Named Muslim groups slam Michael Gove’s controversial extremism speech

Secretary of State for levelling Michael Gove. Editorial credit: Jakub Junek /

Muslim groups named by Government Minister Michael Gove during his new extremism definition announcement in Parliament have hit back, branding the announcement “slander” by “extremist” MP Gove.

Several prominent UK Muslim groups were named by Gove in Parliament today as he outlined in a speech to MPs a new Government “extremism definition.”

Cage International, the Muslim Association of Britain, MEND and Imam Shakeel Begg of Lewisham Mosque were all mentioned as examples of groups who may fall foul of the new definition.

In his speech to the House of Commons, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said the named groups will be “assessed” for whether they met the definition of “extremism.”

Gove stated in the Commons that: “Islamism is a totalitarian ideology which seeks to divide, calls for the establishment of an Islamic state governed by sharia law and seeks the overthrow of liberal democratic principles”, and added “Organisations such as the Muslim Association of Britain, which is the British affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups such as CAGE and MEND, give rise to concern for their Islamist orientation and views.”

The Muslim Engagement and Development NGO (MEND) responded via X to the development, saying: “Victory for resistance to Gove’s extremism, he has NOT placed MEND on an extremism list because the facts don’t allow it. Instead, he uses parliamentary privilege to slander.”

In a full press statement, MEND CEO Azhar Qayum said: “We challenge Michael Gove to repeat his claims outside of parliament and without the protection of parliamentary privilege if he believes he can provide the evidence to back up his view that MEND has called for the establishment of an ‘Islamic state governed by sharia law’.”

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The statement also expanded on Gove’s “history of Islamophobic views”.

“Gove himself has a long track record of Islamophobic views and associations. He is a founding member of the Henry Jackson Society which promoted an anti-Muslim agenda over many years and led the government’s role in ‘The Trojan Horse’ affair. This falsely accused a number of schools in Birmingham of an ‘Islamist takeover’ on the back of a fake letter. Subsequent inquiries found no evidence of radicalisation in these schools. Given his own ‘extremist’ credentials, for him to be lecturing others as to who is or is not an extremist is an example of rank hypocrisy, and there would appear to be a persuasive argument that he is also an extremist on his own definition!”

The Muslim Association of Britain, another group named by Gove, again claimed he was abusing parliamentary privilege to smear Muslim groups.

“If Gove is confident in his views about the Muslim Association of Britain and other organisations, alleging extremist views and a threat to UK society, we challenge him to state them outside parliament. However, due to the fear of legal challenges, we know he lacks the courage to do so.”

The MAB also said: “We strongly condemn the government’s announcement regarding the redefinition of extremism, deeming it an egregious assault on civil liberties and a blatant effort to stifle dissenting voices under the guise of countering extremism.”

In a statement published by CAGE International, they promised to “explore all avenues” to fight the government’s listing if they are found to be in breach of the new definition.

“Today Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, announced a new and expanded definition of extremism and named some of our groups. His announcement is a continuation of the decades-long strategy aimed at inciting and exploiting fears against Muslims to build an authoritarian and repressive infrastructure that suppresses any dissent that is not licensed by Whitehall.

Collectively we will explore all avenues, including legal, to challenge the Government’s deep dive into authoritarianism.”

New extremism definition

Coming into force on Thursday, the new definition of extremism is:

“The promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance, that aims to:

  1. negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; or
  2. undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights; or
  3. intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve the results in (1) or (2).”

The previous definition, introduced in 2011 under the Prevent counter-extremism strategy, described extremism as “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 belief.”

The government says the new definition is “more precise” and will help “clearly articulate” how extremism is “evidenced.”

Organisations or individuals added to the list will not be criminalised, unlike terrorist groups.

Instead, they will be barred from contact with government and will not be able to receive government funding.

Other potential implications of the extremism listing remain unclear but some experts believe it could encourage banks or social media platforms to implement sanction measures.

Other groups or individuals may also be assessed and added to the list which haven’t been named by Gove.

Pro-Palestine groups are likely to be considered extremist, amid government condemnation of regular marches for Gaza in London.

Mr Gove said: “The pervasiveness of extremist ideologies has become increasingly clear in the aftermath of the October 7 attacks and poses a real risk to the security of our citizens and our democracy… This is the work of extreme Right-wing and Islamist extremists who are seeking to separate Muslims from the rest of society and create division within Muslim communities.”

Alongside the redefinition, a new unit – the Counter-Extremism Centre of Excellence – has been set up, to identify so-called extremist groups.

Groups and individuals labelled extremist have the right to seek reassessment and submit evidence for a review.

Downing Street have said that a list of organisations covered by the UK government’s new definition of extremism is to be published “in the coming weeks.”

The Prime Minister’s spokesman told reporters: “There is going to be a robust process led by subject-matter experts within the department, advised by other experts, with ultimate sign-off from the communities secretary and the home secretary.

I’m not going to put a timeframe on this now, other than saying that it will be in the coming weeks.”

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