Calling views extremist is extremely unhelpful
Polling shows that talking about extremism is a recipe for chaos.
More than half of the public (54%) think using the word ‘extreme’ is not helpful in social and political discussion.
That’s according to new research from ComRes, commissioned by the Evangelical Alliance and a coalition of organisations, which is believed to be the first nationwide representative poll on extremism. Fifty-four per cent of the public said extreme was not a helpful description when discussing political or social opinions, while less than a third (32%) thought it was.
Dr David Landrum, director of advocacy for the Evangelical Alliance, commented: “The language of extremism is a recipe for chaos and division. This poll shows the scale of moral confusion in our society with the public having no way of deciding whether something is extreme or not. It also shows the division that might ensue if the government persist in trying to use extremism as a way of regulating peaceful ideas in society.
“Detached from terrorism and incitement to violence, extremism does not work as a litmus test for judging peaceful beliefs and opinions. Indeed, the government have tried and failed over the last two years to define extremism with any precision and this poll shows that the public share that confusion.”
Peculiar findings in the polling demonstrate the difficulty in using the term ‘extreme’ to define peaceful ideas and opinions. Nearly four in 10 (39%) consider it extreme to believe that climate change is an important global problem made worse by human behaviours, and almost half the public (48%) think it is not extreme to believe animals have the same rights as humans.
Statements around live political debates were also considered by many as extreme.
The survey found that people appear to be divided and confused as to whether leaving the EU is an extreme idea or not. Three out of 10 (30%) thought it was extreme to believe the UK should remain in the EU, whereas 36 per cent said it was extreme to believe the UK should leave.
Dr Landrum went on to say: “Ideas which I would expect to be uncontested – such as paying women the same as men – were classed by many as extreme. The willingness to classify political views which should be respected, such as leaving or staying in the EU, as ‘extreme’, shows the danger of focusing the extremism debate on beliefs we may find uncomfortable or disagree with, rather than on actions that threaten lives.”
The Evangelical Alliance and the other groups who commissioned the poll are calling for the government to approach this topic with 'extreme caution', and to ensure that the widest possible range of groups, including those of faith, are involved in any future extremism commission that may be established.
Dr Landrum concluded by saying: “The government have failed to define extremism, and the public are clearly divided about which ideas are extremist. It therefore seems unlikely that a newly established quango, such as an extremism commission, will solve such problems. It is not wise to foster a society where volatile public opinion can be used to determine what might be extreme or acceptable views."