Why banning extremists is wrong

You have a right to listen, to speak, and think for yourself.

Theresa May no copyrightj

You have a right to listen, to speak, and think for yourself

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 that 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.

John Sargeant writes on Homo economicus’ Weblog and blogs for the Huffington Post

12 Responses to “Why banning extremists is wrong”

  1. Godfrey Paul

    The left have always argued ‘no platform’ for fascists, however the exception does seem to be for homophobic, misogynist, anti-democratic, islamofascists.

  2. GordonHide

    Governments of all shades in this country don’t seem to realise how vital freedom of expression is for the long term health of our system. They are too easily swayed by populist emotion. One reason we need a written constitution is to prevent the tyranny of the majority from destroying freedom of expression by small incremental steps.

  3. Guest

    Er…Where have you been given a platform?

  4. Leon Wolfeson

    A codified (we have a written, uncodified one!) constitution is a weapon for the rich to distort. Look at the Citizens United case in America.

    It’s really not the answer.

  5. Just Visiting

    > … within Islam is the seed of theocracy, violence and intolerance. As it exists in all religions.

    So John is your view that Islam does not seem to be concerned to many more acts of violence round the world and in the UK than other religions?

    S’funny, I don’t see catholic Polish immigrants attacking homosexuals here, or beheading people on the street. Nor rastafarians, Nor Hiindus or Buddhists.

    Looking worldwide: it seems to be Mohammed’s example that people follow when they behead : whether it happens in the USA, Asia or Middle east.

    > We should be concerned that the Conservative coalition government’s first instinct is to gag people to save democracy.

    Not exactly first instinct John. They have been in power a while, and this has only now been talked about.

    > Rather than to tackle the ideology from the ground upwards – with education and a direct path to civil society engagement.

    Err, that has been tried already over the last few years.

    > In an internet global communication age, ideas spread.

    So the question has to be: of all the nasty ideas out there on the Internet: why is it that Muslims in the UK seem most prone to pick them up? What is it about the Islamic religion that causes that? Even well educated, middle-class Muslim girls :

    “Missing Bristol girl may be heading for Syria to join Islamists, say police”

    “… the schoolgirl was “incredibly bright”, articulate and popular.”

    John, I’d like to hear how you think education to stop this: as reported in the Guardian:

    Schoolgirl jihadis: the female Islamists leaving home to join Isis fighters

    “… Hundreds of girls and women are going missing in the west, reappearing in Iraq and Syria to bear children for the caliphate

  6. robertcp

    You are referring to organisations choosing not to give a platform to certain views. That is different to passing a law banning those views.

  7. Guest

    The reason? You’re looking at Islam, and only Islam.

    There are UK girls who go to America and vanish into “Christian communes”, for instance, and don’t communicate with their families for years, if ever.

    And you don’t see The Troubles, or the far right, or…no, you blame a group for two mentally ill people. You’re saying what *hasn’t* been done has been done to excuse your support for censorship, for “out of sight, out of mind” rather than engagement.

    There are plenty from the far right who have posted far worse here, too.

  8. Just Visiting

    > There are UK girls who go to America and vanish into “Christian communes”,

    What quantity this year do your sources say doing that?

    The Guardian says hundreds of UK girls going to Syria.

  9. Paul J

    Where’s that Shami Chakrabati got to these days?

    Or was she just an anti-Labour troll all along?

  10. GordonHide

    It does address the problem of the erosion of freedom of expression but I agree a codified constitution has its own problems.

  11. WORLDbytes

    Really interesting article! I think you and your readers might be
    interested in some new videos created by UK Citizen TV channel WORLDbytes that ask a similar question. Focusing on ISIS and Western-intervention these videos include discussions interviews and Vox Pops on the streets of London where volunteers ask the
    public to air their views and find a different perspective from mainstream media.

    Please feel free to comment, embed, share, copy and pass on them on to anyone
    else you think may be interested.

    View on the streets: Why have young Brits joined ISIS killers? http://bit.ly/1CHgsro

    Don’t Shout at the Telly: Gaza, Israel, ISIS & Ukraine: http://bit.ly/1oDZr9f

    Best wishes,

    WORLDbytes Team

  12. Guest

    Hundreds. With what evidence? Over what time period? Etc.

    And yea, no surprise you can’t debate the rest.

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