Amidst widespread protests for Palestine, the Government has released a new definition for extremism that has sparked concerns about its potential impact on autonomy and free speech, particularly for certain groups.

The Government has asserted that their new definition is necessary to combat the rise of “extremist ideologies” after Hamas’ attack on Israel on 7 October, and the following intensification of Israel’s genocide of Palestinians. The definition is, supposedly, “narrower and sharper,” providing greater “specificity” through which to identify and label extremist groups. However, the definition itself comes across as strikingly vague:

“Extremism is the promotion or advancement of an ideology on violence, hatred or intolerance, that aims to: 1) negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; 2) undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights; or 3) intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve the results in (1) or (2).”

This definition’s broad scope raises concerns that it could potentially be applied to any group with dissenting views from governmental policies, from religious associations to environmental justice organisations to student activism groups. Societies across the University of Sussex have expressed worry about future affects. The Badger spoke to a member of an activist society from the University of Sussex, who said: “State condemnation of groups protesting imperialism is nothing new, but the ability to freely apply labels such as extremism to those condemning state-sponspored genocide exposes more cracks in so-called Western democracy.’’ Alarmingly, the government possesses full discretion to apply this definition to whomever they deem fit – and already, a disproportionate focus on Muslim groups is visible.

During a House of Commons address, Secretary of State for Communities Michael Gove singled out the organisations Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), Cage, and Mend, as groups who “give rise to concern for their Islamist orientation and beliefs,” and are in line to be “assessed” against the new definition. He also named the British National Socialist Movement and Patriotic Alternative, who promote neo-Nazi ideology. From Gove’s boldly direct call-out, it is clear that the decision has already been made on the governmental opinion of these organisations as “extremist,” before official assessment.

MAB, Cage, and Mend are all described as grassroots organisations aimed at empowering communities. Roshan Salih, editor of 5Pillars News, told The Independent that “their only crime is calling out British foreign policy and structural Islamophobia. In other words, they are guilty of holding our rotten government to account.” In response to Gove’s announcement, MAB released a statement challenging Gove to repeat his words outside of parliamentary privilege, allowing the organisation to take legal action.

Gove’s disproportionate focus on Muslim groups reeks of bias – not only are these labels wrongfully applied, but they successfully sidestep the extremist views in his own government. Frank Hester’s racist remarks continue to go unpunished, as the Tory party quietly accepts his donations, which total to £15 million over the course of a year. Meanwhile, social justice organisations are targeted and vilified. A group labelled as ‘extremist’ under this new definition will be significantly affected, as they will be blacklisted and barred from funding. There is also no appeal process; once a group has been labelled, the only way to dispute it will be through an expensive, lengthy process in court. This is something that many of the important groups fighting for social justice will not be able to afford.

The new definition’s emphasis on democracy is almost amusing in its irony, considering the distinctly undemocratic governance of the UK, led by unelected Prime Ministers since 2019. The political crackdowns on protesting have been intensifying, and this definition is yet another curb for freedom of speech and expression. At this point, the greatest threat to ‘our democracy’ and freedom is the Government themselves.

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