Yes to countering extremism, no to the Counter-Extremism Bill

The Conservatives are set to announce further details about their Counter-Extremism Bill over the course of their party conference.

Countering Islamist extremism is crucial, to protect both those who are vulnerable to radicalisation and those who could be harmed by a terrorist attack. I don’t want to see another child lured from the UK to join ISIS – nor do I want to see people killed and families torn apart by such reckless hatred and extremist violence.

It is quite right for the UK Government to take action. But while the country needs a counter-extremism strategy, the Conservative’s proposed approach should provoke concern among liberals – and I think the Liberal Democrats should push for an alternative approach.

Here’s what we know about the Bill from David Cameron’s speech to Ninestiles School back in July, and from leaked information:

• It will compel internet companies to monitor usage and work with Government to identify potential terrorists
• It will introduce new powers to prevent extremist views being heard, including the power to bar venues from hosting events
• It will strengthen Ofcom’s role, so it can take action against domestic and foreign channels that broadcast extremist views
• It will introduce ‘Extremism Disruption Orders’ – ASBO style restrictions on individuals

And here is the proposed new definition of ‘extremism’ that will appear in the Bill: “the vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.

That definition seems quite broad to me – far broader than needed to tackle the specific issue of Islamist extremism and radicalisation. Because of that, I can’t help but think that there are wider political considerations at play. Are anti-gentrification or ‘occupy’ protestors now extremists, too? Will they be subject to the same constraints as radical clerics?

As for the measures themselves, not only do I fear that they are too severe for this new, broad definition of extremism – but also that they’ll be counter-productive at tackling radicalisation and Islamist extremism, because they will drive it underground.

I can’t put it better than Jonathan Dimbleby, who recently said: “Nothing could be better calculated to incubate the virus of extremism. It would be driven even further underground, and find a ready host in those who feel lost, alienated and resentful.”

Pushing extreme Islamic preachers or rhetoric further underground will only make it more difficult to control, monitor, and counter. Let’s keep the debate in the public, so we can continue to expose ISIL, their supporters, and the realities of life after joining ISIL for what they are.

Here’s an example of a campaign I recently advised on, which sought to do just that.

As liberals (and Liberal Democrats) I think we should be raising concerns about the proposed new definition of extremism, and the consequences that it could have for non-violent protest groups.

And secondly, we should oppose draconian measures that will foster discontent, discontinue the public debate, and will ultimately make us all less safe.

* Jenni Hollis is Haringey Liberal Democrat Campaign Chair, former Office and Campaign Manager for Lynne Featherstone. Now working in as a Campaigns Consultant for Verbalisation, and blogging and commentating at www.JenniHollis.org.uk

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21 Comments

  • Whilst i agree the definition is too broad we need to remember combating extremism isn’t just about stopping Islamist terrorism – but those far-right and far-left extremists factions that promote and encourage violence. To this aim any definition of extremism should include a stipulation that we are talking about people who seek to use or encourage the use of violence.

  • Whilst we do need to be vigilant that the State isn’t giving itself powers that will be misused, we do need to ensure that our State have powers that can be drawn upon as and when circumstances demand. However, what we do want is for these powers to be used with discretion because if routinely used they will drive things underground and potentially make them more attractive to some. Hence a big part of the questioning about the Counter-Extremism Bill needs to be about the oversight and accountability for the usage of the powers it grants.

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Oct '15 - 6:21pm

    The definition of extremism is probably a bit wide, but besides that I don’t see much wrong with these ideas. Perhaps companies shouldn’t have to do the work of the Home Office, but they at least need to work with the government considering how much of this preaching is done online.

    Preaching violent extremism shouldn’t be like a noble profession, they should be pushed underground.

    This is a red line for me and why I’m voting Conservative in locals and Europeans. Not voting for any party unwilling to counter violent extremism properly. It’s not out of principle, I feel threatened by these individuals.

  • If I had ever preached violent extremism on the streets or at universities against Muslims I would have been jailed. Why were extremist preachers ever allowed to do this against our values? Eddie Sammon, I too feel threatened and women especially should be because of what these extremists plan for us.

  • Eddie

    “Preaching violent extremism shouldn’t be like a noble profession, they should be pushed underground”

    “Not voting for any party unwilling to counter violent extremism properly. It’s not out of principle, I feel threatened by these individuals.”

    We all feel threatened by these people, it is worse for those who have them living in their communities. Also for anyone who they take particular aim at (women, LGBT, Jews, ‘apostates’ etc.)

    The problem is that the assumption that pushing extremist preachers underground is effective is simply wrong. For the children (including those who are older in years but who’s mentality is still stuck in a kind of adolescent phase) who are susceptible, the forcing of their views underground adds an air of extra legitimacy.

    Rather like those on here who support the banning of ‘hate speech’ it sounds like a solution but actually is making confronting the problematic behaviour more difficult.

    We need to have a free speech approach, we can outlaw inciting violence or other criminal activity, but there we have to stop using the law and start using other social tools. The last Labour government played a ridiculous cat and mouse game with various extreme preachers, that didn’t work. We have those who want a ‘dialogue’ with these numpties, which is also rather insulting to the normal majority who then are portrayed as represented by people who have hijacked their faith.

    A free speech approach allows the views to be aired, and shown for what they are. It is easier to challenge something that is in the open.

    Restricting free speech always sounds like a solution but it is actually part of the problem.

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd Oct '15 - 10:13am

    Thanks Psi, point well-made. I just think that they need to be banned from some venues. People shouldn’t be able to tour the country and get paid to preach violent extremism.

