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‘The Extremist Islamists are Coming! Sunak Cries Wolf to Criminalise Dissent’

The CEO of one of the organisations likely to be targeted by the Government’s forthcoming ‘extremism’ definition speaks out against its chilling effects

Photo: ZUMA Press/Alamy

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Last week saw an extraordinary piece of political theatre. A lectern placed outside Downing Street led to fevered speculation about a General Election announcement. It was no such thing. Instead, we witnessed one of the most extreme speeches a Prime Minister has ever given.

Rishi Sunak talked of “Islamic extremists” who were “hostile to our values” and were threatening and undermining democracy itself, adding that “our streets have been hijacked by small groups” who operated through “threats of violence and intimidation”. An apocalyptic picture no less, and one that demanded tougher action from the police and a ‘redoubling’ of support for the discredited Prevent programme.

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Enter Michael Gove, the Communities Secretary, whom we learnt was drawing up proposals for a new definition of extremism. The aim of this definition will be to declare pro-Palestinian and Muslim groups such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Muslim Council of Britain and MEND (Muslim Engagement & Development) as ‘extremist’, as well as other ‘disruptors’ such as Extinction Rebellion.

The new definition’s purpose will be to ban politicians from engaging with these groups. However such plans have been met with opposition, not only from the ‘usual suspects’ such as Amnesty International UK and  Liberty, but from Conservative MPs and Peers also, who are concerned that anti-abortion groups or those opposed to transgender rights will be caught by this definition also. 

So what is going on here? It is clear that the Government in recent months has been alarmed by the massive displays of overwhelmingly peaceful support for Palestinians coupled with criticism of the UK Government (and the Opposition) for fully supporting the state of Israel committing genocide, ethnic cleansing and war crimes against the Palestinians. In fact it doesn’t get more ‘extreme’ than that.

It is important to state that this support has come from all quarters of society, including Jewish groups opposed to the actions of the Israeli state. However, rather than defend their actions, they choose to create a ‘straw man’ argument of a threat to democracy from ‘violent extremist Muslim mobs’ as a pretext to crack down on lawful protest and assembly. 


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This is an attempt to distract the public from his failing Government and appeal to right-wing voters as the polls show that the Conservatives are heading for political oblivion at the next General Election with 78% of Britons dissatisfied with the way that the Government is running the country. 

The current definition of extremism is a ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values’. The new definition proposed  is “the promotion of an ideology based on intolerance hatred or violence that aims to that undermines the rights or freedoms of others.”

What does this mean? Should we not be ‘intolerant’ of genocide, or ‘hate’ ethnic cleaning or war crimes? Make no mistake, this definition is simply self-serving and aimed at protecting the Government from any kind of criticism or protest, whilst whipping up hatred towards Muslims who dare to speak out by labelling them as ‘Islamist extremists’. It is worth noting that the Government’s own definition of British values as set out in the Prevent Strategy includes “Mutual respect and tolerance of those of different faiths.” So much for tolerance then.


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Indeed we should call out the real extremists here, which are members of the Government and Conservative Party. Recent weeks have shown the Conservative Party has sunk to new depths of racism and Islamophobia.

Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman claimed that “Islamists” were in charge of Britain,  and then Lee Anderson, former Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party waded in with a bizarre claim that “Islamists” were controlling Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, which was too much even for Sunak, who suspending him from the party, provoking a backlash in support of Anderson.  So who are these ‘Islamists’? This has now simply become a term to describe any Muslim individuals or groups who are critical of the Government. 

But what Sunak, Gove and the Conservatives are doing is not a minor political side-show, it threatens the very fabric of our democratic society as it seeks to criminalise lawful dissent and criticism of the Government. We must come together to oppose this new definition.

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