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U.K. Anti-Terrorism Efforts Are Terrifying to Anybody Who Favors Free Speech

Clicking the “wrong” link can get you interrogated by the authorities—and the situation may soon get worse.

View Pictures/Hufton and Crow/VIEW/NewscomView Pictures/Hufton and Crow/VIEW/NewscomWhen you have an overreaching government "anti-terrorism" program tasked with countering violent ideological messages, anything that rubs officialdom the wrong way starts looking like extremist propaganda, ripe for intervention. That includes, it turns out, a standard-issue lefty reading-assignment at England's University of Reading: Cautious about how the message might be perceived, school officials warned students reading Our Morals: The Ethics of Revolution "not to access it on personal devices, to read it only in a secure setting, and not to leave it lying around where it might be spotted" so as to avoid the attention of the "Prevent" program.

Part of a larger anti-terrorism strategy, Prevent was designed to prevent radicalization and seeks to monitor supposedly vulnerable people for evidence of extremism in the materials they peruse and the ideology they express. The idea is that, once identified, these individuals can be steered by authorities away from negative outcomes. "Interventions can include mentoring, counselling, theological support, encouraging civic engagement, developing support networks (family and peer structures) or providing mainstream services (education, employment, health, finance or housing)," according to the official strategy statement.

Primarily targeted at potential recruits to Islamist terrorist groups, but also at Northern Ireland-style sectarian violence and extreme right-wing terrorism, Prevent suffered mission-creep pretty much right out of the gate. In 2015, a politics student at the University of East Anglia was interrogated by police after reading assigned material in an ISIS-related publication.

"The university can confirm that a politics student taking the Clash of Fundamentalisms module was questioned last week after clicking on a link to a website," school officials said at the time. "The site analyses and challenges the publications of extremist ideologies. The legitimate academic study of such causes is fundamental to countering them, however this particular link has now been removed from the course materials."

A similar case arose at Staffordshire University when a postgraduate student was questioned for reading a textbook on terrorism in the college library. Concerned about ending up on a watch list, he hired a lawyer and dropped the course.

Prevent officials have demanded membership lists from university Islamic groups, creating a climate of "fear, suspicion, and censorship," according to reports. With ample reason, the students worry that they're being "spied upon."

Some professors are now running reading assignments past the authorities—"just in case there was anything too critical"—in hopes of avoiding more examples of students being hauled in for doing their homework.

Younger students are being scooped up for alleged radicalization, too. In 2016-17, 272 children under 15 years of age and 328 youngsters between ages 15 and 20 were flagged under the Prevent program "over suspected right-wing terrorist beliefs." The proportion of individuals referred to government officials "as a result of far-right concerns has risen from a quarter in 2015 to 2016 to over a third in 2016 to 2017," according to Britain's Home Office, so that likely represents only a fraction of young people questioned and "mentored" for their suspected ideological deviance.

Where do these referrals come from? Well, anybody can contact the authorities, but the situation is complicated by the duty the law imposes on both public and private institutions to report people seen as being at risk of radicalization, with very little guidance as to what that means beyond cover-your-ass. The imposition of the duty resulted in a surge in referrals by schools to the authorities.

Civil libertarians worry that the law has Britons far beyond schools looking over their shoulders and watching what they say. "Prevent has been widely criticised for fostering discrimination against people of Muslim faith or background and chilling legitimate expression," eight human rights groups cautioned in a joint statement released just last week.

"Laws such as this restrict the core democratic right to freedom of expression," a legal analysis published last year in the Utrecht Journal of International and European Law charges. It "indicates a concerning trend of liberal States embracing opportunities to impose severe restrictions on 'extreme' speech."

As the example of students interrogated for reading their assignments shows, the definition of "extreme" speech gets very slippery when government officials are looking for something to do—and when people required to inform-or-else on violators make reports to keep themselves out of trouble.

Some British lawmakers have called for a review of the Prevent program, especially in light of its chilling effect on speech in schools and universities. "The potentially conflicting duties on universities to promote free speech, whilst precluding the expression of extremist views, is likely to continue to cause confusion," the U.K. Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights warned in 2016. "We believe that free speech is precious, particularly in universities, and should not be undermined."

But government in the U.K. is much like government in the United States—given evidence of abuses and overreach, officials are more likely to double down than to admit error. Parliament is currently considering a Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill that would go beyond monitoring people for extremist ideology and hauling them in for questioning. The proposed legislation would criminalize voicing support for banned organizations, and even make it illegal to view or otherwise access information "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing acts of terrorism."

