By Sara Khan, Lead Commissioner for Commission for Countering Extremism
In our flagship report “Challenging Hateful Extremism” my Commission committed to undertake a review of how effective existing laws are in dealing with hateful extremist activity in our country. Today, we are launching this legal review.
I have appointed Sir Mark Rowley, former Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations of the Metropolitan Police Service to lead this review to:
- Identify whether there are gaps in existing legislation or inconsistencies in enforcing the law in relation to hateful extremism and
- Make practical recommendations that are compatible with existing legal and human rights obligations.
The Commission will engage with stakeholder groups, operational and law enforcement bodies in the coming months, and put proposals forward to the Home Secretary later this year.
Hateful extremism is identified in our report as behaviours:
- that can incite and amplify hate, or engage in persistent hatred, or equivocate about and make the moral case for violence
- that draw on hateful, hostile or supremacist beliefs directed at an out-group who are perceived as a threat to the wellbeing, survival or success of an in-group
- that cause, or are likely to cause, harm to individuals, communities or wider society
Why this review is important
As the Commission’s report evidenced, hateful extremism is having a devastating impact on victims, on cohesion in our towns and cities and in undermining the social fabric and democratic norms of our country. We have even seen extremists exploiting the current pandemic – circulating shocking material which seeks to incite hatred and violence against people in our society. The Community Security Trust have shown how Far-Right posts on sites such as Gab and 4chan, encourage people to deliberately infect Jewish communities. The government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group has identified Far Right extremists circulating pre-lockdown footage to claim that mosques are still open falsely claiming that mosques and Muslims are spreading coronavirus. Jihadists have been encouraging sympathisers to carry out attacks during lockdown.
It cannot be right that extremists continue to incite hatred and violence against Jews, Muslims and others with so much ease. Organisations and individuals justifying and celebrating the murder of MPs, or acts of suicide bombings, or encouraging attacks on places of worship, or spreading jihadist or neo-Nazi propaganda that incites and dehumanises whole groups of people. Online extremism is enabled and magnified by the structural makeup of social media platforms; and their algorithms have amplified and help propagate extremist content to an unprecedented number of people in an unprecedented way. It is an unfortunate reality that often it is extremists who have the upper hand.
We must protect freedom of expression in our country, but such activity falls outside this qualified right. Britain has one of the strongest counter-terrorism system, resources and laws in the world. But when people or groups incite hatred, engage in persistent hatred or justify violence against others drawing on hostile or supremacist beliefs, such activity often falls short of current incitement or counter-terror legislation. Extremists have therefore continued to operate with virtual impunity in our country both online and offline; while victims – as they have repeatedly told me – feel let down by the authorities and are concerned that existing powers are not being used effectively or consistently.
I made clear in my report about ensuring we have a rights-based and proportionate response to countering extremism. This review is not about restricting freedom of speech but rather about tackling the extremists who seek to undermine the rule of law and restrict the rights and fundamental freedoms of others.
They attempt to normalise and mainstream their extremist worldview which ultimately degrades our democracy and the values we hold dear. It is vital we respond to the growing threat of hateful extremism.