The British government wants to define extremism, while critics say it's not that simple

AP , Thursday 14 Mar 2024

The British government published an official definition of “extremism” on Thursday, and said groups that get the label will be barred from receiving government funding.

Britain s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Britain s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaking during the weekly session of Prime Minister s Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons, in central London, on March 13, 2024.

 

It’s unclear who will be on the list, and critics say branding nonviolent groups as extremists could undermine freedom of speech.

The government defined extremism as “the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance” that aims to destroy others’ rights and freedoms or “undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights.”

The government did not provide examples of extremist groups, but Communities Secretary Michael Gove pointed to the threat from the extreme right and "Islamist extremists who are seeking to separate Muslims from the rest of society and create division within Muslim communities.”

Islamic and civil liberties groups said they worried the definition would be used disproportionately on Muslims.

Qari Asim, chairman of the Mosques and Imams Advisory Board, said: “This proposed definition may not be applied consistently.”

“If it’s left to people to apply any definition of extremism and call anyone extremist at their whim, then that is going to create huge division in our society,” he told the BBC.

The announcement comes two weeks after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a rare televised speech outside 10 Downing St. to denounce “a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality,” which he linked to the Israel-Hamas war. Reports of both antisemitic and anti-Muslim abuse in Britain have soared since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which triggered Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

Mass pro-Palestinian protests have drawn hundreds of thousands of people to central London to call for a cease-fire. The protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful, though there have been dozens of arrests over signs and chants that allegedly support Hamas, a banned organization in Britain. Jewish organizations and many lawmakers say the mass marches have created an intimidating atmosphere for Jewish Londoners, though members of the Jewish community have been among those on pro-cease-fire marches.

Gove said the new definition does not criminalize anyone and is “not a restraint on free speech” or aimed at stopping protests.

“Today’s definition applies only to government and makes it clear that we will keep these organizations at arm’s length so they can’t benefit from access to government and its funds,” he said.

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