UK introduces controversial new definition of ‘extremism’


The British government unveiled on Thursday March 14 a new definition of extremism, an already controversial measure which will allow certain organizations to be blacklisted, depriving them of public funding and interaction with the government and its agents. .

At the beginning of March, the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, described extremism as a “poison” risking pushing the country into the “law of the jungle”. He denounced “a shocking increase in extremist disruption and crime” since the start of the conflict between Israel and Hamas on October 7, particularly targeting Islamist movements and far-right groups.

“In order to protect our democratic values, it is important to strengthen our common base and to be clear and precise in identifying the dangers posed by extremism,” defended Minister Michael Gove, responsible for the file. The new wording defines extremism as “the promotion of an ideology based on violence, hatred and intolerance”, which aims to “deny or destroy the fundamental rights and fundamental freedoms of others”, to “undermine, overthrow or replace the British system of parliamentary liberal democracy and democratic rights”, or to “intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve the results” of the first two points.

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No effect on criminal law

This “new, more precise definition” than the previous one, dating from 2011, will be used by the government to “ensure that they do not inadvertently offer a platform, funds or legitimacy” to extremist groups, specifies the government in a press release. However, it will have “no effect on existing criminal law”, specifies the text. Following the recommendations of a group of experts, the government will publish a list of organizations deemed extremist in the coming weeks.

But the conservative government’s approach is widely criticized, with some worrying about aggravated community tensions, or a threat to freedom of expression. Even before this new definition was unveiled, spiritual leaders of the Church of England warned on Wednesday that it risked “disproportionately targeting Muslim communities, who already face increasing levels of hatred”.

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“Anything that leads to division between communities is bad for the country,” also denounced former Labor MP John Mann, now government advisor on anti-Semitism. “The politics of division does not work electorally,” he said, a few months before the legislative elections which promise to be difficult for the conservative party.

Emphasis on ideology

“This definition focuses on ideas, on ideology, and not on action, unlike the previous one,” argued Jonathan Hall, the government’s independent adviser on terrorism, to the Guardian. The 2011 definition effectively required “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values” for an organization to qualify as extremist. Moving away from actions, Mr. Hall says he has a right to question motives: “What business does government have with what people think, unless they act on it ? »

Others warn of a potentially counterproductive measure, paving the way for a restriction of freedom of expression. “Repressing peaceful demonstrations will not help fight extremism, but on the contrary risks fueling it,” warned Areeba Hamid, of the NGO Greenpeace UK, cited by The Guardian. For her, this measure risks “excluding law-abiding demonstrators from the conversation to make way for people who care less about peace and legality.”

The NGO Human Rights Watch, for its part, described the new definition as “useless and unacceptable”, saying that it is “the government’s latest attempt to silence critics”. Several conservative media have also relayed these fears, like the tabloid Daily Mail for which “in the hands of an authoritarian government in the future”, this definition “could be used to reduce legitimate debates”.

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