Extremism – a redefinition?

By Rev Leslie Morrison (From Seeds April – May 2024)

The UK government’s recent decision to redefine ‘extremism’ was raised at Church Meeting on 12 March. Here, AUC member the Revd Leslie Morrison reflects what that decision could mean.

The Westminster government has redefined the word ‘extremism’. This is not a statutory change. In other words, the law will not change.

However, the government will now use the new definition in its dealings with organisations, particularly in financial matters and on issues with which they fundamentally disagree.

The new definition reads: ‘Extremism is “the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance, that aims (1) to negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; or (2) undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal democracy and democratic rights; or intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve the results in (1) or (2)”’.

Generally, Christians would not have a problem with the first part of the definition; the second part is, however, a different matter. It is sufficiently vague that when used by government it could inadvertently bring others within its scope.

On 22 February, the Trustees of The Interfaith Network announced that it was winding up the organisation following the withdrawal of funding from the Westminster government. One reason given for the closure was that the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) was a member organisation. The government will not have dialogue with the MCB, hence the principle reason for ending funding. This is very sad for many people of faith, not least those who work hard for a greater understanding of different faiths.

On 12 March, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York issued a statement asking the government to rethink its statement. They suggest that the redefinition will disproportionately affect Muslims in addition to threatening our freedom of speech, our rights to worship and freedoms to protest peacefully.

“This is very sad for many people of faith, not least those who work hard for a greater understanding”

There are many organisations to which Christians adhere, or are members. Amnesty International and Greenpeace are two with fairly large Christian memberships that come to mind. What do we do? Continue to support. Continue to protest. But above all, continue to pray that in whatever way, we will be led by God to a deeper understanding of what God wills for humankind in this fragile world in which we live.

For further discussion of the government’s definition and its implications, read the report of a briefing by faith leaders to the Religion Media Centre. Faith leaders agreed that the way to tackle religious hatred in society is through continuing dialogue and building relationships between people of different faiths. See bit.ly/4a5kH5x.