UK to create 'blacklist' of Muslim groups under new extremism definition

Government is bringing in robust changes to target groups and individuals 'undermining' British values

Liverpool, Britain, June 10, 2021:
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The UK government is creating a “blacklist” of organisations under a new definition of extremism which would see their funding cut.

Several Muslim groups are likely to be on the list after being singled out in government reports.

The groups facing the measures as part of Communities Secretary Michael Gove’s extremism review would be banned from receiving public funds, engaging with government agencies and appearing at university campuses.

The government would stop short of criminalising such groups, unlike Hizb ut-Tahrir which it proscribed in January.

However, groups expected to be on the list have suggested it would amount to a curb on freedom of expression.

The largest Muslim group in the UK, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), as well as Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) and Palestine Action have been named by British media as earmarked for inclusion.

The Muslim Council for Britain Charitable Foundations last year received £326,000 from Kickstart, a government scheme to get young people into work. The Ministry of Defence seprately cut ties with the group itself.

MEND campaigns against Islamophobia but has been accused of undermining the UK's Prevent counter-terrorism programme.

Palestine Action has been organising demonstrations, including at a factory they claim supplies parts for drones made by Israeli firm Elbit Systems and used by the country's military. They have also plotted to disrupt the London Stock Exchange.

The overhaul follows Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s calls on Friday for the UK to draw a line against the “poison of extremism” as he warned the country was being torn apart by rising domestic tension.

Mr Gove intends to take a tougher stance on groups and individuals “undermining” British values by changing the UK’s definition of extremism which has not been altered for over a decade.

He is also expected to announce details of a government unit for combating extremism which will provide training for officials across departments to improve their ability to identify extremism. The unit will be responsible for assessing whether individuals or groups have breached the new definition.

Whitehall departments have been banned from working directly with the MCB since 2009, and in 2020, Robert Jenrick, the then communities secretary, reinforced the boycott position in a letter.

In response to news of the forthcoming review, the MCB claimed that the ruling Conservative party's own politicians should be held to account under the new policy.

“We await to see how the government will expand its definition of extremism and whether they would also cover large swathes of the Conservative Party leadership who have directed divisive and hateful rhetoric against Muslims, and the large portion of the party’s membership with conspiratorial views about Muslims,” it said in a statement.

“That the same people would choose to consider mainstream, diverse and democratic British Muslim representative bodies as extremist is particularly ironic.”

MEND claimed pro-Palestinian marches “would be banned” under the “Orwellian proposals” which are a “blatant attack on freedom of expression”, as would a “range of beliefs” including opposing the monarchy.

“We will not sit by and idly watch our cherished democracy destroyed like this. MEND calls on parliamentarians and civil society organisations to work together to resist this draconian legislation.”

A spokesman for Palestine Action said that “no definition” of extremism “will deter our campaign to shut Elbit down”.

Mr Gove's department would not be drawn on which groups would be blacklisted but did not deny measures were under consideration.

“We are taking action to tackle extremism at its root and to ensure that no extremist organisations or individuals are being given a platform by their actions and interactions with government,” said a representative.

“This would absolutely not affect lawful expressions of beliefs and we will publish robust engagement principles and clear guidance for their implementation.

“Freedom of religion and freedom of speech within the law are important and hard-fought British liberties. It is important to distinguish between strongly felt debate on the one hand, and unacceptable acts of abuse, intimidation and violence on the other.”

Updated: March 05, 2024, 3:01 PM