Are these Extremists? The UK Government thinks so. Image via the Guardian
Some disturbing news has just surfaced in the UK--it appears that its Ministry of Justice has taken to listing environmental protesters and activists alongside al Qaeda terrorists in its system for classifying 'extremists'. The British newspaper the Guardian made the unsettling discovery when it gained access to some internal documents from the government.Guidance Document Lists Eco Activists as Extremists
According to the paper,
The guidance [document] on extremism, produced by the Ministry of Justice, says: "The United Kingdom like many other countries faces a continuing threat from extremists who believe they can advance their aims by committing acts of terrorism." It was sent to probation staff who were writing court reports or supervising a range of activists, including environmental protesters.This 'guidance' evidently highlights "environmental extremists" as belonging to the same group as dissident Irish republicans, loyalist paramilitaries, and al-Qaeda-inspired extremists.
But the parameters of "environmental extremist" are so ill-defined that someone vocally marching in support of a coal plant closure may feasibly be included in its list.
Outcry has already erupted in the UK over the classification, since it lumps peaceful environmental protesters in with violent terrorists. The Guardian reports that "David Howarth, the Liberal Democrats' justice spokesman, said tonight that the documents revealed "a quite astonishing conflation of legitimate protest with terrorism"."
Weird? Maybe. Extremist? Hardly.
Opens Peaceful Protesters to 'Extremist' Classification
In recent years, the UK government has faced criticism "for tarring environmental protesters as "domestic extremists", a term invented by the police, who say it can cover activists suspected of minor public order offences such as peaceful direct action and civil disobedience," according to the Guardian. As a result, since the guidance paper lists the criteria for being an environmental extremist as one engaging in "criminal activity motivated by the broad philosophy and social movement centred on a concern for conservation and improvement of the natural environment," it leaves those engaging in civil disobedience on the same roll call as dangerous terrorists.
Take this, for example--are these Greenpeace protesters deserving of the 'extremist' label?
Or these protesters, speaking out against coal power in Chicago? 8 of them were arrested in the course of peaceful protest--for blocking traffic flow. So it could be argued that they engaged in criminal activity--but are they extremists?
We recently saw a similar classification take place here in the US, when our government classified PETA as terrorists. And I think many of the same lessons can be drawn here. Most can agree that there is a line to be drawn between such "extremists"--one who is peacefully marching in protest, even if trespassing, should hardly be considered in the same category as those willing to inflict violence on others in the name of their cause. Such classifications as 'extremism' are no doubt hard to define--but civil disobedience and nonviolent protest should hardly qualify.
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