures in corporations and government will be opposed to what they define as 'extreme' - such opinions after all, may threaten both their interests and at times their person. Given this, we can hardly expect them to be neutral on the subject. Looking at the Against Violent Extremism network I did not spot any former anti-capitalists, Socialists or Anarchists, but no doubt some will appear in the future.
As good as it is for people to leave the Nazi skinhead scene or groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir, there is something slightly Orwellian at seeing the recorded 'confessions' of former radicals. Just as the UK government has been keen to expand its counter-extremism strategy from a post 7/7 concentration on Jihadists to the far-right and even animal rights activists, this international version casts its net equally wide. The further equation of youths joining criminal gangs with people joining 'extreme' political organisations is surely one that is contentious, but the case is already proven from what I read on the AVE website. Is it?
One problem with all this is that governments, and indeed some corporations, are responsible for significant acts of violence and exploitation in the world. Condoleeza Rice and Hilary Clinton have been involved with far more death and destruction than some Nazi skinhead from Sacramento, however unpleasant his views. Have those behind AVE stopped to think how their project will actually look to those currently involved in 'extremist' organisations, and even more so, at the possible contradictions behind it?