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New "counter-extremism" strategy launched

The UK government has launched its new "one-nation Counter-Extremism Strategy" targeted at "all forms of extremism". "Extremism" has been defined by Prime Minister David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May as "vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values". The strategy precedes forthcoming anti-extremism legislation.

A Downing Street press release says:

"The new Strategy follows the 4 key pillars set out by the PM in his speech in Birmingham in July:

1. It will vigorously counter extremist ideology – making sure every part of government is stepping up to the plate.
2. It will actively support mainstream voices, especially in our faith communities and in civil society. That means supporting all those who want to fight extremism, but are too often disempowered or drowned out in the debate.
3. It will disrupt extremists, aggressively pursuing the key radicalisers who do so much damage.
4. And it will seek to build more cohesive communities, tackling the segregation and feelings of alienation that can help provide fertile ground for extremist messages to take root."

See: PM: New counter-extremism strategy is a clear signal of the choice we make today (press release, pdf) and £5 million to build a national coalition against extremism - in communities and online (press release, pdf)

More specifically, new powers will make it possible for parents to request the withdrawal of their 16 and 17-year-old childrens' passports (currently such requests can be made only for children under 16) and anyone with a conviction for extremist activity will be barred from working with children or vulnerable people.

See: UK to block teenagers' passports to stop them joining militants (Reuters, link) and Counter-extremism: David Cameron extends powers to block passports (BBC News, link)

A new anti-extremism bill is also forthcoming:

"The new anti-extremism bill will force public sector organisations to boycott gorups or individuals listed as extremist, introduce “extremism disruption orders” on those seeking to radicalise young people online, close mosques where extremist meetings have taken place and strengthen the powers available to the media regulator to sanction channels that broadcast extremist content.

"Separately, the investigatory powers bill is expected to strengthen the surveillance powers of the authorities and is expected to go beyond the communications data bill – nicknamed the snooper’s charter – which was blocked in the last parliament by the Liberal Democrats.

"As well as enabling the tracking of internet and social media use, the legislation will also move to strengthen the security services’ warranted powers for the bulk interception of the content of communications."

See: Labour warns Cameron over draft surveillance and anti-terror laws (The Guardian, link)

Proposed new anti-extremism measures were heavily criticised in September by David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, in his annual report:

"If the wrong decisions are taken, the new law risks provoking a backlash in affected communities, hardening perceptions of an illiberal or Islamophobic approach, alienating those whose integration into British society is already fragile, and playing into the hands of those who, by peddling a grievance agenda, seek to drive people further towards extremism and terrorism.

"Of particular importance is the potential of the new law to affect those who are not its targets. No doubt it will be said, with perfect sincerity, that it is intended to make only a handful of individuals and organisations subject to the new orders, and that those who peddle hatred and prejudice in order to sow division deserve nobody's sympathy. But to speak only of the intended targets does not address the dangers that are inherent in all over-broad laws and discretions: dangers which are present even in the relatively confined area of anti-terrorism law, and which become still more marked as the range of suspect behaviour is extended. If it becomes a function of the state to identify which individuals are engaged in, or exposed to, a broad range of "extremist activity", it will become legitimate for the state to scrutinise (and the citizen to inform upon) the exercise of core democratic freedoms by large numbers of law-abiding people." [emphasis added]

See: David Anderson QC, The Terrorism Acts in 2014 (pdf, pp.64-5) and Counter-extremism bill could play into terrorists' hands, says watchdog (The Guardian, link)

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