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What is an extremist?

The Guardian reports today that

The government is to draw up a list of extremists from all over the world, the home secretary, Charles Clarke, announced as he revealed new anti-terrorism measures today.

My question is simple: How exactly does Mr Clarke propose to define an ‘extremist’?

At first glance, the problem seems relatively easy, a simple case of including anyone who encourages others to kill themselves and others. But that ideology is more closely tied to religions around the world that you might expect – not just Islam, which this legislation is clearly unfairly aimed at, but also Christianity, the stated religion of choice for the majority of British citizens. For example, a couple of weeks ago, I saw a Christian minister preaching about David and Goliath, effectively a story about a small unlikely minority overpowering and killing their perceived enemies of a much greater force. The minister went on to say that those that helped to fight this kind of injustice were truly treasured by her god. In the minds of the perverted minority, this could be taken as a sign that they, too, should fight to kill their perceived religious enemies, and go and blow up the nearest Mosque. In the minds of the potential bombers at least, the minister would have appeared to encourage them to take this course of action, and it is undeniable that this message can be taken from the sermon and from the Bible if that is what one is looking for. So does this minister count as an extremist?

Let’s refer back to the Guardian article:

The database would list individuals who had demonstrated “unacceptable behaviour”, which would include inflammatory preaching or running websites and writing articles intended to foment or provoke terrorism.

Ah. We’ve hit a bit of a brick wall. The database includes people who have demonstrated “unacceptable behaviour”. That’s helpful. But with the given examples including “inflammatory preaching”, I can’t see any reason why our middle-of-the-road Christian minister couldn’t be on the extremist database. Except, of course, for this small clause:

He said the “unacceptable behaviour” would not be permitted by anyone with leave to enter or remain in this country, including students, asylum seekers and refugees.

So as long as our minister is British-born, it isn’t an issue. If, however, early in life – perhaps too early to remember – she had fled with her parents from persecution in Zimbabwe, she could possibly end up on this database.

But ending up on this databas – the purpose of which is sinisterly unexplained – is likely to be the least of our minister’s worries, when she considers what else is in this upcoming legislation:

He said the legislation would create three new criminal offences – acts preparatory to terrorism; indirect incitement to terrorism, which would cover those who glorified and condoned terror acts; and giving and receiving terrorist training.

This minister, in preaching what many millions have preached before her, has undoubtedly given ‘indirect incitement to terrorism’. She didn’t mean to put the idea into the perverted minds of her audience, but she’s managed to do it. That’ll be a lengthy jail sentence for her, then.

Now I’m quite likely to be accused of being silly here. People will doubtless point out that this is not what the legislation is intended for. But – and here’s something this government doesn’t seem to understand – that doesn’t matter. Laws are not restricted to what they were meant to be used for. Judges and the police have a nasty habit of sticking to the very letter of the law. That’s why laws have to be carefully constructed, debated, and re-written almost to destruction, and not rammed through Parliament to ensure as little opposition as possible.

If this government continues to make laws which are this full of gaping holes, sooner or later it’s going to turn round and bite them back. For instance, when Tony Blair encourages us to do everything possible to defeat these terrorists, is he not indirectly inciting me to go and commit a terrorist attack on foreign soil, against those I perceive to have been behind the terrorist attack here? These laws also leave the door open for a future, even less moral government to legitimately lock up their opposition – after all, speaking against the government must surely be indirect incitement to terrorism – and generally rule with an iron fist.

The government may well feel we’re under a great terrorist threat, but much of their legislation designed to combat it puts us in ever greater danger of a future much more bleak than the very occasional terror attack. In short, they need to get a grip.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics.

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