Since the 7/7 attacks, the focus of the British Government’s counter-extremism strategy has turned from the threat posed by foreign nationals affiliated with Al-Qaida to the threat of “home-grown” terrorists.
The latest strand of the strategy was announced in 2015 with the Extremism Bill – which included plans that would introduce legislation to silence non-violent extremists who show ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values’. The Bill would implement civil orders to ban extremist groups, restrict the behaviour of extremist individuals, and close down premises used for extremism, amongst many other things. All good stuff, it would seem, however a problem is caused by the Government’s apparent inability to tightly and adequately define what extremism is.
The effect of the loose language is that there is a real danger of unintended religious groups being perceived as non-violent social threats.
Now, you might well be thinking it is unlikely for the elderly Jewish volunteer or Sikh corner shop owner to be viewed or treated in the same way as an Islamist Extremist. But it appears this is the direction that our society is heading towards, again thanks to poorly defined terms and loose language; as a result, common acceptance of objective truth has been booted out the window, and a New Tolerance has crept in, a concept as socially dangerous as it is intellectually debilitating.
But how is tolerance linked to extremism? One only has to look at Professor Amos Guiora’s definition: extremists are absolutists, and to that end are locked in on their particular viewpoint, largely incapable of understanding, if not intolerant, of other perspectives for their ideology is invariably ‘the truth’ to be defended at all costs.
So extremism involves intolerance – but what exactly is tolerance today? To tolerate involves the acceptance of the existence of different views, but tolerance is the acceptance of different views.
Don Carson explains, ‘we move from allowing the free expression of contrary opinions to the acceptance of all opinions; we leap from permitting the articulation of beliefs and claims with which we do not agree to asserting that all beliefs and claims are equally valid’.
In sum, extremism is to hold onto ‘the truth’ which you deem infallible, whilst tolerance is to accept all beliefs and claims are equally valid. Two rather incompatible concepts, which render the Government’s seemingly constructive anti-Extremism stance as anti-intolerance and therefore anti-objective truth. Which, when taken full loop, renders the Government as rather Extremist, given its capacity to decide what is objectively wrong and right. Surely this is Governmental suicide, it can’t legally govern with objective value (too Extremist), yet it’s impossible to govern without it (free-for-all)! Quite the paradox, how many Civil Servants will implode into existential crisis on reading this?
But if we forget for a minute that our institution is on the verge of collapse, religious groups are still in danger. Today, in Britain, one cannot subscribe to objective truth and be simultaneously tolerant!
This phenomenon is wide spread in popular culture too. Kimberley Blaker argues in her 2003 book, The Fundamentals of Extremism: The Christian Right in America, that conservative Christians share striking similarities with Taliban terrorists, whilst a recent study by Barna Research revealed that 52 percent of Americans believe it is extreme to ‘protest government policies that conflict with their religion’, and the same number think it is extreme to ‘believe that sexual relationships between people of the same sex are morally wrong’.
To the growing population of secularists in the Western world, religion has become something to be treated with suspicion, especially when it holds to fundamentals such as; a sovereign God, judgement, a single-route to salvation.
And yet, British society is determined to hold onto a fundamental structure or religion of a New Tolerance, which aims to eliminate extremism or absolutism or conviction.
Tolerance now means renouncing the right to tell anyone they are wrong. It is blind to its own shortcomings because it erroneously thinks it holds the moral high ground; it cannot be questioned because it is part of the West’s fundamental values. The very concept of labelling a person’s idea as wrong or flawed or harmful or evil is considered extreme and punishable by civil order. The United Nations Deceleration of Principles on Tolerance (1995) declares, ‘tolerance… involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism’, despite the fact the very statement is rather absolute. As C.S Lewis comments in The Abolition of Man, ‘A great many of those who ‘debunk’ traditional values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process’.
Instead we must be free to name each other’s beliefs as false, defective, inferior, or harmful without being accused of hate or injustice or lack of love. In fact, we must defend the fact that calling error ‘error’ may be the most loving thing to do if it is done with the right motive. As Voltaire declared, ‘I may hate what you believe, but I will defend to the death your right to believe it’.
Today the rather intolerant New Tolerance is quickly seeping into politics. The (online) aftermath of Brexit and Trump wins consisted of progressives venomously slandering right-wing populist voters as objectively intolerant on the basis of their disagreeable values, whilst simultaneously flying the flag of New Tolerance (all opinions are right), acceptance and inclusion. Quite bonkers.
Thankfully, this lunacy hasn’t gone amiss, as reporters ridicule the political correctness of ‘safe spaces’ that limits freedom of speech on university campuses and the controversial Asher’s bakery supreme court decision, which was labelled by many as a defeat for freedom of conscience and religious liberty. It is right that we return to the old form of tolerance, in which ideas and convictions could be debated with mutual respect and dignity.
So let the disciples of the New Tolerance drown in their hypocrisy, and good old fashioned ‘agree-to-disagree’ rise up again!
(And Home Office, please reword the Extremism Bill).