Understanding extremism in Scotland: review of definitions and terminology

A report which reviews definitions of extremism used by governments in countries other than Scotland.

3. Conclusion

The aim of this review was to explore how extremism is defined by governments in countries other than Scotland. This section will discuss the key findings of the review and recommendations for next steps.

3.1. Summary of key findings

The first key finding is that although a range of different definitions of extremism are used in the countries that were selected, some similarities between these definitions can be identified. In particular, governments in over half of the countries (Australia, Canada, Finland, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United States), focus on violent rather than non-violent extremism. Violent extremism is generally defined as extremism involving the use, encouragement or incitement of, or support for violence. Governments in other countries (e.g., Denmark and Slovakia) do not explicitly use the term 'violent extremism', but identify violence as a key means through which extremists typically seek to achieve their aims.

In the remaining countries (Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany), while violence is mentioned, the focus of the governments' definitions is more on how extremist activities oppose or challenge the principles, values and norms typically associated with a liberal, pluralist democracy, such as the sovereignty of the people, the rule of law, freedom of expression and tolerance. This approach is more in line with the current UK Government definition of extremism.

The second key finding is that governments in three of the countries identified (Canada, Australia and New Zealand) have a similar approach to defining 'violent extremism', which has recently been updated. In these countries, broad categories of types of extremism are the focus, rather than specific ideologies. The Australian Government (2022) use just two categories, religiously-motivated and ideologically- or identity-motivated violent extremism, while in Canada and New Zealand a third category, politically-motivated violent extremism, is also used (CSIS, 2019; NZSIS, 2021a). A fourth category is also used in New Zealand, single-issue motivated violent extremism (NZSIS, 2021a). This approach was adopted in Canada in 2019, while in New Zealand and Australia the approaches were adopted in 2021.

In each of these countries, a similar justification is presented for the use of this approach. In particular, it is stated that the aim of this terminology is to move away from associating extremism with particular religions or political views, in order to avoid using language that may be considered discriminatory or stigmatising. This approach is also said to capture a more diverse spectrum of ideologies than previously terminology was able to, and better able to accommodate groups outside of traditional categories, such as the incel movement.

Furthermore, countries that do not use an explicit categorisation approach use a similar split to that adopted in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. For example, in Austria and Norway extremism is noted as having political, ideological and religious motivations, while in the Czech Republic, Finland and Slovakia the term 'religiously-motivated' is used. In Slovakia the 'single-issue' category used in New Zealand is also adopted.

3.2. Recommendations

The previous evidence review carried out by the Scottish Government (2023) recommended that a programme of research be developed to address evidence gaps relating to the extent and nature of extremism in Scotland. The review suggested that it would be useful to explore understandings and perceptions of extremism from the perspective of key groups and communities, such as the public, practitioners working to deliver Prevent in Scotland, and stakeholders who have an interest in Prevent or extremism in Scotland.

It is further recommended that this work also seeks to capture views on the approaches to defining extremism used in other countries outlined in this report. In particular, it would be beneficial to explore how far existing definitions align with the understanding of these groups and communities, and to explore whether they feel that the categorisation approach adopted in Canada, Australia and New Zealand is a helpful way to approach defining extremism.


Email: SVT@gov.scot

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