Queen’s Speech: Counter-extremism strategy must uphold progressive values

David Cameron's muscular liberal approach to combatting extremism should ring alarm bells


The Queen’s Speech outlined a number of measures to tackle extremism, and re-ignited the debate surrounding the counter extremism strategy and bill.

Despite controversy surrounding the bill and the strategy when it was first announced last year, over problems with definitions and preserving civil liberties and basic rights to free speech and religious freedom, it would appear that we are no closer to resolving these issues.

Statements from the Prime Minister implying we will not leave you alone if you obey the law, as a part of the muscular liberal approach to counter extremism, rang alarm bells.

Especially as these were placed within the context of British values, one of which as stated in the Prevent strategy and referred to in the counter extremism strategy, is the rule of law

Why is this problematic? Well first of all the ‘rule of law’ implies a number of things, such as preventing the arbitrary or even strategic violation of legal rights by the authorities against its citizens.

Another key implication of the rule of law is that the laws themselves are clearly defined — a problem when trying to define extremism in a legal context.

Thirdly, and significantly, it implies that these laws are fair and do not contradict implicit values, which ironically we are seeking to protect. A higher set of values — fairness, justice and morality— transcendent to any specific legal system.

The very ideas of state disrupting legal but problematic activities using legal force, or a civil order to stop individuals engaging in legal but problematic activities, can later lead to further discrimination.

The Disclosure and Barring Service needed to stop such extremists from working with children, for example, leads to all sorts of further issues. Section five lays out a set of measures that pose serious civil liberties challenges.

This is without even considering the International aspect of the strategy that is briefly mentioned.Where would the likes of India’s Narendra Modi and other allies such as Saudi Arabia stand?

I am not against the need to tackle extremism. I believe that we do need to do so. I also do believe that the values espoused as British values: liberty, the rule of law, equality, tolerance and democracy are in fact universal ideals, which we should promote.

This in fact is where section six of the strategy (‘Building Cohesive Communities’) comes into play. These are fundamental elements required for progressive societies and social cohesion. But they are not fostered by measures contradicting these very values which transcend specific legal systems.

Legal measures, bans, orders and restrictions are therefore not the way forward. We don’t challenge extremist ideologies, whether of the far-right or Islamist extremism, by compromising our own values.

Challenging extremist ideologies and vigorously defending our own should be our strategy.

In the words of John Stuart Mill:

“[…]even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction…”.

Rashad Ali is a Senior Resident Fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. The opinions expressed are of the author and not necessarily of the Institute.

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