Tory communities secretary Michael Gove outlined a new definition of extremism

The Tories’ new definition of extremism is an Islamophobic attack on the Palestine solidarity movement. But it hasn’t gone as far as the Tories would hope to.

Communities secretary Michael Gove announced on Thursday that three Muslim organisations that have “Islamist orientation and beliefs” will be assessed under the new definition. This includes the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), Cage and Mend.

Gove added far right groups the fascist British National Socialist Movement and Patriotic Alternative to the list as cover. 

The Tories claim these Muslim groups “subvert democracy and deny other people’s fundamental rights”. In reality, they are part of a mass movement calling out Britain’s support for Israel’s genocide.

The groups will suffer a “robust” assessment and have government funding and engagement stopped. But they won’t be subject to any action under criminal laws or stopped from holding protests. 

Gove said in the Commons, “We will be holding these and other organisations to account to assess if they meet our definition of extremism, and will take action as appropriate.” A draft version of Gove’s ministerial statement named Friends of al-Aqsa and 5Pillars as “divisive forces within Muslim communities”. 

The new definition says, “Extremism is the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance, that aims to: 1) negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; or 2) undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights; or 3) intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve the results in 1) or 2).”

The previous guidelines from 2011 said individuals or groups were only defined as extremist if they showed “vocal or active opposition to British fundamental values”. These included “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.

MAB, one of the organisers of the national marches for Palestine alongside the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop The War Coalition, Palestinian Forum in Britain, Friends of Al-Aqsa, and Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. 

A joint statement said, “The government has used the protests we have organised in response to Israel’s genocide against the Palestinian people as a core rationale for the need to redefine extremism. 

“Successive government minsters and pro-Israel voices have attempted to demonise those protesting as hate-mongers, Islamist mobs and antisemites.”

It added that the Tories are “pursuing an Islamophobic agenda which seeks to confine the Muslim community to the margins of democratic society”. “We reject the description of members of our coalition as extremists who cause division and harm to the Muslim community,” it said. 

“No one should take lessons in what is in the interests of Muslims in Britain from a man with a track record of support for anti-Muslim policies, associations and discourse.” 

Another statement by Cage said the new definition is “a continuation of the decades-long strategy aimed at inciting and exploiting fears against Muslims”. The aim is  “to build an authoritarian and repressive infrastructure that suppresses any dissent that is not licensed to Whitehall”.

The statement was also signed by Palestine Action, Black Lives Matter UK, Sisters Uncut, Copwatch Network, London Student Action for Palestine, Netpol, Workers for a Free Palestine, No More Exclusion and Palestine Youth Movement. 

The groups defiantly say they will “continue to engage in political activity, protest, and direct action for the public good”.

Mend said Gove “has a long track record of Islamophobic views and associations”. This includes leading the government’s role in the Trojan Horse affair, when it was falsely alleged that an extremist takeover of schools in Birmingham was under way. 

He wrote “a book called Celsius 7/7 in which he highlighted the ‘threat of Islamism’.” And he was a  “founding member of the Henry Jackson Society”, a pro-imperialist and Islamophobic outfit. 

Gove’s move is an attempt to scare and demonise Muslims to undermine the Palestine movement and whip up racism in the run-up to an election.

But the Tories have not been able to go as far they want to in their clampdown. Gove used parliamentary privilege, which protects MPs from legal challenges, to make the speech listing the groups. 

The 450,000 who marched last Saturday in the face of ramped-up Islamophobia and smears demonstrated that the movement is going nowhere. The best way to stand up against the Tories’ attacks is to escalate the movement for Palestine—and show that their bigotry won’t scare anyone off.

Join SUTR’s national protests to Stop Racism, Stop the Hate on 16 March in London and Glasgow and 17 March in Cardiff. Details at standuptoracism.org.uk
Join House Against Hate from 3pm-7pm outside Downing Street in London.
Join the demonstration for Palestine in London on Saturday 30 March. 

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