Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Answer extremism with pluralism not secularism

I did not intend for my first blog following the 2015 General Election to be on tackling extremism. However, my slowness in putting together my reflections on the result mean that I have been overtaken by events. In this instance the comments of Metropolitan Police Commander Mak Chishty.

In widely reported remarks Mr Chishty noted several ways in which he felt British children were being radicalised. On some things I felt some sympathy with him. However, one thing stood out to me as a little odd: Mr Chishty using the example of Muslim children calling Christmas as ‘haram’ as evidence of radicalisation. [1]

We must make a distinction between religiousness and radicalisation. The religion of Islam does not accept Jesus Christ is God made man. Christmas, essentially, is a celebration of precisely that belief. I recognise that in Western civilisation, which is culturally Christian rather than actually Christian, Christmas means something very different to many. However, given the origins of Christmas, it should be unremarkable that a practicing Muslim may teach their children that Christmas is ‘haram’. Indeed, it should be no more remarkable than the fact that, as a Christian, I do not accept or celebrate the things Muslims believe about Mohammed.

A free society, in which people can think and believe as they wish, gives rise to pluralism. Being able to argue openly about what we think, and then agree to tolerate someone else’s beliefs and opinions despite our own convictions, is one of the things that makes Britain great. As Britons we have the right to decide for ourselves what to think and how to act. Given my descent from slaves, I treasure this freedom as much as I treasure anything. My desire to protect this freedom, and secure it for future generations, is at the heart of my personal Conservatism.

There is a difference between a basic religious article of faith, and a more sinister interpretation of religion that wants to kill people who don’t share the same beliefs. Maybe contemporary society’s stress on not offending makes it hard for some to understand this? All religions, to varying degrees, are exclusive. As a result religions can at times appear divisive. Some people may find the belief that Christmas is ‘haram’ offensive, because they feel looked down upon for celebrating it. However, how we feel about something is not the key to determining whether someone has the right to do it. I believe socialism is wrong, I believe many of the things socialists think about Conservatives are offensive, yet it is not my right to stop socialists from believing or expressing those things. Freedom to offend goes hand in hand with freedom of expression, and both are necessary to have a free society.

To the question of where freedom ends, I answer with the words of Margaret Thatcher: ‘My freedom must be regulated by your freedom. My freedom to hit out stops at your chin’[2]. There are those who say by allowing children to be taught that Christmas is ‘haram’ or that ‘extra ecclesiam nulla salus’ we are incubating extremism. To them I simply point to the millions of British people who believe these things and have no desire to harm or kill anyone. Rather than worry about ordinary religious believers, what should trouble us are the extremist recruiters handing out ISIL leaflets on Oxford Street. Not to mention, the extremist patrols harassing people in certain parts of our cities for buying alcohol, dressing in a way they disapprove of or even dog-walking. The Metropolitan Police would do better to explain what they are doing to clamp down on those who feel their freedom extends beyond our chins. The more they try to police thoughts, the more uncomfortable they will make a good section of the British people, and the easier it will be for ISIL to sell their adversarial and hate filled message in our country.

[1] Press Association, 25 May 2015, link
[2] Margaret Thatcher, Catholic Herald, 5 December 1978, link