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“Extremism” Disruption Orders: Protecting freedom by removing it


That those who wish to do you harm lack the competence to carry out their wishes is something that you might pray for. Recently we have noticed an astonishing lack of sophistication among some neoconservative ideologues and politicians, as if a gift from Allāh (subhānahu wa ta’ālā), suggesting that they might just lack the requisite subtlety and intelligence required to successfully execute their desired ‘Cold War against Islām’ [1] without annoying hordes of other people.

It used to be that the mishaps of the clumsy War on Terror concerned mainly Muslims, and almost never reached the mainstream media. Now, however, perhaps due to the almost slapstick boldness of the securocrats, the general masses and (at least) the non-right wing news corporations seem to be visibly worried. Cameron tested the waters in his now infamous speech to the National Security Council only days after being re-elected:

“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’.”

This caused somewhat of an uproar (finally) in a broad range of papers and radio and television programmes [2] [3] [4]. This was followed by a whole host of worrying threats to civil liberties, from scrapping the Human Rights Act [5] and threatening to put Michael Gove (of all people!) in charge of a replacement Bill of Rights, to giving Ofcom effectively powers of censorship [6], drawing criticism even from fellow Tories. This caused even the most obedient media corporations to begin to highlight the absurdity and anti-Britishness of these measures, even challenging ministers directly, exemplified when Theresa May was caught off guard when she was actually questioned for once about the non-existent, amorphous definitions of ‘extremism’ and ‘opposition to British values’, leaving her visibly disturbed [7].

Cranking up the scaremongering to a notch or two just below shouting “there’s an extremist under your bed!” has in other words caused more than just Muslims to be sceptical. This is an opportunity for Muslims to make a louder noise and cooperate with other groups in society who are feeling the terror of the erosion of civil liberties, from animal rights campaigners to eco-activists to socialists to other religious groups victimised by neoconservative muscular liberalism—the new state religion.

The impact of widespread public outrage over these suggested policies should not be underestimated, for that will lead to further disempowerment of the citizenry. We have already seen a glimmer of hope in David Cameron’s brief rift with Michael Gove and Theresa May over withdrawing from the European Convention of Human Rights [8] (even if it may be a shrewd tactical move [9] he has apparently half taken back [10]). With mounting public discomfort and a slim majority for Cameron to rally in Parliament, our duty to try to expose the harm in certain policies to our MPs and others should not be forgotten.

Extremism Disruption Orders

If we are to focus energy on building opposition to one thing, then the proposed Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs) on Theresa May’s to-do list would be a good candidate. These are a whole raft of measures to ban, censor or otherwise prevent “extremists” (sic) from essentially sharing their opinions [11]. Although introduced in the context, imagery and chants of ISIS and fear of terror attacks, not everyone is gullible enough to accept the neocon doctrine that we must exchange freedom for “national security”. These proposals have rightfully come under much scrutiny from all sectors. What follows is a summary of some key arguments against the introduction of these orders.

Fundamentally flawed foundation

Before getting lost in the details of the proposals, we must take a step back and remember that they are based on a poisonous, fictitious yet highly circulated premise: the conveyor-belt theory. In short, non-violent opinions criticising the establishment somehow mechanically lead to violent sedition. As the former CIA officer Marc Sageman stated, this propaganda is “the same nonsense that led governments a hundred years ago to claim that left-wing political protests led to violent anarchy.”[12]

Although this has been exposed and refuted amongst academic and activist circles time and time again [13] [14], it is still to be weeded out fully in mainstream media and politics, as such propaganda historically takes longer to cure than it does to infect. As the old saying goes, “a lie is halfway around the world by the time the truth can get its boots on.”

Whatever our criticisms or suggested amendments to these EDOs, we must be very careful not to inadvertently rubber stamp this flawed notion, which further stokes the necessary illusion of reactionary political violence happening not because of our elites’ imperial adventures abroad, but because of the wrong beliefs. The report on rethinking radicalisation by professor Arun Kundnani [15] and the critical analysis of the PREVENT strategy in general [16] are a must read for more information on this simplistic scaremongering.

