Friday, 3 October 2014

Extremism, Freedom and the Lowest Common Denominator

This week, there was a story on the BBC news website regarding Theresa May’s outline for additional ‘anti-extremist’ legislation, curtailing the freedom of speech, movement and association of organisations deemed ‘extremist’ (whatever that means).

The extremely worrying nature of the proposed laws would probably take up a blog post by itself, but that’s not what I want to concentrate on here.  The comments section swiftly filled with people either decrying or hailing the ideas.  Predictably, many people took ‘extremism’ to mean primarily ‘Muslim extremism’ and couched their remarks accordingly.

At least one person said something along the lines of the following, and I have seen it multiple times before:  “If I was living in a Muslim country and tried to convert people to Christianity, or tried to build churches or went out on the streets preaching the destruction of the country I was in, I’d be arrested and imprisoned/deported in the blink of an eye, so why do we allow these people to do the equivalent here!”  A direct quotation for you:  “My feet wouldn’t touch the ground.  My head would.”

What their argument boils down to is “These countries are oppressive and dictatorial, so why shouldn’t we be?  It’s what they’d do in our place!”  This isn’t even an ‘eye for an eye’ argument, it’s a desire to equalise everyone at the level of the lowest and the worst.  “Why should we uphold personal freedoms when they don’t?”  “Why should we have the rule of law when they don’t?”  “Barbarians murder, torture and rape, so why shouldn’t we?”  “The beasts of the field root in the muck for food and fight tooth and nail for scraps.  Why shouldn’t we?”  Why should we try and be better than them?

We should be proud that we live in a society in which one can believe what one wants, say what one wants, wear what one wants, do what one wants, assuming it doesn’t hurt others.  It should be a matter of pride that the poor and the dispossessed of the world make a beeline to us.  Instead of whining about immigrants taking advantage, complaining about ‘scroungers’ on benefits, we should be standing tall, happy to be an example to the world that the best and only way of truly judging a country is by how it treats the poorest and most vulnerable.

The true test of whether you live in a free society is whether you can speak out against that society without fear of prosecution.  It is whether you can state categorically that you disagree with the fundamental truths of every single other person in that society, if that is what your conscience dictates, and do so without fear of persecution. At the moment, I am proud to say that I do.  I am truly afraid that this may not always be the case, and I do not believe that the greatest threat to our society is in what our government is pleased to refer to as ‘extremists’.

Why should we treat them well when they wouldn’t do the same for us in our place?  Many of the people asking this question insist that British Muslims are refusing to integrate, forcing their culture on ours and forcing their values on our British Christian ones.  Here’s a Christian value for you:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.  You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” 
 That seems fairly clear to me.

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