Thursday, 11 December 2014

Mild Extremism?

Firstly, I’d better apologise for not posting before now.  I’ve said before that I try not to fill this blog with inanities, and only post something when I feel I have something worth posting.  To what extent I’ve succeeded in this only you, dear reader, can honestly say.  However, the point stands that it’s now some time since my last post, and I thought I’d better do something about it.

Over the last few months, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in the rhetoric of the government.  We have, for many years now, had the rhetoric of ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorists’ thrown at us frequently and repeatedly.  We’ve had the ‘War on Terror’ and ‘Counter-Terrorism’, ‘Threat Levels’ and various laws and acts passed to prevent the propagation, planning and committing of acts of terrorism.

Now, to me terms like ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’ are hazy enough.  After all, as the saying goes, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.  However, it is easy to agree that blowing up cars and buildings and attacking people with guns and machetes is a Bad Thing, and to be strongly discouraged.  Whether that means more stringent application of existing laws covering the blowing up of buildings and cars and attacking people with guns and machetes, or whether brand new ‘anti-terrorism’ laws need drafting is a matter of personal taste.

However, recently, the rhetoric has changed slightly.  I hear the term ‘terrorist’ less, and find that it is being replaced with the term ‘extremist’, and ‘terrorism’ with ‘extremism’.  The Home Secretary wants to bring in new laws to counter extremism.  We’ve seen Ofsted charged with countering extremism in schools, and universities charged with watching for signs of extremism in their students.

If ‘terrorism’ seems like a hazy term, how much more then is ‘extremism’?  What does it mean?  It’s currently taken generally to mean religious extremism, maybe even specifically Muslim extremism, but of course could also include political extremism.  But what do even these terms mean?  A terrorist is a person who carries out acts of terrorism, defined by the OED as “The unofficial or unauthorised use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims”.  Fair enough.  But what is extremism?  Again, I turn to the OED:  “The holding of extreme political or religious views.”

Without wishing to spill into lazy Orwellian rhetoric of my own, can we really justify taking measures to prevent the holding of certain views?  Are we now willing to police the beliefs and opinions of our people, even before they turn into actions?  I understand that our police need all the warning they can get to help avert potential tragedies, and knowing who it is that hold such views could be useful, but surely holding them cannot be a crime in and of itself?  And who decides what views are ‘extreme’  The armchair jihadi who thinks all non-Muslims should be killed?  Probably.  The animal rights activist who thinks that vivisectionists should all be vivisectioned?  Quite possibly.  The Ku Klux Klan member who thinks that all non-white people should be subjugated and enslaved, or the café anarchist who thinks that the government should be brought crashing down?  Maybe.  The Christian who thinks that all non-Christians are damned to eternal torment?  Barely, even if they go out on the street to tell everyone all about it in the most offensive fashion.  What about the milder Christian, who thinks that Christianity is the only true way to God, even if they don’t hold with the bit about eternal torment?  How about the one who refuses to make a cake bearing a slogan lobbying for gay marriage?

And can we truly justify prosecuting even the first two or three examples?  If the armchair jihadi airs his opinion that all non-Muslims should be killed, he strays close to breaking the laws against inciting religious hatred (which I am not totally comfortable with either), but talking is not doing.  Making the holding of certain beliefs or opinions illegal is a very dangerous step, and one that the government seems almost eager to do, all in the name of ‘security’.

This is not the first time in our country’s history that we have faced the threat of religiously motivated violence, but as Queen Elizabeth I famously said at the time, “I have no desire to make windows into mens’ souls”.  Our current government apparently does, and it makes me worry very much.

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