Indy Voices

This article was originally published on The Independent Voices, authored by Haras Rafiq.

19 May 2016

This week’s Queen’s Speech made a pithy reference to the Government’s commitment to tackling radicalisation: “Legislation will be introduced to prevent radicalisation, tackle extremism in all its forms, and promote community integration.” Fleeting though it was, this declaration is far from innocuous. It is the firing of the pistol at the start of what is to be a potentially disastrous phase in the battle against hardline ideologies.

Much of what we know of the content in the new Counter Extremism Bill is, on the face of it, to be applauded. The Government has hinted at new powers which will safeguard children from extremist preachers and teachers, putting this duty of care alongside that of sex offenders, serial drug offenders and criminal records. This is sensible and long overdue.

It may also consult on new powers to enable it to intervene “where councils fail to tackle extremism”, in the wake of the Trojan horse scandal. All of this is perfectly workable.

But there is another, more disturbing, aspect of the bill which must undergo our scrutiny and, I hope, opposition: the introduction of banning orders.

These “extremism banning/disruption orders” would not criminalise the act of hate speech or promotion of terrorism – they are, of course, already illegal under the Terrorism Act 2006 – but instead criminalise the intent to spread hate speech or promote terrorism, if ministers reasonably believed that to be the case.

These orders target those who operate in what the police now call the “pre-criminal space”, expanding the definition of people who could be incarcerated from those who do bad things, to those whothink bad things.

You’re a criminal if you think bad things? We should shudder at this kind of Orwellian dictum.

Do banning orders help us defeat extremism? Most certainly not. The absolute cornerstone of liberal democratic society is the right to free speech. This aspect of the bill – together with a broader trend of UK institutions such as universities, attempting to simply forbid irritating or offensive views – is a very dangerous precedent.

Bigotry cannot be legislated out of existence or banned; it is ludicrous to think that it could. In defeating extremist views, we must do everything possible not to become as totalitarian as the totalitarian ideologies we are seeking to dismantle.

You cannot defeat ideas and you cannot pretend they are not there. What you can do is deconstruct them, emotionally and intellectually, and let the audience decide.

Take, for example, the British National Party (BNP). As social justice warriors triggered, screamed and raged about the national disgrace of having Nick Griffin on the BBC politics show Question Time, his fellow panellists and the wider British public prepared to confront him.

Just months after Griffin’s television appearance, the BNP was effectively stripped and rendered intellectually bankrupt – all because they were brought out into the open and challenged. The people saw, the people judged, and the people destroyed them.

We must do the same with all elements of extremism. Arbitrary bans force them underground and into darker manifestations, but fighting them in the open allows us to bring to bear all of our critical faculties and dismantle their arguments.

That is why it is so crucial that we rally around and invest in opposition groups who are ready and willing to take extremism on in the open.

We cannot legislate our way out of this, just as we can’t securitise our way out of terrorism. We need a counter cultural insurgency to sweep these people off their feet and blast them into irrelevance.

History will not remember us fondly if we continue to tacitly allow extremism to flourish in the name of political correctness and history will positively condemn us if we, the liberal democratic west, attempt to shut down debate and ban ideas. We cannot feed the victimhood, ‘nanny state’ agenda any further.

By banning viewpoints, create a ‘forbidden fruit’ syndrome, where charismatic recruiters can sweep in and drum up hatred. We at Quilliam know this to be true: many of us once subscribed to hard-line ideologies and relished every opportunity we saw when the Governments clumsy reforms and bureaucracy crashed down. It gave us the ammunition and reasons to justify our resistance and fire to our cause.

And it is for that reasons that we must pressure the Government to amend the current version of the Counter Extremism Bill.

To read this article as originally published on The Independent Voices, please click here.