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UK extremism: Why the government's new definition is misleading and self-serving

By pushing this narrative, Sunak and Gove are not protecting the nation, but rather the interests of their friends in Tel Aviv, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh
Britain's Communities Secretary Michael Gove and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Norwich on 29 August, 2023 (AFP)

Extremism is generally defined as a derogatory label for people who hold fanatical religious or political views, especially those who resort to extreme action. But can this word really be defined in absolute terms? And in this context, what is considered the “middle ground”?

According to the standard set by the UK government, the answer is British values. But what are British values? Are they based on Christianity, Judaism or another ideology, such as liberalism or secularism? 

If democracy as a system of governance, and human rights as a set of basic inalienable rights enshrined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are the standards by which these British values are defined, then we do not have a big problem. 

But are we instead simply having political disagreements, especially on foreign policy? During my past 25 years of activism within the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), I recall brief periods of concord with the British government. These included cooperation to resolve the crisis at London’s Finsbury Park Mosque, and efforts to secure the release of a kidnapped BBC journalist in the Gaza Strip.

But MAB, like many other civil society groups in the UK, has not seen eye-to-eye with the British government on other issues, such as the invasion of Iraq or the conflict in Palestine.

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In the past, disagreement on these two issues seemed to be sufficient reason for the government to ostracise MAB and its leaders.

Then came the coup against democracy and the violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Pressure from the sponsors of the counterrevolution, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, led to a long blacklist of whoever was deemed to have close links or affiliations with the Brotherhood. 

Silencing critics

The government of former British Prime Minister David Cameron succumbed to pressure and conducted a review of the Muslim Brotherhood, which came up with nothing meaningful. The intention appeared to be to demonstrate the “terrorist” nature of the Brotherhood, thus appeasing the Saudis and the Emiratis. 

And now, the label of extremism comes in a bid to silence British critics of Israel, which has been perpetrating genocide in Gaza for more than five months. One cannot but smell Saudi and UAE influence. 

It is Sunak and Gove who are violating British values and undermining Britain's status as a democracy by waging war on their critics

Indeed, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Communities Secretary Michael Gove are misleading the nation about “extremism”. They are accusing others of what they themselves might be accused of. 

Rather than working to improve living conditions for the British people, or tackling poverty, homelessness and inequality, they have chosen to act on behalf of the Zionist regime that illegally occupies Palestine and massacres its people. 

While a genocide is being perpetrated against the Palestinian people in Gaza, the population of the occupied West Bank is constantly being harassed, bullied and attacked by Israeli troops and Jewish settlers. Palestinian citizens of Israel have been subjected to an apartheid regime for more than 75 years.

In their new “anti-extremism” campaign, Sunak and Gove also appear to be acting on behalf of the despotic Arab regimes that aborted the Arab Spring, killed democracy and imprisoned thousands of scholars, intellectuals and human rights defenders.

Curtailing freedoms

Accusing MAB, or even the Muslim Brotherhood, of contravening British values is a falsehood. The Brotherhood is a moderate movement among all contemporary Islamic trends. Its representatives were duly elected in Egypt and Tunisia. More would likely have been elected elsewhere in the Arab world had it not been for military coups and foreign interventions against democracy.

In fact, it is Sunak and Gove who are violating British values and undermining Britain’s status as a democracy by waging war on their critics, seeking to curtail freedom of speech and assembly, and violating the right of citizens to question their government’s foreign policy.

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This war, which is being waged against the most moderate mainstream Islamic current in the UK in the name of combatting extremism, is in essence nothing but an attempt to aid both Israel and undemocratic, corrupt regimes across the Arab world.

Sunak and Gove should mind their own business and not lecture Muslims on what their religion entails. Muslims learn Islam from the Quran and the hadiths, not from politicians who support the ongoing slaughter in Gaza and human rights violations across the Arab world. 

If it is truly interested in building consensus on the question of extremism, the British government should consult authentic scholars, rather than racist, right-wing “researchers”, advisers or think tanks. 

The UK government is being ill-advised. The British public deserves to know that some of their politicians are not serving the common good of the nation, but rather their own personal interests and the interests of their foreign friends in Tel Aviv and some Arab capitals.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Azzam Tamimi is a British Palestinian academic and political activist. He is currently the Chairman of Alhiwar TV Channel and is its Editor in Chief.
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