In this piece, Asim Qureshi discusses the rhetoric which the Conservative party have been peddling for some time. Following their announcement that they will implement new counter terror measures to counter extremism, a term which has never legally been defined, but based on upholding so called British values, values which surely should include the individual’s right to an identity. 

Two months ago I watched a Channel 4 News debate between Dr Rizwaan Sabir and the then Conservative parliamentary candidate, Nadhim Zahawi. During the interview, the MP spoke of how the government needed to be intolerant towards intolerance. He then went on to speak of how those who preach hate and use mosques to spread those messages should not be tolerated. Really though, this is nothing new, and we have heard this type of rhetoric on many occasions. What was different, was how Zahawi went from speaking about hate speech, to inheritance laws under Islamic law,

If you look at inheritance laws under shariah courts, inheritance laws are not equal between man and woman, and equality is a British value.”

What Nadhim Zahawi signalled for the first time publicly, was that the Qur’an itself is open to be subjected to the scrutiny of not being in compliance with British values. Regardless of the debates surrounding the contextual application of the rules as they have been largely laid out in the Qur’an, it was his conflation of the discussion on extremism and hate speech with the application of shariah in the private space that raised serious concerns about the way in which the Conservatives would be heading.

On 27 May 2015, the Queen’s Speech will include a raft of new counter-extremism measures, designed to shut down hatred and those whose messages run contrary to British values. David Cameron’s speech signalling their intention to bring in these new powers will focus very much on what the Tories perceive as a ‘poisonous Islamist ideology.’

The Prime Minister will say,

“For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone’,”

“It’s often meant we have stood neutral between different values. And that’s helped foster a narrative of extremism and grievance.”

Like much of the approach that successive governments have taken in relation to preventing violent extremism or extremism itself, much of language is vague and no clear definition have been provided for clarity within the law.

As part of that process, the government has almost entirely shifted their strategy of combating the threat of political violence within the civil law system, rather than prosecuting crimes as criminal acts. The reason for this, is to grant the Home Secretary the ability to use secret evidence when making arbitrary decisions when impacting the lives of individuals or organisations. Even with these new power, the Home Secretary will only be required to “reasonably believe” that a person is an extremist preacher/speaker in order to apply a sanction on them.

How will this apply in a real world sense, as that will really be the test of the new laws as they come into effect? One can imagine a scenario, where a scholar is teaching one of the classical texts of jurisprudence, potentially on a topic such as a succession, only to be reported to Prevent officials and ultimately the Home Secretary, for having been teaching ideas or beliefs that run contrary to British values.
A fault line is potentially being created between normative Islamic practice and teachings, and the vague and amorphous terms of British values.

If British values are to mean anything, they must include the ability to be deferential to conceptions around identity. CAGE is not asking the UK government to remain neutral on issues to do with political violence and the conditions that foment that form of expression, rather we are saying that there should be open and robust challenges through debate and dialogue, that is the only way to reach those that perhaps have gone down an incorrect path.


(CC image courtesy of Number 10 on Flickr)

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)