The expansion of Radicalism or perhaps the death of it

Posted: 26th May 2016 in Uncategorised
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Who will be deemed a radical?

Recently announced in the Queen’s speech (State opening of Parliament) was the decision to widen the scope of extremists in regards to the Conservative’s party’s anti-terror legislation.This blog has explored radicalism in depth and how its relevance to British Political culture. But I believe we are currently entering an age where the boundaries between political and principled opposition and mainstream thinking are being increasingly blurred.

Recently announced in the Queen’s speech (State opening of Parliament) was the decision to widen the scope of extremists in regards to the Conservative’s party’s anti-terror legislation. The Counter-Extremism bill effectively bans the existence of ‘extremist’ organizations and individuals in Britain. Personally, I see this as an unprecedented moment in our political landscape. The definition of an extremist has been purposefully undefined so that it covers broad area of political positions that may not match the Government’s. The government have not used the term ‘terrorist’ or ‘traitor’, labels that can be clearly attributed to the dismantlement of society or government, they chosen a subjective word that could effectively encompass anybody with an opposing political view. The government have the power to potentially move and change the goal posts for what defines an extremist. There is no evidence to suggest that one who is an extremist’ also seeks to promote hatred and division, after all, a few Green Party Members have been officially labeled as domestic extremists because of their ‘progressive’ economic policies. Does that mean they should be prosecuted? This bill could also be seen as part of an agenda for the Conservatives to systematically eliminate the platform for those to criticize the government. With the Trade Union Bill effectively putting a squeeze on their rivals The Labour Party, as well as the electoral fraud scandal with several Tory activists breaking election spending rules; it is clear to witness the underhand tactics used by the Government to silence the views and opinions of the opposition.

But this bill does not only present problems for democratic principles, it has complications for the role of freedom of speech in British society. We are constantly being reminded by government minsters about how important it is that we live in a world that is free, tolerant and liberal. But the denial of the right to express your political principles is a violation of these so called ‘British’ values. The government seems to advocate the decision in making a difference between ‘hate speech’ and the right to ‘speak freely’. But it is here that we fall in the same traps as discussed earlier. How does one define ‘hate speech’? By its language? Its targets? Its intentions? It is simply to ill-defined and subjective in order for political authorities to apply the term as if it has legal weight. Recent protesters across American colleges are campaigning to ban the spread of certain pieces of literature because it discriminates against certain social, ethnic and biological groups, and some even claim that distributing Trump manifestos to your class mates should now be perceived as hate speech. Some may call this political correctness gone mad, I prefer see it more clearly as a growing trend of emotional and sentimental attitudes replacing rational and logical ones. The very reason why Trump has gained so much popularity is because certain sections of society have stifled extremist views, thus provoking those same ‘extremists’ to invest their trust in Donald Trump, a man who deeply but dangerously resents political correctness. If the UK government continues to blur the lines between speech, offence and the law we could be witnessing similar scenes across our universities.

However we have seen some nations are making efforts to correct their mistakes in regards to freedom of Speech. Indeed, Quebec has decided to amend its ‘Bill 69’ hate speech clause which had been designed to combat discrimination against transgender people. However Quebec have decided that the bill is a hindrance towards living in a politically liberal society: “We are doing it because we believe that freedom of speech is fundamental in a healthy democracy“. In my opinion the government of Quebec is taking a positive and forward step by recognizing that the language we use and the meanings that it can infer constantly change according to the political and civil circumstances.

Unfortunately, it appears that the UK government is taking step back in to the past with its regressive anti-terror legislation. The Prime Minster of the early 1790’s (William Pitt) enacted two pieces of legislation that were not too dissimilar to Cameron’s recent Counter-extremism bill. The 1795 Treasonable  Practices Act stated that

” any place, like a room or building, where political meetings took place, with the purpose of discussing the injustice of any law, constitution, government and policy of the kingdoms, must be declared a house of disorder and punished.”

The Counter Extremism  Bill of 2016 has a striking resemblance;

“These include new civil orders to ban extremist groups, restrict the behavior of extremist individuals, and to close down premises used for extremist purposes.”

The two pieces of legislation share the same ideological purpose, in that they seek to prevent the gathering and the mobilization of individuals who may express opinions that go well beyond mainstream political thought. During the 1790s William Pitt was fighting a war of principle as well as a war of arms. He sought to crush the influence of that the French Revolution was having in Britain. The French Revolution gained a reputation for representing democracy, liberty and equality. William Pitt wanted to repress any discussion regarding electoral reform and even the term ‘democracy’ itself. Just over hundred years later, and our current UK government seems to be taking us down the dangerous Orwellian path (sorry for the anachronism) of suppressing all types of unauthorized political debate.

Some may believe that the Conservative policy towards Extremism will potentially allow every citizen to be deemed a radical, but if those on the moderate political spectrum are lumped in the same box with those who have far-reaching alternative views then how can we perceive the identity of someone who is truly radical? The systematic blurring of political principles has watered down the sincerity of our democracy. The ability for someone to express their views without interference from the state is slowly being eroded, the boundaries within which one can discuss their thoughts is being destroyed not widened.

 

 

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Comments
  1. antxnia says:

    I definitely agree with the last line of the post. Terrorism legislation is constantly written to be vague and far-reaching and this particular government has shown that it has little regard for upholding a true democracy.

    I think that it would be effective to define hate speech and to prosecute people who harass others, rather than just express how they feel. I really do feel that in a world with increasing xenophobia and nationalism that racialized and marginalized people ought to be protected from the hateful and harmful views of powerful people, but I also agree that stifling extremism only empowers it. I feel that American politics is a prime example of sham democracy, where money absolutely buys power and white supremacy and capitalism quietly underpin everything. They’d have to do something decidedly radical to change it but it’s too late for that now. I think true radicalism is rare and being against the systems we have in place shouldn’t be considered dangerous and criminal, but it always will be.

    Like

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