In Defence of Liberty

A Libertarian Conservative's Perspective

In Defence of Extremism

During the Prime Minister’s trip to China, David Cameron unveiled plans to make court injunctions against extremist speakers. The report from the government’s anti-terrorism taskforce – Tackling extremism in the UK – believes civil authorities should be empowered “to target the behaviours extremists use to radicalise others”. David Cameron said:

This summer we saw events that shocked the nation with the horrific killing of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich and murder of Mohammed Saleem in Birmingham. These tragedies were a wake-up call for Government and wider society to take action to confront extremism in all its forms, whether in our communities, schools, prisons, Islamic centres or universities.

In the report, the government definition of extremism is the “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”. An official definition of Islamism is also provided. The proposal for Terror and Extremist Behaviour Orders (TEBOs), dubbed the ‘Terror ASBO’, means people can be banned from speaking in public and entering specific buildings. Other proposals include using internet filters to block extremist websites.

Prime Minister David Cameron used his trip to China to announce these "tough" Terrorist and Extremist Behaviour Orders. (Photo: Getty Images)

Prime Minister David Cameron used his trip to China to announce these “tough” Terrorist and Extremist Behaviour Orders. (Photo: Getty Images)

It is deeply contradictory to say “individual liberty” is a “fundamental British value”, to which opposition is considered “extremism”, and then to propose restricting the movements of extremists through court orders – and the liberties of all through internet filters. It is strange for government officials to get involved in theological debates by defining Islamism: “an ideology which is based on a distorted interpretation of Islam”. Interpretations evolve through time, so it is nonsensical to label one particular interpretation as “distorted”.

Notice how swiftly those internet filters, which were originally meant to exclude websites containing child pornography, have enveloped and constricted one of our most precious freedoms: the right to view opinions and ideas without government restriction. These internet filters are often porous and sprawling, failing to restrict some websites against its own criteria, and such filters will dramatically slow internet connectivity.

Purposes of Extremism

Extremism serves a political purpose. If there is no outright opposition to ideas like individual liberty, the rule of law and democracy, then their importance is lost. These ideas will simply stand, moss-covered and time-abraded, as matters of overwhelming consensus. It is through regular and voracious debate that the significance of these fundamental values may be sheened and realised.

Extremism appears to be seen as a swamp from which terrorists rise, but according to The Guardian, “MI5 has concluded that there is no easy way to identify those who become involved in terrorism in Britain”. Many terrorists are “religious novices”, rather than being fundamental Islamists, and the MI5 behavioural research concludes that terrorists are “a diverse collection of individuals, fitting no single demographic profile, nor do they all follow a typical pathway to violent extremism”.

The murderers of Drummer Lee Rigby and Mohammed Saleem are fully responsible for their own actions. They cannot be seen as thoughtless mannequins, merely malleable tools of extremist speakers and hateful preachers. These new civil orders should be quashed.

2 comments on “In Defence of Extremism

  1. SimonFa
    December 10, 2013

    This is indeed a worrying, but not unexpected, development.

    In his book, Liberty In The Age Of Terror (A defence of civil liberties and Enlightenment values), AC Grayling pp 77 argues that:

    “The Remedy for the paradox of tolerance is, of course, that tolerance must not tolerate intolerance if it is to protect itself. But this truisim is often greeted with the response that if tolerance is intolerant of something, it is in breach of itself. The answer is to insist that although tolerance is a warm, woolly feel-good attitude, in fact it is a principle: it is an ethical demand that everyone should respect everyone else’s rights and liberties. And this does the trick all by itself. Tolerance is not demand to licence just anything whatever, least of all behaviour that threatens the rights of others.”

    I haven’t got time to type out the rest.

    That said, I’m not sure that I like the idea of banning in advance and I don’t think he argues for it. Criminalise them after the event, yes, but banning someone because they might say something is a step too far IMHO and don’t we have laws about incitement?

    • Anthony Masters
      December 10, 2013

      The question is: what form does our response to intolerance take? Regular rebuttal and social ostracism would seem to satiate our ethical demands. Intolerant speech — rather than intolerant actions — must be demonstrated to be significantly harmful in order to break AC Grayling’s espoused principle.
      We do indeed have laws against incitement to violence, so it is unclear what “terrorist and extremist behaviours” are expected to fall in the range of new civil orders.

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This entry was posted on December 10, 2013 by in National Politics and tagged , .
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