A chief constable for the police has warned that attempts by the government to clamp down on extremism could lead to an Orwellian police state.
Sir Peter Fahy, of the Greater Manchester Police, has said it is not for front line police to decide what can be considered extreme. The boundaries of extremism, Fahy said, are for wider society to define and should not be the purview of the everyday police official. This is particularly important when free speech is being spoken about, radical Islam preaching and anti-gay or anti-women’s rights sentiments and there legality should not be decided by an individual, or a small group, but by the wider societal view.
These comments from Fahy come in the midst of a new government initiative to reduce radicalisation risks. The fear by the government and security officials is justified seeing as more than 500 people are believed to have travelled to Syria to fight with the extremist Islamic State group.
Referencing George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, the vice president of the Association of Chief Police Officers told the Guardian, “If these issues (defining extremism) are left to securocrats the there is a danger to drift to a police state. I am a securocrat, it’s people like me, in the security services, people with a narrow responsibility for counter-terrorism. It is better for that to be defined by wider society and not securocrats.”
With the warning that leaving the decision of definition so narrow Fahy warned, “There is a danger of us being turned into a thought police. This securocrat says we do not want to be in the space of policing thought or police defining what is extremism.”
The idea that a small group of people could define an entire movement as extreme leads to some questions of what can be defined as extremist of radicalised beliefs. The police being able to decide what statements are radical rather than the public opinion being consulted appears to give carte blanche for there to be abuses. There must also be fear than in the current climate with islamophobia on the rise that Muslims will be disproportionately targeted.
Sir Fahy would also state that schools and universities needed to be more vigilant and improve their identification of radical views to protect those considered vulnerable. He said that he wanted to “keep police out of schools and education” with the schools themselves hopefully taking responsibility of the protection of their students.
“The police service does not want to be in school or on university campuses controlling thought but the best way to avoid this is for such institutions to have procedures to know the messages which are being promoted and for student bodies to have policies on whether preaching hatred towards homosexuality, allowing segregated meetings or advocating violent action overseas is acceptable or not,” Sir Fahy would conclude.
These statements came following the Home Secretary, Theresa May, fleshing out details of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill. The bill will include temporary exclusion powers, a ban on insurance companies footing the bill for terrorist ransoms and the reintroduction of powers to relocate terror suspects across the country.
These powers do not appear particularly Orwellian but what I believe Sir Fahy is outlining is the potential for abuse. The law is loosely written and could well allow for a system similar to what the American’s have, whereby the police have protection whilst those suspected of spreading radical views, not even convicted of it, could be silenced. This kind of law leads to prejudice and profiling from the police, a system we certainly do not wish to have inflicted upon us.
The law may well have been fleshed out but there is still time for caveats and checks to be added, we need those checks and caveats. We need to avoid at all costs a police which can arrest you for thought crimes. The world is more radicalised now, extremist views are espoused left and right but the world and its people can fight those radicals. Push it back to where it belongs. The margins.