Gideon van Meijeren on the need to be Radical

21 maart 2024 | Gideon van Meijeren

Today we are discussing a bill which, in the government's words, is supposed to contribute to a person-centred approach to radicalisation. 

This raises the question of what exactly is to be understood by radicalisation. The Dikke Van Dale Dutch dictionary defines radicalisation as "radical" or "becoming more radical". And a radical, in turn, is defined as "a supporter of a political party or movement aiming at very radical reforms". According to this definition, I can rightly call myself a radical.  I think there is nothing wrong with that at all. Indeed, one who pursues very sweeping reforms in the face of a corrupt system that leads to unprecedented injustice can be very proud of that. And so I am.

Moreover, history is replete with examples of radicals who brought about deep, fundamental systemic changes which most people today actually see as positive or necessary. Without radicals, slavery would never have been abolished; without radicals, the separation of Church and State would never have been achieved; without radicals, women would never have been given the right to vote. 

The radicals in these examples also posed a major threat to the establishment in their time. At the time, they faced extreme resistance and criticism from the whole of society. After all, their ideas were at odds with what people in their time considered normal. They were reviled, mocked, persecuted in political trials and imprisoned. 

Such is the fate of the radical, but thanks to persistence, perseverance and radical actions, from hunger strikes and civil disobedience to disruptions of public events, they were able to force significant systemic changes that today are embraced and integrated throughout society. 

It is easy to explain the establishment's desire to tackle radicalisation. After all, by doing so, the incumbent protects its own position of power, but certainly does not automatically serve the public interest by doing so.

That brings me to my substantive criticism of the bill. It is up to those who sit here to serve the public interest - I am happy to count myself among them - to look at it extremely critically. The bill creates a legal basis for unelected mayors to consult with the police, the Public Prosecution Service, the probation service and any other parties about persons who might be radicalised, to coordinate freedom-restricting measures with each other and to exchange personal data with each other for this purpose. 

What is striking here is that the definition of radicalisation used in the bill is very different from the dictionary definition I mentioned in my introduction. The bill defines radicalisation as a process which may eventually lead to terrorist activities or extremist activities.

Obviously, persons who actually want to carry out terrorist or extremist activities, by which I specifically mean that they would want to use violence, must be dealt with. Of course, but this definition goes quite a bit further. Indeed, according to the bill's definition, you are already radicalising when there is that so-called process which could eventually lead to terrorist or extremist activities. No guidance is given as to when there would be such a process. 

Now, suppose a resident of a municipality is concerned about the arrival of a wind farm. First he speaks out on social media against the arrival of that wind farm. Then he starts a petition against the arrival of that wind farm.  A little later he organises a demonstration against it. Then there could just be an unelected mayor somewhere in the Netherlands who believes that this is a process which could eventually lead to extremist activities. It may not be at all likely that he would want to carry out extremist activities but there need not be.  It is possible. There may be no facts and circumstances at all to suggest that the resident is preparing extremist activities but there need not be. It is possible.There may not be a direct threat of extremist activity at all but there does not have to be. It is possible. And under this bill, that is enough to be labelled radical. Thus, before he knows it, this best man, who has never broken the law, could be the subject of a consultation between the mayor, police, the Public Prosecution Service, the Probation Service and numerous other parties, in which interventions are discussed and personal data is exchanged.

We have seen too many times in recent years too many examples of government entities, including municipalities and the police, unlawfully spying on innocent citizens with dire consequences. That is why I am also deeply concerned about disproportionate intrusions on the privacy and other fundamental rights of innocent citizens who are not committing any crime and have no intention of doing so at all. That is what this bill, in its current form, provides ample scope for. The Dutch Bar Association has also warned about this risk. It has argued for a further definition of radicalisation, but the government has not adopted that advice, for reasons that are unclear, but has very conveniently written it down in the explanatory memorandum.

Moreover, it is totally impossible to predict how mayors will use these powers. It makes quite a difference whether sporadic consultations are held in a few municipalities about a person who poses a real danger, or whether all 300-plus municipalities will soon be discussing dozens of innocent citizens who mean no harm. Can the minister estimate the numbers we are talking about now? She indicates that these kinds of case consultations already take place and that the bill is therefore merely a codification of an existing practice, but how often does this occur now? What kind of cases does this involve so far, and in what percentage of cases does it involve alleged left-wing extremism, right-wing extremism, jihadist extremism, animal rights extremism or other forms of so-called extremism? These questions relate to the current state of affairs. In addition, I ask the minister if she is willing, if this bill is passed and enters into force, to inform the House periodically on how these numbers are developing.

And why is no provision made for monitoring how these powers are used? While the participants of those case consultations must themselves report annually on the effectiveness of those consultations, they are obviously unlikely to come to the conclusion that they themselves have made a wrong assessment. Should this not be monitored by an external party? What are the options for citizens who find out at some point that they are associated with radicalisation to challenge this decision? Ms Helder mentioned that such a decision is subject to objection and appeal under the General Administrative Law Act, but there is no mention of this in the proposal or the explanatory memorandum. It is also highly questionable whether this is even a decision within the meaning of the Act. If the minister intends to make this kind of decision subject to objection and appeal, it would also be advisable to include this explicitly in the proposal, before a judge comes to the conclusion that this is not a decision in the sense of the Act.

What are the options if a citizen was wrongly the subject of such a case consultation afterwards? Will he always be informed if it turns out afterwards that it was not justified and he was spied on unlawfully? Is that person then always informed about this, so that he can take steps or claim compensation if necessary?

To sum up. When the government comes up with proposals to tackle so-called "radicalisation", we should be critical, because the government always has a perverse interest in clamping down on individuals who threaten its power. The government's very broad and subjective definition of radicalisation runs the risk that legitimate forms of protest or political expression, especially those that deviate from the mainstream or are critical of the government, may be wrongly interpreted as radicalisation. It is crucial that the proposed measures be accompanied by strict safeguards to prevent abuse and ensure that fundamental rights of innocent citizens are protected. This includes clear criteria for identifying radicalising behaviour, transparent procedures and the possibility for individuals to challenge decisions affecting them. Because until these safeguards are implemented in the proposal, the door is wide open for the misuse of this law to suppress or criminalise dissent to protect the incumbent from individuals pushing for fundamental changes to an unjust system.

Or is that sometimes the intention?

Thank you.


You may also like