Knee-jerk legislation is not the answer to Islamist extremism

Rushed legislation is effective only in so far as it is immediate - it cannot tackle the underlying causes of crime.

Rushed legislation is effective only in so far as it is immediate – it cannot tackle the underlying causes of crime

In recent years dogs, hooligans and Muslims have all been subject to emergency ‘knee jerk’ legislation – a truncated parliamentary timeline justified on the grounds of a real threat to society, national security and a disruption of the social order.

Rushed legislation is effective only in so far as it is immediate, like thrusting a dummy into a crying baby’s mouth and instantly pacifying the recipient.

But what it fails to do is look at why the baby is crying in the first place.

John Major’s government passed the Dangerous Dogs Act in 1991 because of the national outrage and media frenzy surrounding pit bulls mauling children in parks.

As a result, it became illegal to have a dog that was out of control in a ‘public place’.

The public at large was pacified and the government appeared as though it had been proactive. However, because of the immediate and literal nature of the Act, it failed to cover attacks in a ‘private place’.

This meant that a dog that attacked a postman delivering a letter or a child retrieving a ball from a neighbour’s garden fell outside of the jurisdiction.

Brice Dickson, Professor of International and Comparative Law at Queens’ University Belfast, argues that legislation “pushed through parliament in an emergency tends to be bad legislation because it is ill-considered”.

In this case the Act focused on ‘dangerous dogs’ in public, rather than focusing on ‘dangerous owners‘ everywhere, which would have made much more sense.

The Football Disorder Act 2000 was rushed through parliament in the wake of national embarrassment at the violence of British football fans during Euro 2000.

Football hooligans could be banned from travelling abroad and the police were given the power to seize the passports of ‘hooligans’ for up to five days before an international fixture.

In terms of civil liberties, this was a draconian measure as it prevented free movement within the European Union. In terms of practical application of the law, there was some discussion at the Hansard stage of the bill and later taken up by ministers about whether a tattoo of the Union Jack might result in a travel ban.

Baroness Royall conceded that one of the major difficulties with rushed legislation is that “there is not as much time for scrutiny”.

With relatively straightforward issues such as dangerous dogs or hooligans the ‘knee jerk’ legislation falls short of being fit for its purpose and results in criticism, uncertainty and eventually a timely redraft.

These issues are straightforward in that endless inquiry and serious international academic study is not required to get to the root of the cause.

This is in contrast to the highly complex, very new and challenging nature of Islamist extremism, which gives rise to more grave, if not dangerous repercussions to knee jerk legislation.

Sixty-three days after 9/11 the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 was passed, denting the centuries-old Habeas Corpus principle.

The Act was criticized by Liberty who said there was “no apparent need for an immediate legislative response”, because The Terrorism Act 2000 had already cleaned up and consolidated the existing terrorism laws.

Then there was the Terrorism Act 2006, which came about after the London bombings in 2005. The Counter Terrorism Act 2008 suddenly included an anti-money laundering clause.

The other problem with an expedited approach to producing statutes is that it does not leave time for existing statutes to mature, or set enough precedence for sensible modifications.

Islamist extremism is unique and chameleon-like in its nature. It is gathering momentum in different stratified segments of the Muslim society. This is reflected in the way the media shifts its lens in trying to keep up.

At first it was the mosques that were preying on young non-integrated males. Then it was educated, integrated Muslims going abroad to fight President Assad’s regime in Syria. (Talk of banning their return does not take into account the fact that they are valuable intelligence).

Then the media highlighted the dangers of online radicalisation, resulting in the introduction of emergency data laws. And whilst the glare of the lens remained on young males, girls suddenly appeared to be threatening to flee to Syria as ‘Jihadist brides’

The law should not, and cannot, match the constantly changing nature of extremism with sporadic and ‘knee jerk’ legislation. When rushing, it cannot legislate correctly in areas it does understand, so it stands to reason that it cannot quickly make correct legislative decisions it areas that it does not.  

And what the law needs to understand is that there is a whole plethora of types of Islamist extremism: the teenage girl infatuated with an image of a ‘bad boy,’ the angry male in prison, the loner with mental health problems. It can never be exhaustive; who knows what story will unfold about the British male beheading his fellow westerners?

The media has been accused by some of an anti-Muslim rhetoric in its reportage. The legal system does not need to join in by churning out anti-terrorism laws, further isolating British Muslims at a time when they should be actively encouraged to partake in the legal and political system.

The law should be a steadfast and immovable actor until it knows exactly which way to go. Immediate pacification did not work in the case of hooliganism and dogs; in the infinitely more complex area of Islamist extremism, it has no chance.

