THE BLOG

Theresa May Is Wrong About Extremism

30/09/2014 22:35 BST | Updated 30/11/2014 10:59 GMT

The British Government thinks we are children. Easily led by those that know the art of oratory. Gullible. To be twisted round the finger of any subversive sectarian megalomaniac. Theresa May, British home secretary, wants to ban people for subversive speech. We the people, cannot be trusted to act responsibly based on what we hear. Our elected representatives can filter for us. Long live Big Brother.

If we are really concerned about the likes of Anjem Choudary poisoning minds to take up violence to overthrow democracy, banning him from our television screens is the wrong way. Britain tried that with Sinn Fein. We ended up with either subtitles but no sound; and then an Irish actor lip synching when they were talking.

Ian Hislop, editor of satirical Private Eye, remarked he wanted to hear Gerry Adams to see if he smiled when asked about the people the IRA had killed. There really is no better way to hold anyone to account by knowing exactly what someone has said, how they said it, in what context.

We make much of the liberty to think and voice our opinions. The line that most free speech advocates draw is an incitement to kill. For which laws currently exist, along with counter terrorism legislation. The home secretary risks making Choudary a victim for Islamists to rally for with the new proposals. Young people, with radical religious notions of changing the world, will have an officially state stamped underground movement. How nice of us to signal that for them.

We should be concerned that the Conservative coalition government's first instinct is to gag people to save democracy. Rather than to tackle the ideology from the ground upwards - with education and a direct path to civil society engagement. In an internet global communication age, ideas spread. Force people underground, the darkness becomes less penetrable. Beware what grows down there.

Personally I like knowing who the extremists are and what they are saying. It allows for a counter narrative. Civil society knows how to respond to people who are anti-pluralistic, hate filled, loathsome parasites. Who feast on the freedoms we offer, in order to try and destroy it.

Responding with utter contempt and derision. We need to promote people engaging with the wider community and adopting values of pluralism. That we can disagree about religion, and many things, yet live together in peace. That democracy is not weakened by individuals having many different thoughts in the market place of ideas. It makes us stronger.

This is not about tolerating the intolerable. We have laws designed to deal as I have said with counter terrorism. We are now moving to where certain insensibilities will be made illegal. A democratic government will always try to undermine human rights with a populist move. Anjem Choudary banned from the airwaves would be popular. As would banning neo-Nazis.

Except I have not seen skinheads with swastika tattoos on Newsnight. I have seen plenty of Islamists being interviewed. Crucially also, seen them challenged. Giving a platform for sensationalism and ratings is irresponsible. I would argue however, that the media are the ones revealing what Islamism is, and countering it.

The government is not. It will state Islam is a religion of peace. It will not publicly countenance that within Islam is the seed of theocracy, violence and intolerance. As it exists in all religions. The rise of religious extremism - that even Buddhists are massacring Muslims in Burma with monks approving - should be a wake up call.

The need for a counter narrative is there. That though means challenging such concepts as divine revelation, the infallibility of scripture, that human discourse has moved on since angels took their place on the battlefield with men. That though makes people like Mo Ansar call Maajid Nawaz an extremist, and accuse Tom Holland of trolling Islam.

The government recognises the problem, but not the solution. One of the reasons is preciously because it is the government. A body of conflicting needs to be met: electability, foreign relations and domestic public relations. Let alone conflicting ideas how to meet these challenges.

There is however agreement that you, dear citizen, cannot be trusted to act responsibly. It is not that the government distrusts Anjem Choudary. Rather, the government distrusts you to react correctly.

That should concern you as much as the media giving a public platform to fanatics. You have a right to listen, to speak, and think for yourself.

Never let anyone take that away from you. Or else democracy has been overthrown.