UK redefines extremism, denouncing Muslim groups

UK redefines extremism, denouncing Muslim groups

Shafaq News/ Britain unveiled a new definition of extremism on Thursday in response to an eruption of hate crimes against Jews and Muslims since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel, although critics said the change risked infringing on freedom of speech.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warned that Britain's multi-ethnic democracy was being undermined by both Islamist and far-right extremists.

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

"Our democracy and our values of inclusivity and tolerance are under challenge from extremist groups, which are radicalising our young people and driving greater polarisation," said Michael Gove, the communities minister who heads the department that produced the new extremism definition.

Critics say it could be counter-productive and used to silence those who disagree with the government.

Concern has been voiced by figures ranging from the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, to former Conservative government ministers.

In response, Gove said the definition would not embrace gender-critical campaigners, those with conservative religious views, transgender activists or environmental campaigners.

"It's important to stress that we are in no way intending to restrict freedom of expression, religion or belief," Gove told parliament.

But he named a number of organisations which will be assessed such as the far-right Patriotic Alternative, the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), and Cage, a group which gained notoriety in 2015 over its links to Mohammed Emwazi, known as "Jihadi John" who appeared in Islamic State beheading videos.

MAB and Cage have both condemned the definition change saying it was an assault on civil liberties which targeted Muslim groups.

The new definition states that extremism "is the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance" that aims to destroy fundamental rights and freedoms; or undermine or replace the UK's liberal parliamentary democracy; or intentionally create an environment for others to achieve those results.

Britain already bans groups which it says are involved in terrorism, and supporting or being a member of these organisations is a criminal offence. The militant Palestinian group Hamas is among the 80 proscribed international organisations.

Groups identified as extremist following assessment over the next few weeks will not be subject to any action under criminal laws and will still be permitted to hold demonstrations.

But the government will not provide them with any funding or other form of engagement. Currently, no groups have been officially defined as extremist using the former definition, opens new tab which has been in place since 2011.

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