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Very Short Treatise on Intolerance (Teresa May).

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Theresa May addressing the Conservative Party conference.

Teresa May Outlines Plans to Clamp down on ‘Harmful Individuals’. 

Very Short Treatise on Intolerance.

Nietzsche wrote somewhere that the greatest haters, with the longest memories and deepest grudges, are learned religious men. (1) The contrary can easily be found. But malevolent violence in the Middle East – inspired and carried out by those who see themselves as holy – is something thrust in front of us every single day.

That this affects Europe was equally brought home quickly. It is not an exaggeration to say that the world of social media and instant media reporting, has worn away the sense of distance. That thousands of European volunteers, including hundreds of British citizens, have joined the Jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq became news in weeks. For those who follow the right sites, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, more information piled up every day.

From these sources the oppressions and crimes of the Islamist forces rapidly became known. In Iraq and Syria the Islamic State and Isis began to carry out ethnic and religious cleansing, tortured, raped, and committed acts of genocide.

Clamp-down on ‘harmful individuals”.

That there are those who continue to justify the Jihadists, here and now, is equally public. The British Conservative Party has announced that it intends, if elected in 2015, to legislate. It will issue “banning orders” on “extremist” groups. It will ratchet up its ‘anti-terrorism’ strategy and ‘anti-extremism’ programme. There will be ‘terrorism Asbos’ – extreme disruption orders, that will restrict the actions of named individuals, including a ban on their media appearances. (BBC)

Opponents of the proposals will state that it not possible to ban a version of a faith, which is a private matter. But the liberal argument in defence of free speech appears to hit a wall at this point. The Jihadists’ behaviour is not confined to “self-regarding acts” (John Stuart Mill). It is anything but limited to the individual: they are carrying out the Word of god, as spoken by their own authorities, to bring the world into line with their ideas.

Jihadists and Violence.

If we argue that the consequences of Jihadist ideology are violent few would disagree. The link could not be plainer and self-designated. They appear to be, and are intolerance incarnate. But if Mill’s doctrine has its faults, a much greater one is to “augment the authority of whatever sacerdotal or legislative body (that) may represent the majority”, as John Morley pointed out. (On Compromise. 1886)

Give those in government  and their functionaries that power and it is not hard to see that Teresa May’s laws would open the door to abuses. A floodgate of malicious accusations (anonymous or Tabloid inspired). As somebody who has been the target of a ‘moderate’ Islamist – soon proved false – claims, one also see the scope for factional warfare between Muslim groups and their opponents, secularists or otherwise, opening up. And that is before we consider the potential for racists and other hate groups using the legislation for their own purposes. That the idea appears to encompass “extremisms” as a whole – left, right, religious and otherwise – rings others alarm bells. As David Davis (Conservative) observed, these measures “quite incredible powers to limit democratic rights”. Or as  puts in the Tory  Telegraph, “The concept of extremism has become rather like fascism: a catch-all term for things we don’t like.”

It would be hard to find any organised religion (with the possible exception of the Society of Friends) that did not claim special powers over other people and society. If we oppose this claim then it’s not the individual who’s the problem but the institutions that would bring compulsory rules over other people’s lives. The Conservatives’ proposals come close to this, very close indeed for anybody suspected of “extremism”.

By contrast those who consider that there is no special place for religion in our common political institutions, would not consider the public body the best authority make the ultimate decision over what is and what is not an acceptable “moderate” religious belief. Secularists would leave the faithful to battle amongst themselves over whether they are hard-liners or reasonable. This would leave the rest of us free to exist as human beings, at liberty to adopt, to approve, to mock or to criticise any religious belief that tries to impinge on our lives.

There remains the problem of Islamism. Some simply deny that there is any connection between Islam and ISIS/Islamic State. We have seen the attempt by some to get the media to call the Islamic State the “un” or “so-called” Islamic State. It’s as if Trotskyists demanded that the old Soviet Union be always referred to by its “proper” name, as a “degenerated/deformed workers’ state”.

The analogy can be extended. Some commentators have compared the reaction of political Islamists, including those in government, as in Turkey, to the left’s difficult coming to terms with Stalin’s blood-drenched rule. This is not an easy process, and it has not ended yet.

One thing is certain coming to terms with the crimes of the Islamists in the Middle East will not be helped by fine-sounding phrases that instantly dismiss any connection between their ideology and Islam. This is a claim shared by Teresa May who states, ” Islam is a religion of peace.” We would wish for evidence to back this  assertion. 

It may be said that those who loudly clamoured for bans on books and publications,  which “offended” Islam, from the Satanic Verses onwards, are not in a good position to demand freedom of expression. That is indeed a rod of their own making. 

Intolerance of the Intolerant. 

None of this implies any let up on the pressure on violent Islamists. Those who follow the tradition of Voltaire’s  Traité sur la tolérance (1763) are not tolerant of fanaticism. The crimes of Isis/Islamic State, including those committed by European Jihadists, should be answerable to courts and due process. We can, already, clamp down on incitement to violence and religious hatred. The means to bring to account those actively involved in Jihad exist. The killers in the service of the Assad regime deserve the same treatment – bringing up a subject which, to examine properly, would extend this ‘short’ treatise by several pages.

What we do not need is increased “authority” to legislate on what is, and what is not, ‘extremism.”

(1) “The really great Haters in History have always been priests, but also the cleverest haters – in comparison with the cleverness of priestly revenge every other piece of cleverness is practically negligible” Genealogy of Morals. 1887.

Update: Ukip Complains Theresa May’s Anti-Extremism Pledge ‘Could Shut Party Down’.

The Home Secretary revealed the new “extremism disruption orders” would ban those who “spread hate but do not break existing laws” from the airwaves and make it easier to formally proscribe groups deemed to be linked to terrorism.

The orders will apply to those who “spread or incite hatred” of gender, race or religion as well as those who engage in “harmful activities” for the “purpose of overthrowing democracy”. That’s prompted fears the laws could be used on non-violent political groups and the political enemies of those in power.

Critics said the powers were draconian and mocked the notion of banning those who are not proven to have broken the law, while human rights Liberty said the powers were “worthy of a caliphate”.

The eurosceptic party that is jeopardising the Tories’ chance of winning the next election – and to which two MPs and other prominent politicians have already defected – also suggested it could be banned with such an order.

Suzanne Evans, deputy chair of Ukip, told a fringe event at the Tory Party conference that the power could be used to close down her party, the BBC’s Norman Smith reported.

Hope Not Hate call for contributions to debate on “To ban or not to ban?” : here.

How should society tackle extremism?

There will be various streams to this debate, so ideas and contributions on them all will be useful:

  • What is extremism?
  • Where does extremism come from?
  • How should the Government tackle extremism?
  • How should communities tackle extremism?
  • What are the limits of freedom of speech?

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