More measures are simply not needed

Even if one were to ignore the flawed and simplistic notions of ‘radicalisation’, any rational person actually concerned with preventing “terror attacks” in the UK would have to concede that more powers to the state in the form of the arbitrary and nebulous “counter-terrorism” banner are not needed. The criminal justice system is more than capable of preventing, prosecuting or otherwise handling so-called “terror” plots. There is ample evidence of this, despite the mainstream media forgetting to pick up on this fact; alleged failed terror plots are always front page news (at least the Muslim ones), but hardly ever clarified to be dealt with under the criminal justice system—rather than anti-terror legislation.

Examples of this include the famous “Operation Crevice”, which was a raid on a suspected terrorist cell allegedly planning to set off explosives to kill civilians (also known as ‘the fertiliser bomb plot’). [17] These individuals were found guilty in a criminal trial, for “conspiring to cause explosions likely to endanger life.” Further examples are the swathes of far-right white supremacist “terrorists” (although rarely called terrorists) that are caught with stockpiles of explosives, who are not prosecuted by anti-terror legislation but existing laws.

Former BNP candidate Robert Cottage, for instance, was caught with the largest weapons cache ever found in someone’s home in England, along with a list of targets; again, he was charged not under anti-terror laws, but existing laws from two centuries ago, the Explosive Substances Act 1883. [18] [19] As legal experts often state, every single act of alleged terrorism in the UK could have been prosecuted under the existing criminal justice system. There is no need for anti-terror laws, let alone more measures.

So what are they for then?

Although one can speculate about the actual reasons for the draconian anti-terror measures we have seen over the years, it is clear that they are a waste of time and money, if not counterproductive and dangerous. Anyone who researches the consequences of anti-terror legislation finds that its victims—who obviously are rarely seen or heard on mainstream media—tend to be ordinary people (mostly Muslims) more often than actual “terrorists”.

That is, ordinary people that might have the ‘wrong’ types of thoughts or beliefs—despite obeying the law and not wishing to hurt a fly. These measures also seem to serve as a convenient tool to silence dissent. We should not forget that Moazzam Begg was incarcerated for seven months after returning from Syria where he was compiling a report on the government’s complicity in rendition and torture [20], only for the case to be dropped before trial, embarrassingly for the security services. [21]

So how do we stop ‘radicalisation’ or ‘hate speech’ then?

The cure to bad speech is not less speech, but more speech. Although a rational person will recognise that ideology and ‘hate’-filled speeches do not mechanically cause violence as in conveyor belt mythology, it does not mean that you do not want to stop the spread of some false or annoying ideas. Within Islām, this has been done predominantly by scholars and people of knowledge refuting false ideologies and groups on the fringes of the Muslim ummah and beyond.

From the first deviant group in Islām, the khawārij, [22] until today, nothing does more to reduce their ranks than public debate and refutation of their ideas; and nothing does more to swell their numbers than banning them or driving them underground, giving them some kind of victim complex. This has been seen in many of the takfīri [23] movements among British Muslims. Whilst they enjoyed numbers in the order of hundreds in the 1990s, now they are few and far inbetween (despite the media publicity when they are commonly rushed to for useful scaremongering sound-bites).

Their numbers did not decrease due to the anti-terror laws, but due to the Muslim community learning and teaching mainstream Islām to those alienated youth likely to fall into that psychology. If policy makers were genuinely bothered about reducing actual ‘extreme’ beliefs among Muslims, they would allow those very same mainstream scholars and institutions whom they seek to silence, to carry on their job of teaching Islām to people.

What about judicial oversight?