That click on a link that got university students interrogated in recent years could instead land them in jail. Their freedom would then be dependent on convincing a court that they had an undefined "reasonable excuse" for reading articles and watching videos that prosecutors and police don't like.

Good luck with that. And good luck to free speech advocates in the UK; hopefully, their anti-censorship views won't be deemed too extremist anytime soon.

Photo Credit: View Pictures/Hufton and Crow/VIEW/Newscom

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  • loveconstitution1789||

    Garbage Island is at it again.

  • Quixote||

    Give us a break. It's commonly recognized that all sorts of so-called "free speech" poses a threat to public safety, including even inappropriately deadpan Gmail "parodies" mocking a distinguished department chairman here at New York University. Such "satirical" writings were already banned by the Pope 500 years ago (see the outrageous Letters of Obscure Men, which we immediately removed from our library here to an off-site location when we became aware of their contents), and we're supposed to listen to this nonsense about anti-terrorism laws threatening freedom of speech? See the documentation of our great nation's leading criminal "satire" case at:

    https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  • I Callahan||

    Wrong. No speech poses threats to public safety. Someone's stupid reaction to free speech is a threat to public safety. When my saying a word puts a physical would on your body, let me know.

    And are you really making the argument that because the pope banned some writings 500 years ago, it justifies banning them now? They were burning witches at the stake 500 years ago. Shall we go back to that thinking as well?

    Anyone who makes the blanket statements like you have is unserious. Brits need to grow a pair and take their country back from the nannies that currently run it.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Roger that. The blonde newsreader fired for talking about kids' Halloween outfits exemplifies the lynch mob mentality of thugs with a chip on their shoulder, eagerly searching for a pretext to TAKE offense where none was even intended. For their punishment I'd recommend Clockwork Orange-style viewing of Menace II Society over and over and over...

  • Quixote||

    Surely neither of you would dare to defend the inappropriate "First Amendment dissent" of a single, isolated, so-called judge in our nation's leading criminal "parody" case? I would urge you to help us keep that insidious text from students' eyes as well as the rightly banned "Letters," which contained crimes of impersonation directed against distinguished members of the academic community, including the dean of a major European school of divinity. To suggest that he was an "obscurantist" and an antisemite! We have had quite enough of the "free speech" baloney here at NYU. Cross the line here against any of our colleagues, and we will call in the authorities and have you dealt with to the full extent of the law.

  • Teddy Pump||

    And the UK is a bunch of hypocrites too!....Witness the jailing of Tommy Robinson for simply reporting the Truth about Muslim rape of British women all over the UK & the Govt. covering it up!!!...So, they want to stop the radicalization of Muslims, but do not want word to get out that the Govt. letting them in & pandering to them was a mistake!

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    I wonder how long it will take for Orwell to end up on the banned list?

    Or Ray Bradbury.

    When I was a kid, I remembering checking out Mein Kampf from the library. I remember almost nothing concrete from it, only that the insults were that peculiar kind of non-cussing that seems like bad translations -- some cross of "running dogs of capitalist" and "may a thousand fleas infest your armpits" that R. Lee Ermey could probably imitate in his sleep. Repeated over and over. I think I read maybe the first 50 pages, more or less, and then realized it was just the same insults and rants over and over, skimmed it, and back to the library.

    It's like making racism illegal or forcing cake bakers to bake cakes. I'd much rather know who the bigots are so I can avoid them and free markets will isolate them and ruin their lives. Cover that stuff up and society suffers. Hide Orwell and Bradbury and people never learn what true extremism is; they begin to pick on more and more trivial insults, and pretty soon everybody is scared to voice any opinion at all.

    Innovation suffers, progress suffers, and everybody loses.

  • buybuydandavis||

    I hear mention of Churchill is considered hate speech because racism.

  • Rock Lobster||

    In one helluva plot twist, it turns out that Churchill is literally Hitler.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    They need to work on their foreshadowing. I don't even see where it came from even in hindsight.

  • Agammamon||

    . . . free markets will isolate them and ruin their lives.

    Let's be real here - the free market is not going to do that. If they've got something of value to trade, the wider world will trade with them. Look at Alec Baldwin.

  • Rock Lobster||

    Well, if free markets can't be used as a cudgel against those with who spout wrongthink, what good are they?

    And Alec Baldwin is a selfless servant of The People, thank you very much.

