Tahirah Amatullah of CAGE argues that politicians have rendered the term “extremist” completely redundant.
When politicians began calling one another “extremists” – that career-destroying word previously used to sort the “good Muslims” from the “bad Muslims” – it caused a fair degree of amusement at the CAGE office.
Here was proof of the argument we have been consistently raising ever since the inception of Prevent in 2004, and with plenty of case studies to prove it: Any state concerned with basic principles of justice cannot centre an entire security apparatus (legislation included) on a term whose meanings and interpretations, according to “counter-extremism” policy, are so fluid and malleable (whatever happened to that definition of “extremism” anyway?), that the concept can be used to silence any opponent whose views are deemed to be disagreeable.
The word is now being employed, most often it seems, when a politician cannot find anything else to say, or simply can’t be bothered to think out and articulate a decent counter argument.
This leaves the general witnessing public – who have been sold a lie that “counter-extremism” makes society better – bewildered, without enlightenment or direction of any kind as to possible solutions to whatever issues were being debated in the first place.
The moment the deadly projectile is launched, silence descends.
The spotlight shifts to well… nothing much. Except rather bizarre but nonetheless troubling, mental images – like Jeremy Corbyn having his mouth swabbed at Heathrow on return from holiday in Spain.
‘Extremism’ was always going to be abused, and lead to abuse
It would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous.
Dangerous, because in order for the officialisation of the notion of “extremism” as posited by the debunked ERG22+ study to take place, the pundits of this ridiculousness have had to slip and slide carefully around and through Britain’s long standing legal traditions and principles of criminal justice.
In so doing, they have weakened it to such an extent that it should be clear to all level-headed people that this is our main problem.
“Extremism” as an indicator of potential to commit violent crimes (it is false argument, but it is still being used), turns the whole notion of crime in its intrinsic meaning upside down, so that crime is not actually crime anymore, because no crime has taken place.
How do you tell this to a well-intentioned police commanding officer who grew up, like most people in the UK, on the luminously logical Sherlock Holmes?
How do you explain that she must forget everything she learnt about hard evidence, and rather in this brave new world, predict a crime based on that okay-not-so-clear-but-useful-anyway checklist that the nice man in a suit showed you in a 15-minute Power Point presentation, and then arrest someone based on that?
It doesn’t make any sense – not only that, but it enables all sorts of horrible latent personal and racial grudges already in the police force to manifest, since it is all so vague and you know – why not?
The basic principle of a reasonable justice system is that there has to be an evidential basis from which one draws logical conclusions, which then lead police to arrest someone and detain them. This concrete evidence is then used to piece together a case and discipline someone appropriately, in a fair and balanced court, after hearing their side of the story.
Britain has laws to do this very well already. Without counter-terrorism legislation.
Instead we are seeing convictions, harassment and vilification fanned by the bellows fear, hinging on belief, dress (!) and behaviour – and the quite natural evolution of a secular thought police.
We are therefore most thankful that it is the politicians themselves that have ballooned onto the scene to prove that the notion of “extremism” and what makes an “extremist” is about as evidential as sunlight at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.
Now that it is a fashionable political insult, we can now assert more comfortably (without being too worried anymore about being called “extremists” ourselves) that it was obvious from the very start that using “extremism” as a basis for assessing threat and potential to commit violence was going to end up in the most terrible abuse – as is felt so intensely by young people and Muslims
On the other hand, the notion has now wafted up into the halls of Whitehall where it has naturally become what it always was as well: a rather deceptive, choking, milky white haze.
‘Extremism’ is being used to avoid accountability and actual work
As has been underlined by the latest political theatrics, the government’s notion of “extremism” is mainly a great distraction to keep the majority away from demanding that it actually answer for its failures and abuse, and then get to work doing its job in the manner that leadership is expected to care for its people.
There is no more clear evidence of this intention to distract and absolve itself of accountability and responsibility, than the bare fact that the notion of “extremism” is now also – as CAGE has warned from the beginning – being used outside the hallowed halls to cast the security net ever wider, criminalising environmental, anti-war and other groups that challenge the prevailing corporate-security complex.
It has put activists, academics and journalists – that vital sector in any dynamic and thinking society – out of jobs and on no-fly lists, seen professional businessmen under surveillance, forced lawyers to give up their phones at Schedule 7 stops, and propelled students into a permanent state of anxiety (as if they need any more at that stage of their lives) simply for running a debate about “decolonisation.”
Even the head of the CCE realised earlier this month that things might just be getting a little scary and out of control.
But – oh dear – she has spoken up too late, and from a doomed vehicle. Like the child on a rollercoaster that is now hurtling indefinitely into some terrible dark and ridiculous place, who hatches an inane idea to move to the back of the cart.
Groups that have real clout on the ground need to get to work – now
Like all terminology employed during the failed “War on Terror’ campaign against humanity, words weaponised by pressure groups like the “counter-extremists” who are quite clearly intent on furthering their own status through taking advantage of the high-level prejudice against Muslims, must be returned to their actual meaning.
They cannot be allowed to further fuel the political agendas of nefarious individuals and groups, and by doing so, lose and even invert their intrinsic meaning, relevance and value.
Along with reclaiming language itself, we must focus on the principles of justice that we all intrinsically know, before evil people take advantage of this confusion and go even further down the dark hole that is staring us in the face.
Unless of course it becomes obvious that we are not dealing any more with a state that is concerned with the rule of law.
If this happens, things will inevitably move into another gear entirely, where, with enough repeating the “extremism” label in the way the state is forcing it on us, it will finally be accepted. But it will not be a source of shame; it will be a badge of honour. The vast majority of society including us do not want things to get there.
So, it’s high time we all got together to talk about a country beyond “extremism” and especially beyond Prevent.
We hope to send out our briefing paper on this exciting idea soon. Watch this space.