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Extremists cannot hold the civilized world to ransom

British government ministers and civil servants will be banned from talking or funding any group defined as extremists. (AFP)
British government ministers and civil servants will be banned from talking or funding any group defined as extremists. (AFP)
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18 Mar 2024 10:03:22 GMT9
18 Mar 2024 10:03:22 GMT9

The Gaza conflict is fueling tension around the world in a multitude of ways, with huge pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Western capitals often triggering political backlashes. Increasing violence and hate speech against Muslim and Jewish communities threaten to take us back to the divisions and polarization of the post-9/11 years.

With some British ministers denouncing pro-Palestine protests as antisemitic hate marches, it is no coincidence that Muslim groups singled out by the government in its new definition of what constitutes extremism are outspoken critics of the UK’s official position on Gaza.

The new measure, announced last week, defines extremism as “the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance, that aims to negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; to undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights; or intentionally creating a permissive environment for others to achieve those results.”

It is important because British government ministers and civil servants will be banned from talking to or funding any group defined as extremist.

The minister behind the new definition, Michael Gove, exploited parliamentary privilege to disclose the names of some of the organizations likely to be covered by the new definition, several of which have threatened legal action. While extreme-right organizations will also be covered, the targeting of Muslim organizations appears designed solely to throw red meat to deeply Islamophobic grassroots supporters of the Conservative Party. No less than the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby warned that the new definition risked “disproportionately targeting Muslim communities.”

As with much of Europe, the size of Britain’s demographic minorities is growing rapidly, with nonwhite communities constituting about 20 percent of the population and Islam the second-largest religion. In Wales last week, Vaughan Gething became the first Black leader of a national government anywhere in Europe. It is the backlash against this inexorably growing diversity that reactionaries have sought to exploit.

Tory MPs in danger of losing their seats have little to brag about other than the implementation of Brexit

Baria Alamuddin

Across Europe, extreme-right parties have experienced both victories and setbacks. In last week’s Portuguese elections, the far-right Chega (Enough) party became the third-largest political force, while the Netherlands’ far-right leader Geert Wilders was compelled to accept that he could not be the next prime minister because other parties refuse to work with him. There was widespread concern about the arrival in 2022 of far-right leader Giorgia Meloni as Italian prime minister, although on the international stage she has proved to be a relatively collegiate figure in addressing issues such as Ukraine. Meanwhile, polls continue to indicate that French far-right leader Marine Le Pen could win the 2027 presidential election.

Britain’s Conservative Party manifestly has an Islamophobia problem (the party refuses to even acknowledge the term), despite many around the world marking March 15 as International Day to Combat Islamophobia. In a deranged media article last month, former Home Secretary Suella Braverman wrote: “The truth is that the Islamists, the extremists and the antisemites are in charge now.” She warned that Britain was “sleepwalking into a ghettoized society.” The party’s former deputy chairman Lee Anderson babbled that London and its Mayor Sadiq Khan were controlled by Islamists. He was duly suspended and defected to the even more right-wing Reform party.

This Conservative government’s revised definition of extremism perfectly encapsulates the intolerant, divisive entity the party is mutating into. A poll found that 58 percent of party members believe Islam poses a threat to the British way of life, while a majority also voiced agreement with the right-wing conspiracy theory that substantial districts of European cities have become no-go areas governed by Shariah.

The party’s concurrent racism problem has been highlighted in recent days, as it was revealed that its biggest individual donor said the UK’s first Black female MP, Diane Abbott, “makes you want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot.” This whipping-up of anti-immigrant sentiment includes an unworkable, expensive and potentially illegal initiative to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. Amid soaring living costs, a stagnant economy and disintegrating public services, the Conservatives face electoral wipeout, with some predictions showing them plunging from 348 seats to below 100 in this year’s general election.

Tory MPs in danger of losing their seats have little to brag about other than the implementation of Brexit — one of the most gratuitous examples of self-harm ever inflicted by a sitting government, hamstringing the British economy’s access to European markets and curtailing the country’s role on the global stage. In the past, Britain habitually played a central role in corralling European foreign policy to address core challenges. Nowadays, as international policy figures such as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, UN chief Antonio Guterres and EU foreign affairs representative Josep Borrell circle the globe in pursuit of solutions to various crises, London is notably absent from their list of priority destinations.

That former British Prime Minister Liz Truss could share a platform with toxic fascist-fringe figures such as Steve Bannon indicates how the once-centrist Conservative Party increasingly resembles other European extreme-right factions that exploit rabble-rousing racist rhetoric in pursuit of power. Braverman’s hate-mongering language about “hurricanes” of migrants and the “misguided dogma of multiculturalism” is cynically calculated as a bid for a leadership role in a party that has consigned itself to the extremist fringes.

Arab foreign ministers have been relatively muted in their responses to Gaza: what a contrast with Borrell rebuking US President Joe Biden that “maybe you should provide less arms in order to prevent so many people being killed,” or US Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer bluntly calling for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be ousted. This illustrates how the Gaza crisis is not an “Arab” or a “Muslim” issue, but rather a humanitarian catastrophe of pressing concern to the entire civilized world.

Although terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh have sought to capitalize on the Gaza carnage, the extremists who have labored hardest to exploit this crisis are right-wingers, cynically exacerbating tensions and fueling social divisions in pursuit of power. Extremism, wherever it emanates, must not be allowed to hold the world to ransom.

Over the past decade, the increasingly visible phenomenon of extreme-right political parties has had a toxic and divisive impact on Western societies, inflicting difficult-to-repair social fractures likely to haunt us for some time to come. Our troubled and traumatized planet has little need of the culture wars and civil conflicts these power-hungry extremists have to offer.

  • Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.
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