Spatial Forms of Extremism – The Challenges of Defining and Perceiving Extremism in a UK Context

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Dr Chris Allen

Associate Professor in Hate Studies at the Centre for Hate Studies, University of Leicester

Dr Elisa Orofino

Research Lead on Extremism and Counter-Terrorism at the Policing Institute for the Eastern Region (PIER), Anglia Ruskin University

Dr Tahir Abbas

Associate Professor in Terrorism and Political Violence at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs at Leiden University, Netherlands

Nikoleta Gashi

Research Fellow and Project Coordinator, Dialogue Society

Dialogue Society is pleased to announce a six-part online panel series “A Spatial Analysis of Extremism in a UK Context” to examine some of the key and complex issues the UK faces from pre-existing and emerging forms of radicalisation and extremism in spaces across our society.

“Extremist” was first popularised in eighteenth-century America by Daniel Webster, to reference slavery’s most passionate defenders. Since then, the term has spread and evolved beyond its original context. Although there is no legal definition for extremism in the UK, in 2015, the UK Government defined the term in their ‘Counter Extremism’ policy strategy as: “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberties, mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.” Also included in the definition, is calls for the death of members of the armed forces, either in the UK or overseas. Today, “extremism” as a term has become a polarising debate for policymakers, academics and legal professionals who have struggled to define it and have criticised it for several reasons, from its nebulous meaning which has made it open to interpretation and stereotyping, to its special emphasis on the armed forces over other contexts where extremism could prevail. Meanwhile, some experts are calling for a revision of policy interventions that seem to have been created along religious lines.

This is not the first time the Dialogue Society convenes to discuss extremism. In recent years, we have dialogued about Violent Extremism and Hateful Extremism and the threat these issues pose to the social cohesion of communities and the safety of all members of society. So, what are the key problems surrounding defining ‘extremism’ across academia, policy and legislation in 2022?

  1. So, what are the key challenges surrounding defining ‘extremism’ across academia, policy and legislation in 2022?
  2. What is extremism and how does it prevail in certain spaces of society? Why does extremism surface in some spaces and not others? How does it differ from radicalisation and terrorism?
  3. How has extremism been perceived in mainstream media which may be affecting our understandings of the term?
  4. Is the current definition of extremism at risk of inciting extremist behaviours among individuals? How do extremists harness the media to spread their rhetoric and ideologies?
  5. What are the main policies in the UK towards countering extremism?
  6. Have these policies been effective in dealing with the threat of extremism?
Spatial Forms of Extremism – The Challenges of Defining and Perceiving Extremism in a UK Context

Panel Series: A Spatial Analysis of Extremism in a UK Context

Dialogue Society is pleased to announce a six-part online panel series “A Spatial Analysis of Extremism in a UK Context” to examine some of the key and complex issues the UK faces from pre-existing and emerging forms of radicalisation and extremism in spaces across our society. In 2019, the UK saw 67 far-right terror attacks and plots, compared with 7 in France and 3 in Germany. These attacks were the highest recorded number in Europe. With growing concern over increasing hatred, radicalisation, and extremism in the UK; from prisons to schools, online and offline platforms, the threat of extremism has shown that it knows no geographical, ethnic, age, social, or religious boundaries. Extremist acts pose a threat to the cohesion of communities in Britain and raise questions about the effects that these acts will have on changing or even restricting the nature of British democracy.

Using case studies of pre-existing and emerging forms of extremism across society, this panel series expects to answer through dialogue the following questions:

  1. What is extremism, and do we need a new or expanded definition of the term?
  2. In which new or changing spaces are there new forms of extremism emerging?
  3. What are the government’s methods and policies for tackling current and emerging forms of extremism?
  4. Is there room for revision or improvement in the government’s methods and policies?
  5. Do online platforms facilitate the spread of forms of extremism and if so, how?
  6. How effective are the current laws surrounding online extremism?
  7. How, if any, should social media platforms be regulated to prevent extremism online?
  8. How do the challenges posed by these forms of extremism and hatred affect British democracy, fundamental human rights, and freedoms?

This panel series will build on the Dialogue Society’s previous works on extremism and radicalisation.

The first panel in the series “The challenges of defining and perceiving extremism in a UK context” will firstly review and evaluate the current definition of extremism proposed by the UK Government, before policies on combatting extremism are introduced and evaluated for their efficacy.

The following next three panels focus on pre-existing, emerging, or changing forms of extremism in football, climate change activism, and prisons. These panels will review and evaluate relevant policies and methods adopted by the Government to address the new forms of extremism in new or changing spaces. They will also discuss whether the government’s current definition of extremism is adequate for addressing these trends.

Lastly, the online dimension to extremism, used as both a primary or faciliatory method to carrying out extremism will be unpacked before the challenges of legislating and regulating these mediums are outlined.

Reflections and recommendations will be submitted from our panellists in each panel.

The culmination of this series will be the writing and publication of a policy paper using the interdisciplinary discussions raised by our experts.