If you cannot conceive why so many people are pleased that Jeremy Corbyn has won the Labour leadership election, the reasons are plethora. One major factor is the sense that the party will now undo decades of vacuous New Labour policy which has dragged the party further to the right and away from its founding principles. Another is the tyranny of liberalism that began in the New Labour era and has been perpetuated by the so-called “heir to Blair”. It is telling that both the left-wing of the Labour Party and the right-wing of the Conservative Party have both been the most vociferous defenders of civil liberties in the face of this oppressive centrism that so lauds the values of tolerance and acceptance that it simultaneously denies anyone the right to disagree with its moral pronouncements (which, ironically, it claims to ground in no morals at all!)
This centrist tyrannical liberalism is the epitome of amorality and illiberality. I have far more time for moral and social Conservatives, who actually ground their beliefs in a set of moral principles and a proper understanding of what it is to be a liberal society, than I have for this vacuous centrism. Likewise traditional Socialist values – especially those grounded in the Christian Socialist tradition – have always made their arguments in moral terms.
The very term liberalism, and the supposed post-war liberal consensus, once meant defining particular rights and allowing all such practices that do not impinge thereon. These rights were once determined from accepted moral values. However, these terms have come to mean a set of moral statements, without any underpinning moral framework, which must be upheld at all costs. No dissenting opinion will be tolerated and must be quashed. What once stood for inherent freedom for the individual has come to mean cultural oppression. What claims to be a stand for tolerance is, in actual fact, the refusal to tolerate anything else.
This troubling tendency of the last three decades was perfectly illustrated by a report in yesterday’s Telegraph. The report opens with the ominous words:
Imams, priests, rabbis and other religious figures will have to enrol in a “national register of faith leaders” and be subject to government-specified training and security checks in the Home Office’s latest action on extremism.
The report claimed:
Whitehall will “require all faiths to maintain a national register of faith leaders” and the Government will “set out the minimum level of training and checks” faith leaders must have to join the new register.
In short, the proposal demands leaders within all faiths become state registered with the state determining the minimum level of training required to fulfil their job requirements.
There are several things to note about this. Firstly, this is being driven through as part of the government’s latest round of anti-extremism measures. Once again, in the name of security, age-old civil liberties, such as freedom of religion, are being eroded. It is shocking to see a supposedly liberal government enacting a policy that is worryingly similar to that of the Communist regime in China.
Second, it cannot fail to escape anybody’s notice that anti-extremism measures and counter-terror legislation were introduced as a result of 9/11, 7/7 and other more recent atrocities. We have been well acquainted with terrorism in Western Europe for over a century (cf. IRA and its offshoots; UDA, UVF and their offshoots; ETA; Terra Lliure et al). It is clear enough that the increase in such legislation is not a result of such groups. This legislation has been a result of particular terrorist activities which comes from one particular source. It is specifically a response to Islamist terrorism (or Jihadism).
All sensible observers recognise Islam comes in a range of forms, going well beyond Sunni and Shia branches. It should be clear to even the most casual observer that Islam is not one monolithic bloc and clearly most Muslims do not subscribe to Islamist terrorism nor even the Salafi strain of Sunni Islam. Nonetheless, we cannot ignore the glaringly obvious fact that the major threat of terrorist activity in recent decades has come from these pernicious forms of Muslim thought. It is in response to this particular form of terrorism that anti-terror and anti-extremist legislation – however well thought through or otherwise – has been introduced.
What is most troubling is that this latest attempt at anti-extremist legislation should include those of “all faiths”. How many reform Jews have we heard of jumping onto buses and blowing themselves up? How many rabbis have we heard encouraging such behaviour or encouraging British citizens to kill in the name of the Israeli state? We are not hearing of swathes of Sikhs using their (legally permitted) kirpan to strike fear into the heart of British society. Militant Hindus (though some certainly exist on the Indian sub-continent) are not the subject of major police counter-terror initiatives. Christian leaders are not encouraging their communicants to attack the infidel. Why, then, are “all faiths” subject to measures designed to target one particular group of people, within one particular branch, of one particular religion?
Are the government truly trying to argue that, regardless of the rights and wrongs of the issue, taking a traditional line on heterosexual marriage is akin to Salafi Jihadism? Is it really the case that evangelical street preachers pose a similar threat to national security as those who seek to intentionally blow themselves up in the name of martyrdom? Are orthodox Jews really the same threat to British culture as those who actively proclaim allegiance to the Islamic State?
If this is a problem confined to one particular religion, it is highly unreasonable to use this as a catch-all way to extend these rules to all religions. If it is unfair to tarnish all Muslims with the same brush – and knowing many Imams and Muslim parents who are terrified that their own children may buy into these pernicious extremist ideologies as I do, it most certainly is – how much less fair is it to include those who don’t even subscribe to the wider religion in question? It seems that government are pressing on with this approach because they do not want to be accused of attacking Islam. But there simply is no escaping that it is not the Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs or Buddhist who are having any effect on the British terror threat level. Until such time as we accept the source of the problem, we will continue to be hit with these cack-handed attempts to address the problem.
Third, this sort of approach does absolutely nothing to address the root problem. The issues that government are (rightly) concerned about are terrorist activities and the incitement to violence. Sadly, the government have extended their attempts to deal with these two issues to anything deemed “extremist”. Quite apart from failing to define nebulous “British values” and defining extremism as anything which doesn’t accord with them, this does nothing to address the root of the problem. As noted by Haras Rafiq – director of the counter-extremism think tank Quilliam – ‘It is very noticeable that the main Islamist groups are not really up in arms about this. They want it, because it will feed the narrative of grievance and victimhood they love. They will be able to use it to say, “look, we told you so”‘. We have moved from trying to stop people breaking the law, and actively damaging others, to trying to inculcate views and values by diktat.
Fourth, this approach goes against anything that can be considered tolerable in a free and liberal society. It is the outworking of precisely the issue noted at the beginning of this post. It is the tyranny of liberalism that cannot cope with permitting views outside of the cultural zeitgeist. Extremism is being defined in this case as a refusal to push “British values”. As noted on the blog before (here and here), British values seem to be defined as a refusal to actively promote current cultural views on issues such as homosexuality, gay marriage and the ever-slippery value of tolerance (without tolerating religious views, of course!)
In the name of counter-extremism, religious adherents and faith leaders who have otherwise lived in the UK for centuries without such interference by the state are now being subject to measures that would in any other area be considered draconian, authoritarian and illiberal. If such measures were enacted within the political arena because of the actions of certain political terrorist organisation within our midst, people would rightly be up in arms. When it comes to issues of religious belief, it does seem the same criteria are not applied.
This tyranny of liberalism began in the New Labour era and has been continued under David Cameron’s Conservative rule. I have written to my local MP – a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn – regarding several recent troubling announcements from Theresa May’s office. He has given assurance, in no uncertain terms and without usual political obfuscation, that he has the same concerns and in no way supports the measures. I understand Jeremy Corbyn similarly recognises the issue and rejects this approach. If you are wondering why I am pleased Jeremy Corbyn has won the Labour leadership, this is no small factor.
For my part, I will not submit to any national register. I will not permit the state to determine what I teach in my own church. I will not allow the state to interfere with what scripture clearly teaches. I will not allow my sermons and studies to be vetted. I refuse to be deemed a threat to state security simply because I do not always agree with the prevalent government agenda. I am not prepared to be subjected to statist, Communist-style interference and I will not subject my church communicants and congregants to the vacuous homilies permitted in accordance with the whims of the government of the day. One hopes and prays there are enough sensible voices in parliament to recognise precisely why.