On the front page of yesterday’s Times was the headline, ‘Extremists should lose access to their children, says Scotland Yard chief’ (paywall). In it, Mark Rowley – the country’s top counterterrorism officer – claimed that ‘exposing children to extremism was “equally wicked” to exposing them to sexual abuse’. He went on to argue that we routinely remove children from those in danger from paedophiles and thus we should seek to do the same in cases of exposure to extremism.
As one reads the article, it becomes apparent Mr Rowley is predominantly discussing the issue of terror-related extremism. The paper reports that Rowley said ‘that courts acted quickly to safeguard children in abuse cases and added: “I wonder if we need more parity between protecting children from paedophile and terrorist parents”.’
Phew! For a moment there, it looked like he might be suggesting anyone the government deemed to be an extremist might have their children taken away from them. And, as it happens, that is precisely where it was heading. Particularly chilling was his broad and inclusive statement that, ‘there had been times Britain was “tolerant of intolerance”.’ Likewise, he went on to bemoan the fact that ‘we still see cases where parents convicted of terrorist-related offences, including radicalisers, retain care of their own children’. Particularly noteworthy was the claim, ‘if you know parents are interested in sex with children or if you know parents believe that people of their faith or their belief should hate everybody else and grow up to kill people, for me those things are equally wicked environments to expose children to’ [emphases mine].
Now, you may be reading that and thinking, ‘what’s the problem? Of course we don’t want children exposed to dangerous extremism’. The problem is that we are not just talking about removing children from those who may be in danger of physical harm, we are talking about the potential of harm through thoughts and idea. Even if we are of the view that the law should ban words that actively promote, or incite, violence – and we ought to remove children from an environment where they are at risk of being encouraged into such things – this suggestion goes much further.
The suggestion here is not just removing children from those convicted of terror-related offences, but anyone deemed a ‘radicaliser’. It does not just seek to remove children at risk of harm but to take them away from those deemed to hold a faith or belief that, according to the authorities, teaches you to ‘hate everybody else’. The stated intention is to make sure that we show we are not ‘tolerant of intolerance’. The only way to show intolerance toward intolerance is to sanction and punish those who we deem to be intolerant. In this instance, those deemed ‘extremist’ and ‘intolerant’, spreading views that those in power consider ‘hate’, should apparently have their children removed.
Surely this is right, you cry! We don’t want children imbibing extremism and being taught damaging views in the home. We only want to keep children safe. But ever since David Cameron declared, with chilling seriousness:
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. It’s often meant we have stood neutral between different values. And that’s helped foster a narrative of extremism and grievance.
This government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach. As the party of one nation, we will govern as one nation and bring our country together. That means actively promoting certain values. [Source: Guardian]
Theresa May picked up the baton and ran with it. For it was she who oversaw the introduction of Extremist Disruption Orders, the suggestion that EDOs should be used against those who hold traditional views of marriage, the power to remove buildings from religious organisations deemed extremist (whom she defined as people who opposed same-sex marriage), who suggested OfSTED should inspect Sunday Schools, who has instigated clampdowns on all religions following Islamic terror attacks and specified Home Office training for religious leaders, amongst other authoritarian measures. None of that has abated since she became Prime Minister.
So when I hear those in authority speaking about removing children from those they deem ‘extremist’, forgive me if it sounds paranoid, but their track record on defining extremism is not exactly encouraging. The government has been quite clear on its desire to target ‘extremism in all its forms’ and they have made no bones about precisely how wide their definition stretches. Whilst we might have some sympathy with the desire to remove children from the care of those actively planning terrorist atrocities, I am much less sanguine about the government defining the term ‘extremism’, which they have done very badly to date, and then granting the legal power to remove children from families that fall within their extremely broad definition.
If the government move on Mr Rowley’s suggestion, under current definitions, most mainline Christians would be in line to have their children removed from them. Anybody who takes a different stand on gay marriage, for instance, has already been labelled extremist by the Prime Minister. Similarly, some have called Young Earth Creationism ‘extremist propaganda’. It is utterly laughable, whatever one may think of these views, that they are even close to comparable with the spreading of propaganda to encourage the creation of an Islamic Caliphate by force.
And yet, repeatedly we are seeing harmless street preachers and avowedly non-violent pastors being hauled before the courts for daring to hold Biblical views on human sexuality, for reading out ‘wrong’ portions of the Bible, for daring to suggest that non-Christian religions are of the Devil, for calling what secular humanists consider good to be sin, and many things like these. Again, whatever you may think of these views – whether you agree, disagree or just think they’re too stupid to warrant discussion – they are not of the order of violent acts of terrorism. If your definition of ‘extremism’ include those that hold views such as these, your definition is necessarily wrong because none of these views, of themselves, should lead anybody to acts of physical violence.
The concern is that the misapplication of laws that are already extremely broad, leading to the arrest of street preachers, pastors and the closing of religious schools (see here, here and here for just a few examples among a number of others), that the extension into the family home is a troubling development indeed. If you have children and you deviate from state orthodoxy, be very afraid.