A 2015 Government report states: “Extremism is the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also regard calls for the death of members of our armed forces as extremist”.
The Christian Institute supports Government efforts to combat terrorism and the ideologies which underpin it. However, we are very concerned about the vague definition of extremism. It risks many innocent people being labelled as extremists, including Christians.
We should of course respect and tolerate all people. The problem comes when “respect and tolerance” of a person is understood to mean acceptance, or endorsement of their beliefs and lifestyles. If we are to truly love our neighbour made in the image of God, we cannot endorse people behaving in a way that we know is harmful for them and others.
In January 2017 David Anderson QC, the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, warned that the Government’s current policy on non-violent extremism could see people who practise their faith in a traditional, conservative way face police investigations.
In early 2018 the Government established the Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) to advise the government on “new policies to deal with extremism, including the need for any new powers”. Headed by Sara Khan it was expected “to identify examples of extremism and expose them”. Three-quarters of respondents to a recent CCE consultation said the existing definition of extremism is “unhelpful” (17 per cent) or “very unhelpful (58 percent). However, it is difficult to see how the Commission will be any better at defining extremism than the Government.
It is crucial that ‘extremism’ is not allowed to be used by those who want to ban opinions they don’t like. You cannot protect democracy by undermining the foundations of democracy. Our historic liberties of freedom of speech and freedom of religion must not be jeopardised.