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More than half of the general public think using the word "extreme" isn't helpful in social and political discussion, according to a new study.
The poll conducted by ComRes and commissioned by the Evangelical Alliance and a coalition of organisations found that while 54 per cent found the word an unhelpful "description when discussing political or social opinions", 32 per cent believed it was a helpful description and 14 per cent didn't know if it was.
Dr David Landrum, director of advocacy for the Evangelical Alliance, agreed with the majority polled.
He said: "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."
The survey shows that there is widespread confusion and diverging opinions on the definition of extremism.
Of the 2,004 adults questioned, statements around political debates were considered by many as extreme, however, almost half the public disagreed it was extreme to believe animals have the same rights as humans.
The survey found that people were less divided and confused as to whether leaving the European Union (EU) is an extreme idea or not. Asked if it was extreme to believe the UK should remain in the EU, 30 per cent said it was, whereas 36 per cent said it was extreme to believe the UK should leave.
Landrum added: "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 the use of the word "extreme" with "extreme caution". They have also called for any future extremism commission to include the widest possible range of groups - including those of faith to be involved.
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."
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