A Libertarian Conservative's Perspective
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.
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.
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.