  • Teddy Pump||

    YES!!!!....The bigots are the sexual perverts & their supporters in society & Govt. who passionately want to ruin people's lives because they do not approve of or do not want to be forced to be part of their sexual perversions!...They must be exposed!!!!

  • Hank Phillips||

    I've always favored letting collectivists "out" themselves. They, on the other hand, are into Invisible Empires, camouflage and mimesis.

  • buybuydandavis||

    Besides keeping the populace terrified and thereby more easily controlled, the purpose of importing violence into the EU is to rationalize a police state.

  • loki||

    Fuck the UK. Here's something that was banned in in the UK and can be applied to it!

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=AH7pOUm5s9k

  • n00bdragon||

    Examples of information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing to commit acts of terrorism:
    - Maps
    - Amazon.com
    - Government-run websites
    - Car dealerships
    - The radio
    - The mail
    - Sunlight
    - Air
    When everything is illegal all that's left is selective enforcement.

  • Rock Lobster||

    Yeah, well. We can't let the terrorists win. Because they hate freedom.

    It's for your own good, citizen.

  • BYODB||


    Yeah, well. We can't let the terrorists win.

    I always like to ask people that say this what they think the terrorists goal actually is. You'll usually get some variation of 'destruction of Western society', although almost definitely not phrased that way, which seems pretty amusing given that the 'solutions' are the destruction of Western society.

    Proof positive that we've already lost people to this mentality. It was a nice 200 years or so, while it lasted.

  • Rock Lobster||

    They can have my sarcasm when they pry it from my cold, dead butt cheeks.

    On second thought, I'll just hand it over. Constantly.

  • BYODB||

    Yeah, I knew you weren't being serious it's just a really great point you were riffing on. And I appreciate the sarcasm, that's about what those points of view deserve.

  • Rock Lobster||

    I know you knew. And I figured you knew that I know you knew. And I appreciate your appreciation.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    Repetitively repetitively. Sweet!

  • bvandyke||

    Talk about a loss of freedom. You would think that the Prevent people would look at class registration and reading assignments before questioning people - but no - that requires thinking and thinking is that last thing they want.

  • Don't look at me!||

    There is no thinking , only order following.

  • Rock Lobster||

    Thinking is Wrongthink.

    Why do you hate freedom?

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    In order to save freedom, we have to give up freedoms. You wouldn't want children to die would you???

  • JesseAz||

    "U.K. Anti-Terrorism Efforts Are Terrifying to Anybody Who Favors Free Speech"

    So less than half of Americans are terrified. Virtually no liberals.

    ""as a result of far-right concerns has risen from a quarter in 2015 to 2016 to over a third in 2016 to 2017," according to Britain's Home Office"

    So students are still okay to google and search out their local Antifa chapter, phew. Probably no flags for googling favored terrorists like Assata shakur, Oscar rivera lopez, guevera, etc.

  • Zeb||

    Anyone who wants to restrict free speech is no liberal.

  • Rock Lobster||

    Hence, "progressive." It's much less constraining, and it sounds so righteous and science-y.

  • D-Pizzle||

    I wish people would stop using "liberal" or "progressive" and use the more correct "leftist."

  • Agammamon||

    'Leftist' is the set that contains 'liberal' to 'progressive'. Well, it used to. There are no liberals anymore.

  • Agammamon||

    Its hard to believe that I miss them.

  • Rock Lobster||

    Alan Dershowitz defends free speech. Plus, he's an old white guy. And Jewish.

    Naturally, he's been excommunicated.

  • Sevo||

    Chris Hitchens got tossed from the reservation also.

  • Rock Lobster||

    The open minded, "intolerance will not be tolerated!" crowd kind of reminds me of the mythical snake, Ouroboros, forever eating its own tail. Come to think of it, Ouroboros pretty well represents their understanding of economics, too.

  • Hank Phillips||

    What's wrong with looter? Communist and fascist are names the looters made up proudly and strutted about in. That they are curses nowadays is evidence of how much progress the LP has made.

  • Mauser||

    The UK does have major problems with its Islamic community. Just look at the massive number of victims of the grooming gangs in Rotherham & vicinity, upwards of 1500 underage females we're assaulted, it's disgusting, also the ongoing terrorism issues as well with an unwillingness by Muslims to assimilate. Perhaps the UK should fix its immigration issues rather than ban freedom of speech.

  • Rock Lobster||

    The real threat faced by the U.K. is from internet pranksters who teach pugs to give the nazi salute. And kitchen knives. And national autonomy.

    Besides, everyone knows that Islam is a Religion of Peace™.

  • BYODB||

    Look, all they know over in the U.K. is that restricting Muslim immigration is racist. Just watch any of the new Doctor Who episodes, featuring the first lady-parts Doctor, where an honorable and wonderful Muslim girl travels around with a clumsy black boy and an old white guy.

    Sure, the plots are vapid and the whole thing is constructed as one giant social justice propaganda machine but everyone had a role model and feels included in the mediocrity! Well, except for young white people but just because a group is your core demographic doesn't mean you actually need to include them right?

  • Don't look at me!||

    Do you know who else burned books?

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    Guy Montag?

  • Rat on a train||

    Harry Peak?

  • Rock Lobster||

  • Rock Lobster||

    (link goes to an LA Times article about an unfortunate Pakistani woman)

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    Everyone stuck in the library in The Day After Tomorrow?

    That was a nonfiction movie,btw.

  • Hank Phillips||

    The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice?

  • Hank Phillips||

    Mayor "Big Bill" Thompson of Chicago? American schoolchildren in 1918? But why is it always books? Nobody asks about burning Beatles records anymore...

  • loki||

    Your mom when she found your porm stash?

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    Was it the stash or the 'stache?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    It is unfathomable to many Americans (and likely the vast majority who frequent this publication) how deeply held is the belief by British people that anything can be cured by curbing speech. Listen to them speak on the subject of free speech and so many otherwise intelligent individuals are completely lacking critical thought on the mechanisms of curbing speech.

    Who decides what is acceptable? is the obvious first question those of us who grew up cherishing the speech rights of not just ourselves but those with whom we disagree, but that potential problem seems to escape the Brit. Instead of engaging in a battle of ideas in an effort to convince (or perhaps be convinced), he seems to be more than happy to lock the problem away behind fines or imprisonment.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    I imagine they largely believe that is simply the cost of living in a safe and civil society.

  • BYODB||


    Who decides what is acceptable?

    Is it the King? I bet it's the King. Or Queen? Or any other octogenarian they can locate in the House of Lords?

    I find it remarkable that after curbing their King and nobility they turned right around and replaced them with...another King and nobility by a different name.

    'Tis a nation of rubes, methinks.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    "Some professors are now running reading assignments past the authorities—"just in case there was anything too critical"—in hopes of avoiding more examples of students being hauled in for doing their homework."

    Orwell was so prescient; just a few years off.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    Even the socialist Orwell got it!

  • Rock Lobster||

    Britain is a cautionary tale of a nanny state run amok. This is where our own "elites" want to take us.

  • L.G. Balzac||

    "extreme' speech", "legitimate expression", "far-right", "ideological deviance", WTF do these terms mean? Personally I think "suck my dick" seems legitimate.

  • L.G. Balzac||

    Is the Queen equivalent to Mohammed?

  • Rock Lobster||

    According to the Humpty Dumpty principle of PC communication, the terms mean whatever the left (i.e. the government) wants them to mean at any given time. Therefore, "suck my dick," could be legitimate if it isn't gender exclusive, of course.

  • croaker||

    What happens if you tell Special Branch to piss off?

  • Rock Lobster||

    Then it falls off the Special Tree and lands on your head with lethal force.

  • Rock Lobster||

    Then it falls off the Special Tree and lands on your head with lethal force.

  • Agammamon||

    They shoot you. *Those* fuckers get to carry guns.

  • Jim Logajan||

    Reeducation camp.

  • bournite||

    Sorry, all you all-the-religions-are-the-same fanatics, but there is nothing in Christianity advocating theocracy. It rather tells us: "My kingdom is not of this world." Meanwhile, Mssr. Tucille pretends he doesn't smell the pile of odious fecal matter in this room that is choking, at an insanely rapid pace, free speech out of existence. Let's face facts: the Quran mandates theocracy. Soap, education and free kabobs ain't gonna change that. In a large number of cases moderate, secular Islamic parents move west to escape the madness and then wake up, 20 years later, with kids salivating to strike at the infidel. The pretense that Islamic immigration won't have a negative impact on our culture and values is no longer sustainable. England recently ruled out asylum for Asia Bibi. The Pakistani Christian who spent 8 years on death row for supposedly "insulting" the prophet. They openly admitted they were afraid of what the Islamic mobs might do in response. They gave asylum to Dr. Ataollah Mohajerani 10 years ago. This is a guy who wrote a 250-page book defending the fatwa to assassinate Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses. The Islamists have schools in every state that teach children that non-believers can legitimately be deprived of their property and as well as their lives, when convenient. Get your heads out of the clouds or wherever they are.

