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Anglican head warns UK’s new extremism definition risks division

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, head of the global Anglican communion, on Wednesday warned that a new definition of extremism set to be unveiled by the UK government risks stoking division.

Welby and his de facto deputy in the Church of England, Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, said in a joint statement on Tuesday that the new definition “risks disproportionately targeting Muslim communities, who are already experiencing rising levels of hate and abuse”.

Senior minister Michael Gove is expected to produce the new official definition later this week, following on from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s warning earlier this month of a “shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality”.

Sunak’s comments, made in a Downing Street address to the nation, came after regular pro-Palestinian protests in London, which have seen arrests for anti-Semitism and isolated incidents of violence.

Currently, extremism is defined as “the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values” such as “mutual respect and tolerance”.

Welby on Wednesday told BBC radio that leaks and press reports of the new definition suggested it “has a danger of hollowing out the centre… and driving people to one extreme or the other”, which he said was “very, very dangerous”.

The I newspaper reported that the new definition would “recast extremism as the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on intolerance, hatred or violence that aims to undermine the rights or freedoms of others” and “the UK’s system of liberal democracy and democratic rights”.

In their joint statement on Tuesday, Welby and Cottrell warned that it could end up “labelling a multi-faceted problem as hateful extremism” and “may instead vilify the wrong people”.

It could also threaten freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest, they said.

“We join calls for the government to reconsider its approach,” added the senior clerics.

Sunak, responding in parliament on Wednesday, insisted that it was “important we have the tools to tackle this threat” and that the move was “absolutely not about silencing those with private and peaceful beliefs, nor will it impact free speech”.

Welby — who sits in the upper chamber House of Lords — has also criticised the government over its plan to send asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda.


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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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