    I also want more action against Britain First. But the principle of banning from some venues is, I think, OK.

  • “If one is opposed to violence except as a last resort, then the right to speak freely is our only weapon against extremism, we should not be denied from using it”

    I think Jayne touches on an interesting point here. The focus of much of the debate has been ‘extremism’ and particularly of the type defined in the new bill. However, we do need to ensure we protect our free speech, because as we’ve seen those we may wish to oppose have been very good at using our own laws and “British values” against us; of which the events surrounding Maryam Namazie’s proposed talk at the University of Warwick is just a recent example.

    Jayne – re: Book
    Yes at one level the book is depressing; because the author takes the logic of key liberal principles and their most vocal supporters to their logical conclusion… Like all such political fables it does take a very ‘pure’ approach to drive it’s points home, but I suggest that is necessary to get people sufficiently uncomfortable to engage their critical faculties (by way of contrast, I didn’t find similar books about how wonderful life in GB would of been if we hadn’t joined EU to be anywhere as compelling and actually have difficulty in remembering their titles and content!). A reason why the book doesn’t consider to any real extent the evolution of ideas is because it focuses on the immediate, namely the consequences of mass unconstrained migration and the typical ‘woolly’ liberal response to the problems thrown up, where fear of causing hatred or offence to the outsiders stifles debate and decision making, which encourages further rapid inward migration, leading to the obvious and inevitable collapse of the society as it is overwhelmed.

    I’m with you in that we do need to be muscular and accept that we have to draw lines in the sand, so we can say “so far and no further”. The trouble is that many either don’t like the confrontation or lack the backbone to make a stand, only to realise too late the folly of their stance (which is one of the lessons to be drawn from the fable).

  • Will the details of who is being silenced by “Extremist Banning and Disruption Orders” be made public? If so these orders will just create martyrs and publicize their views (there will be a LOT of publicity. If not then we will be living in a police state where people are quietly silenced for thought crimes.

  • -> Eddie Sammon – you want more action against Britain First – why, are they inciting violence? If so they can be prosecuted under the existing law. If not then you are advocating silencing groups just because you don’t like them. I don’t like Britain First or the Liberal Democrats, I don’t want either of them to be silenced.

    Please state exactly what it is about Britain First that makes you think they should be banned. Was it:

    1. Their protests against gender segregation in mosques?

    2. Their protests against the practice of child marriage that is common in Islamic societies? There is a reason why it is common, and no, they (BF) didn’t put the point across very cleverly, but it is a point that needs to be made, you agree?

    Please be very specific.

    Thanks

  • -> Eddie Sammon – Please also note that if you are supporting this bill then you are not just calling for BF to be banned from “some venues” as you put it. What you are calling for is for BF to be silenced for an indeterminate length of time and frankly I don’t believe they will put up with it. I suspect that it is inevitable that they will decide to disregard the “Extremist Banning and/or Disruption Orders” and consequently some of them will get sent to prison for it. That is what you are calling for if you support this bill. This is the death knell of free speech in the UK, nothing less than that. The government have made it abundantly clear since last year that they intend to use the orders against groups like BF that are (as far as I know) not breaking any laws currently.

  • Eddie Sammon 29th Oct '15 - 3:29pm

    Michael, I don’t want Britain First to be banned or silenced, but I do think they should be barred from standing outside Mosques and doing other inflammatory things.

    Regards

  • That can easily be done within the current law. Do you oppose the bill or not?

  • Eddie Sammon 29th Oct '15 - 3:59pm

    Michael, I think I oppose aspects of the bill, but I’m not just a knee-jerk opponent of anti-extremism measures.

    I’m not a lawyer and I don’t have any votes on this specific matter. I have nothing else to say on it.

    Regards

  • You’re not a lawyer, but I presume you’ve heard of injunctions and the public order act and incitement. So, you know enough to know that the law can already deal with the things you’re talking about. We don’t need any new anti-extremism measures, period.

  • PS. This law is going to lead to the deaths of human beings, it is not a trivial matter.

  • Alex Macfie 29th Oct '15 - 4:50pm

    Britain First are not sincere in their concerns about gender segregation in mosques or about child marriage. They are not in the slightest bit concerned about the victims of these practices; rather they are merely using the issues as a tool to advance their agenda. They would not bother about similar practices occurring among white British people. There are plenty of groups that campaign against illiberal so-called “cultural” practices, who do not have an underlying racist agenda. For instance One Law For All, which campaigns against against sharia law. These groups tend not to touch the likes of Britain First with a bargepole, and we need to do all we can to prevent racists from hijacking such issues.

  • Good comment but when you say:
    ” we need to do all we can to prevent racists from hijacking such issues”
    What sort of things are you advocating? Promoting One Law For All is a good idea, maybe we could hear the Liberal Democrats doing that a bit more loudly. How about promoting the “Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain” as well?

    You are not though advocating that groups should be silenced by new laws just because we suspect they have a secret agenda?

  • Eddie Sammon 29th Oct '15 - 5:03pm

    Michael, which human beings will this lead to the deaths to? If you have information on any violent activity then I think you need to give it up.

  • Eddie Sammon -> Jenni Hollis already made the same point in this excellent article:

    I can’t put it better than Jonathan Dimbleby, who recently said: “Nothing could be better calculated to incubate the virus of extremism. It would be driven even further underground, and find a ready host in those who feel lost, alienated and resentful.”

    That will lead to more terrorism, that will lead to people dying.

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