Measures proposed by David Cameron and Theresa May to crack down on Islamic extremism are crucial to protect our liberties
David Cameron’s counterterrorism bill marks a progressive step for freedom and democracy in the 21st century.
In an age where war is waged by individuals, not armies, and weapons are readily available to anyone with the internet, we need new legislation to address adequately this changing security paradigm.
According to the recent report on global anti-Semitic incidents by the Kantor Centre at Tel Aviv University, the UK registered the second highest number of violent assaults – and the largest percentage annual increase – of countries surveyed, up by 48 per cent, with 141 incidents in 2014, up from 95 in 2013. Not just incidents of anti-Semitic speech, however grotesque those are, but actual physical violence.
This dangerous behaviour has been evident for many years now, and as a representative and leader of European Jewry, I can attest to the increase of hate and intolerance experienced by Jews in the UK. The Jewish community does not experience this in isolation. All of society is currently dealing with this violent tide of extremism, and we will all benefit from decisive action from the UK Government.
Before now, in an attempt to stay true to liberal democratic tradition, the UK, and other European states have dogmatically, remained tolerant of the intolerant. They have allowed people to incite hate and to further radicalism, in the misguided and dangerous belief that freedom of speech is sacrosanct – whatever the cost. Radicalism may start with speech, but it does not end with speech alone. Speech invariably turns to violence, as we have seen across Europe and the world this year – against Jews and against many other law-abiding citizens.
This is why I believe strongly that the current legislation is inadequate and welcome the measures proposed by David Cameron. I understand of course the imperative to balance national security interests with individual rights, but the scale currently tips in favour of extremists by providing loopholes and avenues for them to work their way through. It is not simply a matter of better enforcement either. Without sufficient powers, the police and judiciary system are unable to act on behaviour that we all know to be dangerous, yet is not considered illegal.
In the summer last year, the UK’s terror threat level was raised from “substantial” to “severe” in response to conflicts in Iraq and Syria. This is the second highest of five potential threat levels, and rates an attack on the UK to be “highly likely”. Since then, we have stood by and watched as Islamic State (Isis) has recruited men and women from within our borders, using radical networks in British mosques, and through social media.
Indeed, so adept are terrorists at gaming our liberal system, they have advanced to promote a sophisticated social media campaign aimed at recruitment and public awareness. The Brookings Institute recently published a study that recorded 46,000 ISIS-supporting Twitter accounts, of which around 20 per cent stated their first language was English. Violent propaganda videos are also readily available on YouTube, and the beheadings of British and American aid workers have commanded international attention.
Radical preaching has also been reported across the UK. For instance in Cardiff, home to less than 1 per cent of the UK’s Muslim population, we have seen seven of this community’s young people convicted of acts of terror in the last three years. Complaints are either not being addressed, or the means for doing so are insufficient. Either way, we should not ignore situations like this in the belief that something will change. Without action, we can only expect this to escalate. The new bill plans to give the police powers to apply to the high court for an order to limit the “harmful activities” of an extremist individual. For Cardiff’s Muslim community, this would be decisive in reducing recruits to Isis.
The time has come for us to commit to using the law to limit extremism which discriminates against religious belief and expression, yet maintains freedom of speech. If we continue to allow them to operate under the radar, we are knowingly undermining national security and the lives of the citizens the Government has been charged with protecting.
I have been a proponent of such legislation for a long time and I am working a draft pan-European Model Law for Secure Tolerance that I believe complements today’s measures and provides a framework for European states to review and implement for the sake of national security in an age of terrorism. Reasonable social and legal standards are needed to protect the rights of the individual and the sustainability of the multicultural community.
Legislation, however welcome, is not though enough on its own. It needs to be accompanied by better intelligence cooperation, smart policing methods and crucially educational initiatives to educate our young on the need for tolerance and community cohesion.
I welcome the counter-terror bill because it acknowledges the new reality that we face in the UK and Europe. The sacrifices we are being asked to give are small in comparison to what extremists want to take from us by force.
Author: Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress