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Using The Right Terms | Holding Discussions Around Extremism

The terminology surrounding extremism is complex and still largely debated. But there are accepted terms which you may find useful when discussing terrorism, extremism, the different types of extremist ideologies, and related issues such as geo-political conflict. Understanding what is meant by terms like radicalisation and extremism is important when it comes to implementing the Prevent duty. Click the links in this blog for more information and free resources to help you explore these terms and promote alternative narratives to the extreme ideologies they describe.


Core definitions

The Government’s counter-extremism strategy defines extremism as the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs.  The UK Government also regards calls for the death of members of our armed forces as extremist. Extremism may be a factor in violence (including terrorist acts), but also causes other social harms, including the promotion of hatred and division, discrimination against women and girls, the encouragement of isolation and the rejection of our democratic system and rule of law.

Violent extremism
Violent extremism is the ideologically motivated use of violence to achieve ideological, religious or political goals. This includes terrorism, but also other forms of politically motivated and sectarian violence, including the use of violence for politically-motivated social control. Typically, ‘violent extremism’ also identifies an enemy, or enemies, who are the object of hatred and violence.

Commonly used to describe the processes by which a person adopts extremist views or practices to the point of legitimising the use of violence.

Fundamental British Values
Schools are required to actively promote Fundamental British Values. These include democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. There are several ways you can promote Fundamental British Values. For example, by including material on the strengths, advantages and disadvantages of democracy in suitable parts of the curriculum, or by using teaching resources to help pupils understand a range of faiths.


Ideologies of political extremism

Far-right extremism and extreme right-wing ideologies
A variety of extremist or terrorist groups advocate views that would be described as far-right or extreme right-wing ideologies. While these come in many forms, they tend to share the racist view that minority communities are harming the interests of a ‘native’ population. Far-right movements tend to be characterised by nationalist ideologies accompanied by anti-Islam narratives, whereas extreme right-wing movements tend towards more overt racism, neo-Nazism and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Both types of far-right groups also promote anti-establishment narratives designed to erode trust in institutions, the media, and the legal system.

The alt-right, or alternative right, is a loosely connected movement comprising a variety of far-right groups and individuals. Alt-right groups have been accused of using populist tactics to promote many forms of hate. These include racism, antisemitism, anti-Muslim hatred, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia, as well as spreading conspiracy and disinformation with the aim of destabilising democracy and its values.

Islamism and jihadist ideologies
While Islam is a religion, Islamism refers to the belief that an interpretation of the religion should form the basis of all social and political systems. Whilst some Islamists attempt to seek power through democratic means, others believe that the best way to achieve this is by revolution or invasion. When violent acts are perpetrated in service of these aims, they might be categorised as Islamist terrorism.

The word “jihad” is widely used, though often inaccurately. In Arabic, the word means “effort” or “struggle”. In Islam, it could be an individual’s internal struggle against baser instincts or the struggle to build a good Muslim society, as well as a war for the faith against unbelievers

Jihadists, on the other hand, advocate the use of violence to create a new caliphate and win back territories once ruled by Muslims. Jihadists reject other religions and aspire to a dominance of political Islam world-wide. This might involve changing the social and political organisation of a state, establishing supreme rule in a territory or intimidating and marginalising other Muslim sects. The term jihadist is infrequently used by most Muslims because they see it as wrongly associating a noble religious concept with illegitimate violence. Instead, delegitimising terms like “deviants” tend to be used by Muslim scholars to refer to jihadist groups like Daesh, Al Shabab and Al Qaeda.

A ‘caliphate’ is a historical model of Islamic statehood, overseen by a religious leader called a ‘caliph,’ and modelled on the ways in which Muslim communities organised and governed themselves in the generations following the death of the Prophet Muhammed. A number of different caliphates (at times competing with one another in their claims for legitimacy) existed across the Middle East, North Africa and parts of southern Europe throughout the centuries that followed. The last state widely considered to be a caliphate was the Ottoman Empire. Following its break-up after the First World War, the position of caliph was abolished by the Turkish government in 1924. Daesh’s 2014 claim to have established a caliphate in Iraq and Syria was met with near universal rejection and condemnation by Islamic scholars and communities across the world.

This terrorist group is known by some as Islamic State (or ISIS, IS or ISIL), but widely referred to in the Middle East and beyond as ‘Daesh’. The term ‘Daesh’ is disliked by the organisation itself due to its negative associations in the Arabic language. At its peak in 2015, Daesh occupied significant amounts of territory in Iraq and Syria, subjecting all communities (including Muslims) under its rule to horrific cruelty. Although Daesh has now lost much of the territory it once controlled in the Middle East, it still has many followers and international affiliate branches, and continues to attempt to organise and inspire attacks across the world, including through its propaganda. The propaganda they have produced previously sought to persuade people to travel to the Middle East to become foreign fighters.


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