Although it is a good sign that people from across the spectrum are realising the destructive and draconian nature of these proposed orders, how we go about challenging it should be coherent and coordinated. Some have suggested certain changes to the measures, so that rather than a single politically or ideologically motivated politician like the Home Secretary making arbitrary decisions as to who is to have their civil liberties taken away, the process be given judicial oversight. In other words, a judge would have to be involved in the process.

In theory this sounds like a good idea, because judges are supposed to be “the shield of the rule of law”, and in an ideal system would have the power and courage to overturn draconian measures proposed by those in power, if they go against fundamental principles, in this case the presumption of innocence, the rule of law, due process, and so on. However in practice in recent history we have seen far from this ideal.

Innocent people’s lives have still been ruined under the repressive control orders which had judicial oversight. In 2006 the High Court dismissed the judicial oversight of control orders as a “thin veneer of legality.” [24] The Home Office is said to have used flawed and inconsistent intelligence based on secret proceedings. [25] The judicial oversight did not work because the unfortunate reality is that judges have rarely been seen to uphold the rule of law and due process in cases of so-called “national security” where panic and fear of “terrorists” and instead practiced ‘judicial deference’ [26], which has been written about in more detail. [27]


The so-called “Extremism” Disruption Orders are arbitrary, repressive and counterproductive. Public opposition to them not only an urgent need but it also enjoys an almost unanimous disagreement outside of neoconservative think-tanks and the security industry. This leaves British residents no excuse to sit on the sidelines and watch all of our civil liberties be eaten away. We have recently seen an unprecedented letter the CTS Act and PREVENT signed by over 280 professors, academics and leaders, most of whom are not even Muslim, in the Independent [28].

Public pressure mounting will inevitably bring challenges such as symbolic gestures like judicial oversight being painted as compromises. Whatever individuals and organisations offer by way of criticism and a strategy going forward, we must be very careful not to reinforce the flawed and dangerous ‘conveyor-belt’ myth, ignorantly fixated on ideology mechanically causing terrorism.

We must be vigilant and very sceptical when we see the state seeking to remove or restrict freedoms from its citizens using their own protection as an excuse, and the burden of proof should be on those seeking to restrict our freedoms rather than for us to defend them. We should not be complacent and think that we will personally not be affected by these measures and what will follow them, that somehow we are ‘good’ and they will only affect ‘bad’ people. History has shown us that it is often too late by the time a people wake up and realise what is happening to them. As Rosa Luxemburg once wrote, “Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.”
























[22] A small splinter sect among whose many deviations was the declaring of those they believed to be sinners as apostates, and their subsequent fighting them.

[23] Those characterised by excommunicating fellow Muslims based on innovated grounds and heterodox procedures.



[26] See “On fantasy island: British politics, English judges and the European Convention on Human Rights” by Professor Conor Gearty.



About Dr Salman Butt

Salman studied Biochemistry at Imperial College London followed by a PhD in Chemical Biology, carrying out research into photosynthesis. During his years at university he became involved in Islamic society da'wah and activism, and general Muslim community projects. He is the Chief Editor and a regular contributor at Islam21c, and also has a blog on the Huffington Post.


  1. Adam, you are off the mark.

    As a Nationalist, and a former member of the British National Party, I will tell you that this argument over freedom is based on curtailing organisations and ideologies that are a threat to the political establishment by dressing them up as dangers to society at large in a similar way to the propaganda used against the Nazis during the 1930s and the Communists during the 1950s and 60s. That way the masses overwhelmingly favour relinquishing their freedoms and liberties for safety and security. In the late 1990s before 9/11 the Nationalists were the bogeymen of society. They were vilified by the mainstream media and journalists regularly wrote libel about them. It was not uncommon for newspapers to publish an article about the BNP in the 1990s then show a photo of skinhead thugs that was actually a photo from the 1970s of the National Front. The public back then fell for it in exactly the same way that they fall for the hostile lies and misinformation about Islam that the media torrents out today.

