As you might expect, I agree with Harry (and through him, Boris) that there are much better ways to combat religious extremism – and indeed their pseudo-left allies – than banning speech. We are left-liberals. Free speech just about the most basic position a liberal can take.
I admit to a little bit of minor and mostly rhetorical wobbiliness in the past: but it is time to firm our position up. We should not have an Incitement to Religious Hatred law in England and Wales.
It struck me at the time, and strikes me more now, that the purpose of this bill is to get – not muslims – but muslim organisations “on side”. That is an important task for the Government, particularly after the terrorist attacks on London. But ours is to show solidarity with muslims as individuals and fellow citizens, and not with those organisations which claim to represent them.
There is a temptation to think of the Incitement to Religious Hatred legislation as no more than another opportunity for the Government to be seen to be visibly on the side of British muslims. But that would be a mistake. Employment discrimination protection is both sufficient for that purpose, and in my view necessary in its own right.
That something else at work. And I think that it is this. The proposal, as we have seen, is to create a clear dichotomy between “good muslims” (i.e. non jihadists) and “bad muslims” (i.e. jihadists). The jihadists get prosecuted under the Incitement to Religious Hatred Law along with the BNP: the non jihadists get invited to comment on government policy.
Into the “good muslims” camp go various muslim groups, including gradualist Islamists, such as the MAB/Muslim Brotherhood.
If this is all that happens, then fair enough. It will be seen as divide and rule by most Islamists, but if they’re in the Big Tent, they might not care.
However, the danger is that these sorts of steps will bring extreme Islamist groups further into the mainstream, where they are able to carry on more effectively their programme of de-secularlising British muslim society.
The mainstreaming of non jihadi Islamist groups is a policy that has been tried in much of Europe, and the beneficiaries have not been muslims – or indeed society as a whole: it has been the Muslim Brotherhood, which has learnt to present itself as a respectable cultural-religious organisation. Only occasionally do we see their true colours: when – for example – they stupidly distribute leaflets calling for apostates to be executed, and the like.
We should be encouraging all these Islamist groups to tell us what they really think. We need to know. RESPECT has already taught them a lot about how to present themselves as pious, anti-racist, anti-imperialist muslim cultural organisations. The Incitement to Religious Hatred law will simply be, to them, another lesson in how to appear moderate.
The last thing the Government should be doing is to give this sort of helping hand to those besuited theocratic totalitarians who have learnt that there are some things you think and others you say.