As anyone who follows party politics in the UK will have noticed, the home secretary’s rhetoric on ‘extremism’ has been getting increasingly bellicose in recent months. While it remains an open question as to what extent she believes this, as opposed to simply positioning herself to the right of Osborne and Johnson for the coming leadership election, it builds upon many statements by David Cameron of the need to attack ‘non-violent extremism’ because it provides an environment conducive to violent extremism:
In her speech last year, May talked about Prevent having previously been focused only on the ‘hard end’ of the ‘extremism spectrum’ and promised new policies that move beyond this. This is framed in terms of bringing other bodies (not least of all the charity commission) into an anti-extremism framework, either through ‘toughening up their powers’ or creating new statuary responsibilities to combat extremism. The ‘extremism spectrum’ encompasses a wide range of extremist groups:
This strategy will be devised and overseen by the Home Office, but its implementation will be the responsibility of the whole of government, the rest of the public sector, and wider civil society. It will aim to undermine and eliminate extremism in all its forms – neo-Nazism and other forms of extremism as well as Islamist extremism – and it will aim to build up society to identify extremism, confront it, challenge it and defeat it.
How does one define ‘extremism’? It is opposition to ‘our values’. These values resist codification in anything but the most vacuous and general of terms, lending a dangerous elasticity to the concept of ‘extremism’. Extremism risks sliding into being whatever bodies charged with combating it say that it is. In this sense, we might come to see extremism everywhere, which would explain why such a wide range of initiatives are seen to be necessary:
Also among the measures within the counter-extremism strategy are:
- A full review of public institutions such as schools, further and higher education colleges, local authorities, the NHS and the civil service to ensure they are protected from “entryism” – or infiltration – by extremists
- An official investigation into the application of Sharia law in the UK
- Extremism disruption orders to stop individuals engaging in extremist behaviour
- Closure orders for law enforcement and local authorities to close down premises used to support extremism
- Tougher powers for broadcasting regulator Ofcom so action can be taken against radio and television channels showing extremist content
- Demands that internet service providers do more to remove extremist material and identify those responsible for it
- Anyone with a conviction or civil order for extremist activity will also be automatically barred from working with children and vulnerable people
It’s worth remembering that this comes from a government which defines the leader of the Labour party as an ‘extremist’. David Cameron and other senior figures use precisely the language of extremism to denounce Jerermy Corbyn. I’m not for a second suggesting that an attempt to ban the Labour party is even remotely imminent (or anything remotely along those lines). But I do think it’s likely we’ll see a hardening of opinion, as well as an institutional environment in which groups on the periphery of the Labour party see themselves frustrated and undermined, either directly through the government or indirectly through over-eagre intermediaries keen to avoid becoming a target themselves. I suspect this is what is currently taking place with the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign:
An activist organisation which has Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as patron has had its accounts closed down over fears that it may be inadvertently funding terrorism.
Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), whose patrons also include the Oscar winning actress Julie Christie and the playwright Caryl Churchill, was told by the Co-operative Bank that “risk-appetite” was the reason for closing its account.
In a statement, the bank said that due to the “high risk” locations in which PSC operates and send funds to, it had to carry out “advanced due diligence checks” on their accounts to ensure that funds do not “inadvertently fund illegal or other proscribed activities”.
The statement concluded that it was “not possible to complete these checks to our satisfaction and the decision to close a number of accounts, including the PSC and some of its affiliates, is an inevitable result of this process”.
Note there’s no actual accusation here. Yet Google News is full of headlines which link PCS and terrorism. Their operations are becoming increasingly difficult in the wider environment created by the Government’s ‘war on extremism’ and I think what we’re seeing here is the start of something that could get out of control far more quickly than people seem to realise.