Nazish Khan is a playwright and journalist and works with Quilliam

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18 Responses to “Knee-jerk legislation is not the answer to Islamist extremism”

  1. uglyfatbloke

    Excellent article…well said.

  2. swat

    I would support Yasmin Alibhai Brown in her fight against the headscarf burka and nicab and veil. Its an abomination, obscene and derogatory to women; and legislation and penalties would help stamp out the practice. Its about time a stand was taken and comonsense prevailed.

  3. treborc1

    I said the same about the mini shirk, hated it freezes my Ball’s off in the winter .

    The fact is the veil I dislike the rest it’s up to people what they wear if a women is forced by family then time to get out from the family.

    We cannot dictate what people can or cannot wear, but if they are forced then of course we should be able to say nope that wrong.

  4. swat

    How does a Scotsman keep warm in his mini kilt?
    Why, he has a central heated sporran!
    The fact is the Scots don’t go around wearing kilts these days apart from ceremonial wear at weddings and tossing their cabers.
    And women have changed to wearing trousers when it suits them along with frocks and skirts in their wardrobe. And they change their haistyles often and they wear makeup. Aparently veiled women wear makeup, which is pretty pointless really. There is definitely some psychologically wrong with those women who hide from the world in a veil.

  5. David Wilson

    This is a great article, the government seems to be looking at radicalisation purely through the lens of criminality. This will not solve the problem of foreign fighters as the people that travel out to Iraq and Syria to fight are not worried about whether they break the law and the repercussions of what would happen to them if they returned. Surely prevention is better than having to waste money and resource to cure – not to mention sacrificing our basic societal values through legislation that may, if challenged, be overturned by an EU Court on human rights grounds.

  6. David T

    Does the mini shirk lead to mini bi’dah?

  7. David T

    The idea that you can legislate away a political movement is very misguided. This is a political battle. We haven’t even begun to fight it.

  8. Leon Wolfeson

    So you support totalitarian restrictions on what people can wear, a far worse abomination and obscenity, derogatory to everyone in Britain, and you’re happy with banishing people from sight because you think that solves anything.

    Your “common sense” of dictating to people what is acceptable to wear and not on the street, which can easily be expanded to attack specific views and religions which are “unacceptable” to a given government… which I believe you also know and support.

  9. Leon Wolfeson

    So now you’re spewing accusations of mental illness.
    Without any kind of proof, just out of hate.

  10. swat

    Then you provide a logical reason why. The position they adopt is threatening. Its not hatred; these people are not integrating into the community and are destroying intercommunity relations and harmony; their neighbours, their colleagues at work and people they should be interacting with want to see a face, with expressions..
    20 years ago it was not done; now they have been brainwashioned into thinking they are serving their God, by hiding themselves away.
    Stop making excuses for them. Its unhealthy behaviour.

  11. Leon Wolfeson

    You. Stop blaming everyone else for your alienation, as you make up magical rights you don’t have, as you demand people be banished from public and demand totalitarian, stateist controls.

    I’m not making excuses for you and your unhealthy hatred and bigotry. You are trying for the same sort of divided communities and pogroms France is facing, where the Jews are being driven out the country.

  12. Nick London

    I don’t really agree with you swat, but you need to know this guy leon is bonkers. His rants won’t stop. At some point he will flip to anonymising his posts so they come up a “guest” and don’t go on his timeline, but you will see “leon” still come up on your timeline. He has sent me maybe 10 posts today accusing me of everything under the sun. Suggest giving him a wide berth.

  13. Lamia

    I’ve just had the Leon treatment. He’s bonkers and an absolute pest.

  14. Guest

    The funny thing is I think I know who he is. He has an academic background of sorts, and has tought students. God help

  15. Guest

    Oh yes, a Jew dared to reply to you.

    Facts are SUCH a pest, as you scream that disagreement with your far right views is mental illness – you’re a good eugenics man, I see.

  16. Guest

    Keep screaming that disagreement with you is bonkers, as you refuse to admit basic facts, as you suggest ignoring all other views and are thus here only to disrupt debate.

    Keep talking to your anti-Semitic buddy there, hand in hand! Post after post of diversion…

  17. Guest

    Oh yes, I’m sure you want Satan to stop Jews from teaching. And that’s a threat from you, of course.

  18. Guest

    No, I but I think I want the department of education to stop you teaching because you are a bouncing off the walls, nurse please pass the lithium, aliens are stealing my thoughts, delusional, paranoid psychotic.

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