Anyone who “undermines” the country’s institutions or values could be targeted under controversial proposed regulations
The UK is considering adopting a new definition of “extremism” that includes anyone who “undermines” British institutions or values, The Guardian reported on Saturday, citing internal government documents.
“Extremism is the promotion or advancement of any ideology which aims to overturn or undermine the UK’s system of parliamentary democracy, its institutions and values,” reads the new definition, reportedly drafted as part of a national counterextremism plan announced by cabinet minister Michael Gove’s Department for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities earlier this year.
The source documents, marked “official – sensitive,” trumpet its potential to “frame a new, unified response to extremism.” The lack of public debate or consultation regarding the new definition has worried activists, who fear it will effectively criminalize dissent.
Index on Censorship editor Martin Bright called the move “an unwarranted attack on freedom of expression [that] would potentially criminalize every student radical and revolutionary dissident.”
It has never been the British way to arrest people for thought crime.
Even government officials are reportedly concerned the new definition constitutes “a crackdown on freedom of speech.” One unnamed Whitehall official told The Guardian, “The definition is too broad and will capture legitimate organizations and individuals.”
Amnesty International UK racial justice director Ilyas Nagdee pointed out that a similar definition was already in use under the government’s counterterrorism project Prevent, where it was already hampering attempts to organize.
Prevent, which defines extremism as the “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,” has been criticized as both Islamophobic and soft on Islamic extremism.
A 2016 government proposal to further broaden the definition of “extremism” was scrapped as not legally acceptable, with experts pointing to the many different definitions held by various agencies – a problem seemingly addressed by Gove’s sweeping new scheme.
Organizations that would be “captured” under the new definition include the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), Palestine Action, and Mend (Muslim Engagement and Development), according to The Guardian.
Palestine Action denounced the proposal as “an attempt to undermine and intimidate our movement,” telling the outlet, “We refuse to be deterred.” MCB urged the government to “challenge its own extremists who are intent on dividing our communities.”
As thousands of Britons took to the streets last month to demand Israel halt its bombardment of Gaza, Home Secretary Suella Braverman denounced the pro-Palestinian demonstrations as “hate marches,” demanding police officers re-examine whether waving Palestinian flags or chanting slogans could constitute hate crimes. On Friday, two women were charged under the Terrorism Act 2000 for carrying signs depicting paragliders like those used by Hamas to enter Israel.