Lawmakers are being urged to outlaw the “praising and glorifying” of terrorists as part of a new legal actions to tackle extremism in the UK.
Many practices used to recruit potential terrorists and radicalise young people have not been made illegal in the UK, meaning many hate groups cannot be prosecuted, according to a report by the Commission for Countering Extremism.
The commission – which was established in the wake of the 2017 London Bridge attacks – said current legislation was focused on dealing with the threat of terrorism.
However, it meant that much extremist activity was not covered by the law, because it did not cross a certain threshold.
Former assistant commissioner Sir Mark Rowley, the ex-national police lead on counter-terrorism, who helped draw up the commission’s report. He said that he was shocked by the amount of material that was freely available.
“During the course of conducting this review, I have been shocked and horrified by the ghastliness and volume of hateful extremist materials and behaviour which is lawful in Britain,” he said.
“Not only have our laws failed to keep pace with the evolving threat of modern-day extremism, current legal boundaries allow extremists to operate with impunity.
“Hateful extremism is creating an ever-bigger pool for terrorists to recruit from, as well as increasing violence, hate crime and tensions between and within communities. The current situation is simply untenable.”
The report highlighted the case of hate preacher Anjem Choudary who was thought to have radicalised between 70 to 100 people over a number of years and turned them towards terrorism.
He was eventually arrested under the terrorist offence of inviting support for a proscribed organisation – the Islamic State (IS).
The commission also found online extremist messaging boards which glorified figures such as Osama Bin Laden and the 9/11 hijackers. It also found groups promoting far-right terrorists such as Anders Breivik, Brenton Tarrant and Thomas Mair.
Under current law collecting IS beheading videos, forming new-Nazi groups that praise Adolf Hitler, or encouraging Holocaust denial is not illegal as long as it is not threatening, abusive, or insulting.
The report’s findings have been backed by backed by faith leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi and the chair of Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and former prime ministers Tony Blair and David Cameron.
It added that past attempts to capture “hateful extremism” in law through the “lens of counter terrorism policy” had proved “futile and flawed”.
It noted that in 2015, a promised extremism Bill failed to materialise because it was unable to produce a legally acceptable definition of extremism.
The commission welcomed the Government’s proposals for a strong regulatory regime that have been highlighted in its online harms white paper, but said the Government needed to go further to address the issue.
The report said: “We are particularly concerned by the targeted radicalisation of young people and the lack of criminal sanctions against those who intend to radicalise young people into extremism,” it said.
“This is despite it creating a climate conducive to terrorism, hate crime, or other violence and/or is attempting to erode and destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of our democratic society.”
The head of the commission, Sara Khan, said: “Not having a legal framework is just no longer an option. We are at a watershed moment.
“The problem is getting worse. We feel that the Government does have a responsibility to address this.”