The Conservative government took the opportunity at the annual state opening of parliament to announce a raft of new measures, amongst them a new Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill. The Queen mentioned in her speech that “legislation will be introduced to prevent radicalisation, tackle extremism in all its forms, and promote community integration”. Further background notes were published by the government which provide the basic framework of this bill. It provides grim reading as the government outlines a series of regressive measures playing on people’s fears and concerns about terrorism. As an extension of the failed PREVENT strategy, this Bill will further exacerbate the chilling effect on open debate, free speech and political dissent. It is also worth noting the fundamental, overarching criticism, that while ideology is a factor in political violence, it is not a root cause. The perception of an unethical foreign policy and domestic disenfranchisement seem to play a more prominent role. Consequently, basing an entire piece of legislation on ideology is wholly misguided.
The entire rationale for the counter extremism strategy of this and previous governments is captured by Professor Brian Klug in his response to David Cameron’s previous speeches on extremism,
“Certainly, there ought to be a “shared national identity that is open to everyone”. But the colour of that identity, under the skin, is white. Anyone who, regardless of their features or complexion or extraction, is willing to become white – white in the sense of thinking like us, doing religion like us, basically being like us – is welcome; what is more, we celebrate their difference. When you scrape away the surface inclusiveness in the speech, this is the meaning of “muscular liberalism.” (Klug B, Fawlty Logic, ReOrient, 2015, p.74)
Responses to the bill
This Bill gives law enforcement agencies new powers to protect vulnerable people – including children – from those who seek to brainwash them with extremism propaganda so we build a stronger society around our shared liberal values of tolerance and respect.
It will include:
Stronger powers to disrupt extremists and protect the public.
This limb of the proposed legislation is based upon the notion that there is a causal link based upon empirical evidence between violence and certain beliefs and ideas that are being perpetuated within certain sections of society. There is no evidence for this at all. It is obvious that the idea of “policing thought and belief systems” is the hallmark of dictatorships. It is an Orwellian concept and an attack on basic rights which ought not to be undermined without an overwhelming transparent case.
Watch: Theresa May struggles to define ‘extremism’
Powers to intervene in intensive unregulated education settings which teach hate and drive communities apart.
This can be construed as state interference in the private religious sphere. The political rhetoric continues to focus on Islamic places of learning and Mr David Cameron has already precluded Christian Sunday schools from this proposed intervention. This serves to reinforce the Muslims-as-suspect-community paradigm. If there are education settings involved in inciting hatred and violence there are already adequate powers in place to deal with this.
Read more: PREVENT interrogates children without parental consent
A new civil order regime to restrict extremist activity, following consultation.
This is an attempt to curtail freedom of association, movement and expression through the backdoor, again all on the basis of “extremism”. Furthermore, through civil proceedings, the government will lessen the burden upon itself to establish a convincing case against those it targets.
This is yet another example of the infection of secret evidence spreading within the legal system. The civil orders regime will allow secret evidence and thereby destroy yet another safeguard against unfairness and undermine the principles of natural justice.
Closing loopholes so that Ofcom can continue to protect consumers who watch internet-streamed television content from outside the EU on Freeview.
As covered in our piece (The ongoing extremes of David Cameron) the amalgamation of the “extremism” discourse into the broadcast sphere through Ofcom is tantamount to censorship and echoes the IRA broadcast ban which was counter-productive and ridiculous.
Legislation will be introduced to prevent radicalisation, tackle extremism in all its forms, and promote community integration.
The original remit of counter-extremism has been increased to “promote community integration”. There is a fear here that people will be societally castigated and therefore discriminated against if they enforce their right to cultural, religious and linguistic preservation as enshrined in international human rights treaties and implicit in the pluralistic notion of an open democracy.
There is already sufficient laws around ‘hate’ speech and the DBS already exist for adults working with children. The government has failed to demonstrate how these laws are not sufficient and why new laws are required.
The purpose of the Bill is to:
- Provide stronger powers to disrupt extremists and protect the public.
The main benefits of these clauses would be:
- To enable the Government and law enforcement agencies to protect the public against the most dangerous extremists.
This “benefit” demonstrates that despite the government spending several months, the proposals remain incoherent. We have yet to witness a viable definition of extremism, and we are now being introduced with a subcategory of “the most dangerous extremists”. How will “most dangerous extremists” be determined?
- To ensure the Government and law enforcement agencies have a full range of powers to deal with extremism.
- This will help deliver on the manifesto pledge to tackle all forms of extremism, so our values and our way of life are properly promoted and defended.
The main elements of the clauses are…
- The Government will consider the need for further legislative measures following Louise Casey’s review into integration in those communities most separated from the mainstream.
“Our values” and “our way of life” is the language of alienation, designed to marginalise particular communities. The government is perpetuating the very same “us vs them” narrative it denounces in its PREVENT strategy. This is a dangerous step towards ostracising whole communities for simply adhering to differing beliefs and conceptions which may be at odds with mainstream society. It is therefore a further example of erosion of civil liberties and the targeting of vulnerable minority groups.
The public must oppose this draconian legislation. Muslims are the suspect community today. Tomorrow it can be anyone.
(CC image courtesy of UK Parliament on flikr)
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)