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New definition of extremism unveiled

According to the new definition, extremism is the “promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance”

File photo: British Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove speaks on stage at Britain’s Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester, Britain, October 3, 2023. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

By: Shajil Kumar

The UK government on Thursday unveiled a new definition of extremism, as church leaders warned it risked disproportionately affecting Muslim communities.

The new definition comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warned earlier this month of a “shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality” that risked the country tipping into “mob rule”.

Sunak’s comments, made in a Downing Street address to the nation, came after regular pro-Palestinian protests in London.

The marches protesting Israel’s military response to the October 7 attacks by Hamas on southern Israel have seen dozens arrested for anti-Semitic chanting and banners, promoting a proscribed organisation and assaulting emergency workers.

Currently, extremism is defined as “the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values” such as “mutual respect and tolerance”.

According to the new definition, extremism is the “promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance”.

Groups or individuals will be regarded as extremist if they use that ideology to “negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others or undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights” it said.

They will also be deemed extremist if they “intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve” the other two objectives.

The government said in a statement that the new definition was “narrower and more precise” than the earlier 2011 definition.

It said it provided a “high bar that only captures the most concerning of activities. It is not about silencing those with private and peaceful beliefs,” it said.

Warning

Senior minister Michael Gove, who oversaw the new definition, said it would ensure that government did not “inadvertently provide a platform to those setting out to subvert democracy and deny other people’s fundamental rights”.

He said Britain was stronger as a result of its diversity “but our democracy and our values of inclusivity and tolerance are under challenge from extremists.

“In order to protect our democratic values, it is important both to reinforce what we have in common and to be clear and precise in identifying the dangers posed by extremism,” he added.

The Byline Times media outlet said several prominent Muslim groups as well as far-right organisations were referenced in leaked draft plans it had seen.

Sunak’s ruling Conservative party has faced claims of Islamophobia in recent weeks, after a former deputy chairman accused London Mayor Sadiq Khan of links to Islamists.

The prime minister has this week also been forced to apologise for reported racist comments about a prominent black British MP by one of the party’s biggest donors.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, head of the global Anglican communion, meanwhile, has warned that the new definition risks stoking division.

Welby and his de facto deputy in the Church of England, Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, said in a joint statement on Tuesday that the new definition “risks disproportionately targeting Muslim communities, who are already experiencing rising levels of hate and abuse”.

Welby on Wednesday told BBC radio that there was a danger “of hollowing out the centre… and driving people to one extreme or the other”, adding that this was “very, very dangerous”.

Welby — who sits in the upper chamber House of Lords — has also criticised the government over its plan to send asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda.

Zara Mohammed, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, told BBC the definition would lead to the “unfair targeting of Muslim communities”.

Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi has criticised the move and fears it will “breed division and encourage mistrust”.

In an open letter published recently in the Guardian, former home secretaries Priti Patel, Sajid Javid and Amber Rudd urged the Conservatives and Labour to “work together to build a shared understanding of extremism and a strategy to prevent it that can stand the test of time, no matter which party wins an election”.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner, who also serves as shadow communities secretary, said extremism was a serious problem and tinkering with the definition was not enough.

“The government’s counter-extremism strategy is now nine years out of date, and they’ve repeatedly failed to define Islamophobia,” she told BBC.

Antisemitic incidents rose by 147% in 2023 to record levels, fuelled by the Oct. 7 attacks, according to Community Security Trust, a Jewish safety watchdog. Tell Mama, a group that monitors anti-Muslim incidents, said last month that anti-Muslim hate crimes also had grown by 335% since the attacks. (Agencies)

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