Why free speech, hate speech and radicalisation are hard to define


IN BRITAIN’s high places, there is much hand-wringing at the moment over the relationships between freedom of belief, hate speech, prejudice, violence and ultimately terrorism. At least three senior-level processes have been undertaken. First, the government has announced there will be an “independent review” of its so-called Prevent programme whose aim is to counter, and if possible nip in the bud, all kinds of violent extremism, ranging from the Islamist sort to the white-nativist variety. The review has received only the most cautious of welcomes from the voluble lobby of politically active Muslims who complain that Prevent is stigmatising their community.

Meanwhile, the Commission on Countering Extremism, a powerful advisory body, recently asked everybody with an interest in the topic to offer submissions that will help its deliberations on how extremism should be defined. And finally Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee has just completed a year of investigations into the extent and appropriate definition of Islamophobia. The panel, which has yet to offer any conclusions, extended its work to take in suggestions from yet another body of legislators (the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims) who after a study of their own have called for the general adoption of a statement along these lines: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

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