  • Agammamon||

    . . . but there is nothing in Christianity advocating theocracy.

    Except all of it.

  • BYODB||

    Jesus told the people to pay their taxes to Caesar, which seems like an odd thing for a theocrat to say.

  • Mr. JD||

    Except none of it.

    Curious that the non-Christians are so sure that they know more about Christianity than Christians do.

  • BYODB||

    In fairness, most 'Christians' don't know much of anything about their faith either. They just know it makes them better than 'X' because 'X' is going to hell, and they are not.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    Especially if X is not your denomination and you are in the Church Of Christ.

    I love watching them tell each other why they are going to hell. Mom and Grandma do it one another as a display of diminishing returns.

  • bournite||

    Aggie deludes himself into believing he knows what Christianity, theocracy and other words over 2-syllables mean.

  • LiborCon||

    Christians claim that the ten commandments are the source of law in the US and should be displayed in courtrooms but imposing biblical law on the US isn't theocracy. Or writing laws denying gays equal rights based on biblical passages, that's not theocracy either.

    All those kings that Europe had for centuries, on whose authority did they claim to rule? Why it was God itself. Who crowned Charlemagne? Was its God's representative on Earth, Pope Leo III? Yes it was.

    Christianity doesn't just advocate theocracy, it imposed it when it had the power to do so.

  • I Callahan||

    The Ten Commandments are the original source of law. The fact that they're not used now doesn't change that, and only makes your straw man argument look weaker.

    That said - can you point out what laws any Christians are advocating that "deny gays equal rights"?

    And as for what happened with Pope Leo - when was that again? Charlemagne? Can we at least stick to the last century? Because now, NONE of this is happening, and no, we don't secretly want things to change so it will happen again. That last part was in case you point to the imaginary bogeyman in your closet.

  • LiborCon||

    "Because now, NONE of this is happening…"

    Because Christianity no longer has the power to enforce its will. It can't raise armies or depose leaders like in their glory days of the past. They're limited to fighting the little fights to control people's lives; denying gay rights, fighting abortion and trying to get creationism taught in schools.

    The only countries that have law like these are theocracies:

    Deuteronomy 5

    7 'You shall have no other gods before Me.

    8 'You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 9 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
    11 'You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

    21 'You shall not covet your neighbor's wife; and you shall not desire your neighbor's house, his field, his male servant, his female servant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.' [Thought crime]

    The admonitions against killing, adultery, theft and perjury make sense as real laws, but they only applied to other Jews.

  • LiborCon||

    Britain doesn't have free speech. Britain's don't have any rights at all, only privileges granted to them by the sovereign. Now it's taking those privileges back. We rebelled against the sovereign and gained our rights by force of arms.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    Why is it the British only seemed concerned for those in university to not have speech affected? As someone that choose to not finish a secondary education, there seems to be a lack of concern for why I might read our consume similar materials for my own personal education. My search history is riddled with crazy links because my curiosity leads me to read and research. In Britain, and probably still in the U.S.,I would certainly be on a list.

  • Tamfang||

    What if those with a duty "to report people seen as being at risk of radicalization" simply report everyone? Is anyone not at risk of radicalization?

  • Hank Phillips||

    That's easy. Radical is euphemese for "having integrity," and within a system that recognizes only altruism and mysticism as ethically valid, anyone taking altruist ethics seriously HAS to be attracted to death, genocide, starvation and murder. This was spelled out in the part of Atlas Shrugged communists and conservatives beg people not to read. This can be seen in its bluntness at the bottom of the National Socialist platform of 1920: "The leaders of the party pledge that they will relentlessly seek the implementation of these points, if necessary at the cost of their lives." Radical altruism Germany, Russia, Guyana, Cambodia... everywhere, is mass suicide. Isn't it great that these wonderful folks struggle to believe that radical individualism is a Nonesuch?

  • Longtobefree||

    ""Interventions can include mentoring, counselling, theological support, encouraging civic engagement, developing support networks (family and peer structures) or providing mainstream services (education, employment, health, finance or housing)," according to the official strategy statement."

    seems a long windy way to say "reeducation camps".

  • BlueStarDragon||

    Did any one notice that their was no mentioning of Left wing terrorist in the article.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Is the part about "theological support" straight-faced or sarcasm?

  • Two Buck Chuck||

    Where's Guy Fawkes when ya need 'im?

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