Countering extremism and extreme reactions

This is a cross-post by John Sargeant at homo economicus

Extreme Reactions To Extremism

Meet Paul Weston of Liberty GB. He is so concerned with Islam that his political party campaigns for Muslims to be legally banned from holding public office. Andrew Neil asks why Weston made a video introducing himself as a racist:

Geert Wilders is the Dutch politician that wants to ban the Koran, having stated: “The Koran is a fascist book which incites violence. That is why this book, just like [Adolf Hitler’s] Mein Kampf, must be banned.” Recently, he wanted to find acommon platform with far right European parties.

Neither of these positions are ones a secular liberal could support. A religious test for public office, censorship of illiberal religious texts, a platform with far right groups – they would be an anathema.

Or so you would think.

@SarahAB_UK @JPSargeant78 @owolade14 New: The LSS is right to share a platform with Geert Wilders and Paul Weston https://t.co/0Eh4kVpRvG


Sacrilegious caricature or art – whether blasphemous, crude, or offensive – is part of free speech. The event mentioned above is a Mohammed cartoon exhibition organised by Sharia Watch UK and Vive Charlie.

The Law Secular Society defends sharing a platform with Wilders and Weston, as free speech is a bigger cause than whether or not Weston or Wilders are secularists:

‘Another accusation against Wilders and Weston is that “they’re not secularists” or that they don’t share the other goals of secularists. I don’t even know whether they describe themselves as secularists and you know what? I don’t care.

We can’t restrict the people we share platforms with to those who describe themselves as secularists or who sign up to the entire “shopping list” of secularism causes (faith schools; Bishops in the House of Lords; council prayers, etc). Expecting to achieve goals in this way is politically stupid. It restricts secularists to sharing platforms with people they already agree with on everything and it consigns us to an eternal echo-chamber of mutual back-slapping where we mark our own homework. This strategic naivety is sadly the “Pause Button” on which I believe many secularists seem happy to remain in perpetuity. My view is that secularists should take a “Venn Diagram” approach, co-operating with people where any of our interests intersect – even if it’s only one (and especially the most important one, free speech) – while exercising our judgment on a case by case basis.

The LSS’s priority should be to defend free speech and to support this event as fully as possible, and not to guard itself against baseless accusations of “racism”.’

The naivety of this approach can be seen that this was the argument that Amnesty International used for so long in their relationship with CAGE before they recognised CAGE’s views were incompatible and detrimental to what Amnesty stood for.

How do you stand for free speech with people who are against free speech themselves? Banning the Koran and Muslims from holding public office – these are not positions compatible with free speech. Not all the Venn Diagrams in the world will square that circle.

Vive Charlie is a magazine that the twitter persona “Jihadist Joe” is behind. I discussed their conspiracy views on Muslims here. I wrote about the account:

Whilst most people seemed to get that suggesting Muslims “breeding” and having places to worship as part of “Jihadist support team” (the iceberg beneath the surface) are anti Muslim sentiments in line with extreme right wing views on Muslims, a few remain unconvinced or see this as isolated bum notes of an otherwise funny account. Whose aim is to use humour to target hatred at terrorists not Muslims. The other is how dare I be concerned about this account when people are being killed and oppressed in the name of Islam?

We need to fight bigotry and dehumanization of people by anyone.

When discussing these things with @jihadistjoe online he said the context was “The Project” by the Muslim Brotherhood. A  coordinated effort, to penetrate all levels of society with a “cultural invasion” with the aim “to progressively infiltrate, confront, and eventually establish Islamic domination over the West.” [Link he provided via twitter]

All of which David Cameron warned about in his speech.

“Sharia Watch UK” emerged when Anne Marie Waters split from “One Law for All.” In an article about the split, One Law for All mentions why not sharing such a platform with the far right is important:

Since its establishment last month, Sharia Watch has publicised links like “Muslim Rape Culture” from the ghastly Frontpage Magazine, given updates on the far-Right Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller and the English Defence League, publicised videos like “Sacrificing our Daughters: On the Psychology of Islamic Rape Gangs”, and written a piece on how halal meat funds terrorism!

We want to make very clear that we have no links with Sharia Watch, UKIP or Anne Marie Waters and will oppose their brand of racist hate politics every step of the way.

One Law for All is proud of the broad-based coalition of secular Muslim, ex-Muslim, non-Muslim, atheist…  groups and individuals it has helped shape over nearly 6 years of organising and activism. As is very clear from our work, our fight is not just a fight against Sharia; it is first and foremost a fight against Islamism and the religious-Right as well as countering racism and for equality, universal and citizenship rights, international solidarity, and secularism. [My Emphasis]

I have been to enough events where my life was potentially in danger without needing to be lectured to on that score. I will defend the right of bigots to gather freely, discuss what they want, to freely associate with others who might not be bigots, and for all to go home safely. Do not expect me to join the far right on a solidarity platform on free speech, when they are opposed to free speech. More fool anyone else that does, and let them show their idiocy when they claim that for free speech they can work with those that are against free speech.

Secularism needs defending not just against religious extremists but also from nationalist extremists. For when it comes to banning publications or religious tests for public office, they can be seen as two sides of the same coin. They are the enemies of liberty, and free speech exists so that we can know this for ourselves.

There will be those that debase themselves by using bigotry, calling for partial rights rather than for universal rights. Expediency, or the perceived threat, will be used to justify such reactions. Civil society will be nothing if it is not prepared to challenge government, islamists, and the far right, when liberal values are threatened.

Freedom, equality, secularism – those values are worth standing for. In doing so, it matters who you stand with.

This is the second section of John’s post. Do read the full post here.