Ministers not providing a clear definition of extremism, MPs say

In a report, the Joint Committee on Human Rights has said there is currently no useable legal definition of extremism.

The group of MPs argued that the government should ‘tread carefully’ when trying to define extremism as it could risk undermining relations with Muslim communities.

The committee highlighted that maintaining good relations with Muslim communities were the government’s ‘most precious asset’ in fighting terrorism inspired by so-called Islamic State (ISIL). In particular the report insisted there needed to be more recognition of the distinction between extremism and religious conservatism.

Committee chairwoman Harriet Harman said: “But the difficulty with that is - again it's the definition - for example, I don't respect religions that regard women as subservient, I don't tolerate the views or beliefs of people who think that homosexuality is a sin, but I'm clearly not an extremist on the path to violence.

"To have draconian orders - breach of which is a criminal offence - without being able to describe the problem that you're trying to put these orders against, is a problem."

The committee also said that the proposals announced in the Counter-Extremism Bill in 2015 had been stalled or in some cases, gone backwards. It outlined that while there was agreement that tackling extremism should be a priority, there was still conflict regarding how it should be tackled.

The problems proposed in the new legislation included: “Either it will focus on Muslims, be seen as discriminatory and drive a wedge between communities, or it would operate indiscriminately and could be used against any groups who espouse conservative religious views.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "Extremism causes terrorism and broader social harms including hate crime, honour-based violence and discrimination.

"That is why we published a counter-extremism strategy which confronts all forms of extremist ideology head-on, supports mainstream voices, and builds stronger and more cohesive communities.

"This broad counter-extremism agenda is distinct and complementary to our Prevent programme which safeguards those who may be vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism."