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Terrorist-Extremist Speech and Hate Speech: Understanding the Similarities and Differences


The terms ‘hate’ and ‘hatred’ are increasingly used to describe the rationale of a kind of anti-Western terrorist-extremist speech. This discursively links this kind of terrorist-extremist speech with the well-known concept of ‘hate speech’, a link that suggests the two phenomena are more alike than they are unlike. In this article I interrogate the similarities and differences between anti-Western terrorist-extremist speech and hate speech as they manifest in Western liberal democratic states along two axes: to whom the speech is addressed, and how harm is occasioned. Relying on a combination of philosophical conceptions and public policy empirics, I demonstrate that there are significant differences between the two types of speech, especially in their mechanisms of harm. The implications of this analysis are that these differences should be better understood in order to respond appropriately to these two distinct types of harmful speech.

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  1. On a related point I do not, in principle, support the use of the term ‘hate’ to categorise ‘hate speech’. It implies that any expression of antipathy or dislike towards any target is substantively the core of the phenomenon. By contrast, ‘hate speech’ is better understood as a discursive act of harm in the sense of an act of exclusion, marginalisation and discrimination targeted at those able to be identified as systemically vulnerable to discrimination within the context in which the speech occurs (Gelber 2019).

  2. ‘Discrimination’ is defined as unjustified, less favourable treatment based on an irrelevant and arbitrary characteristic (Rees et al. 2008: 70). Marginalisation is to be understood as systemic susceptibility to such discrimination.

  3. Citing the well-known Brandenburg test (Brandenburg v. Ohio 395 U.S. 444, 447 (1969).

  4. Criminal Code (Cth), s11.4; Serious Crime Act 2007 (UK), ss 44–46.

  5. For example, three men who urged Muslims to wage war against non-believers were convicted in the UK for inciting terrorism (BBC News 2007).

  6. Obtained from the Jihadi Document Repository at the University of Oslo, accessed with permission.

  7. See also international efforts led by the United Nations and the Council of Europe (Walker 2017: 531).

  8. Terrorism Act 2006 (UK), 1(1).

  9. Criminal Code (Cth), s 80.2C.

  10. Criminal Code (Cth), s 80.2(1).

  11. Criminal Code (Cth), ss 80.2A(1), 80.2B(1).

  12. Criminal Code (Cth), ss 80.2A(2), 80.2B(2).

  13. Criminal Code (Cth), ss 102.1, 102.4.

  14. It is to be noted that this conception of hate speech is quite narrow, relying as it does on harm to specified groups. This choice is deliberate, as this article is concerned to delineate differences between types of speech that are otherwise treated as similar, but ought not to be. I recognise not all readers will agree with the narrow conception I utilise here.

  15. This renders an added complexity to regulating such speech if and when the punishment is directed at the audience (those who circulate or view the material), not at the speaker who is the object of regulation in other speech-regulating contexts (Chen 2017: 389).

  16. eg In New South Wales it is ‘unlawful for a person, by a public act, to incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons’ on a specified ground (Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW), ss 20C, 38S, 49ZT, 49ZXB). This model has been followed, with some variations, in Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, the ACT and South Australia (Gelber and McNamara 2015b: 489–90).

  17. I note this understanding of hate speech is not uniformly held, but it is the position adopted in this argument and I have defended this position in Gelber (2019).

  18. Redish and Fisher describe it as a third-party ‘threat’ (2017: 578).

  19. Terrorism Act 2000, s1 (UK).

  20. Criminal Code (Cth), s 100.1

  21. Naik v. The Secretary of State for the Home Department [2010] EWHC 2825 (cited in Brown 2017: 52).

  22. Naik v. The Secretary of State for the Home Department [2010] EWHC 2825.




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The author wishes to thank Mary Kate McGowan, Karen Hussey, Alex Brown, Matteo Bonotti, Paul Billingham and the two anonymous referees for very helpful discussions and suggestions on the ideas in this paper.

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Correspondence to Katharine Gelber.

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Gelber, K. Terrorist-Extremist Speech and Hate Speech: Understanding the Similarities and Differences. Ethic Theory Moral Prac 22, 607–622 (2019).

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  • Terrorism
  • Extremism
  • Hate speech
  • Speech regulation
  • Countering violent extremism