    Real Nationalists (but not the BNP of the past 10 years who are Daily Mail style populists) have been monitoring the creeping onslaught of counter terrorism laws that have evolved from countering IRA style violent terrorism in 2000 to a McCarthyite assault on anti-establishment political views more recently. Sadly the brainwashed general public and the BNP ‘mainstream’ have backed such legislation to the hilt in the name of fighting a war against Islam. Nationalists opposed certain sections of the Terrorism Act 2006, the Prevent Strategy, and the CTS Act because we, like Muslims today, have been harassed and threatened by the government in the past so are likely to be on the sharp end of such legislation.

    The tide may be starting to turn as even the BNP, who up till now has staunchly backed the government’s so called war on terror, has woken up and stated that “Extremism is anything the government decides is extremism” in relation to the proposed Extremism bill. They have just published another article “Right-wing” groups and freedom of speech to be criminalised stating a sinister new government agenda; under the guise of fighting extremism, any alternative view will be treated as a criminal offence. The BNP’s ideology and objectives may by very different from those of Muslims who oppose liberal values and British and American foreign policy, but the facts are David Cameron is using alleged Islamic extremism as a smokescreen to effectively criminalise and outlaw any ideological opposition to the political establishment. It doesn’t matter whether this opposition is secular or theocratic, left or right, but seeks to oppose social liberalism, economic capitalism, and Zionism – or any combination of these. The Conservatives are turning Britain into another Soviet Union where any opposition to Communism by the citizens would result in being sent to the gulag. Basically, the purpose of the proposed legislation will be to shut down or silence anybody or any organisation that they do not like under the flimsy and undefined (by Theresa May) notion of extremism.

  2. It’s quite interesting as how western powers define their principle when it doesn’t go their way.
    One kind of freedom for the west and another kind for the rest of the world.
    If the idea of freedom so beneficial for human to live by west would not need barrel of guns and force people to adopt these so called well defined values.

    Some people I see are working for government payroll or can not think for themselves and blinded by the media and parrot what they hear and see.

    Wake up people.

  3. There are two types of freedom – freedom from and freedom to.
    There is actually surprisingly little opposition to the new legislation among the British people outside hard left and Muslim activist groups and one might easily assume this is because people, perhaps rashly, are only too willing to relinquish some of their freedoms to, if it means being free from the very real threat of terrorist acts carried out in the name of Allah.
    So indeed you could say: ‘Protecting freedom by removing it’ – although it may be more accurate but a less punchy headline, to say: ‘Attempting to provide one type of freedom by curtailing another’.
    This is not about silencing mainstream Islamic institutions either. However if foreign-funded Islamic groups in Britain are blatantly teaching a supremacist/separatist philosophy then surely it has to be challenged.
    Muslims need to stand up for Islam in Britain – hate preachers who feed on and exploit the notion that Muslims are being oppressed need to be booted out of the mosques.
    I sense there is a fear among ordinary upright and decent Muslims to stand up to the supremacists as they don’t want to be labelled a ‘bad Muslim’ or a ‘westernised Muslim’ for doing so.
    I am not a Muslim – but I associate Islam with positive attributes – courage, self sacrifice, honour, self control, hospitality, mindfullness, charity.
    A 14-year-old kid in Blackburn got arrested earlier this week for communicating online with an older boy in Australia who he was encouraging to go out and behead someone in the name of Allah. I’m glad that 14-year-old was caught and will now be monitored by the security services. Who knows what acts he could have been responsible for in the future.
    There is a poisonous ideology out there, it is a radical interpretation of Islam, it is abhorrent, evil and depraved – it involves using the name of Allah as an excuse to vent one’s own personal grievances or to carry out one’s own or someone else’s personal agenda.
    And it must be tackled from both inside and outside the Muslim community.
    But whining on about how it’s all down to foreign policy and it’s all because Muslims are being so terribly oppressed isn’t tackling it, it’s encouraging it.

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