[This is the fourth in a short series of posts about the UK Government’s counter extremism strategy, called “Prevent”]
In the 1930s the UK government was pursuing a strategy of appeasement towards the rising menace of fascism in the European continent at that time. In 1938, tensions between Germany and Czechoslovakia were growing. Hitler was calling for the Sudetenland to become part of Germany, due to the large number of ethnic Germans in that region. Chamberlain went to Munich to agree with Hitler an “Anglo–German Agreement” which was supposed to be “symbolic of the desire of our two people never to go to war again”. Chamberlain claimed that during the meeting Hitler agreed not to bomb the people of Prague. He returned to England, and triumphantly proclaimed:
“My good friends, this is the second time there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Now I recommend you go home, and sleep quietly in your beds.”
Shortly afterwards, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia and the path to war had become inevitable. Then Hitler invaded Poland and war was officially declared. Chamberlain’s honour was in tatters.
Appeasement is always a tempting response when faced with a rising supremacist ideology. Of course it might work, the problem is that usually it doesn’t work. What is revealed by our investigation of the government’s “Prevent” strategy is that this policy is essentially a policy of appeasement. It hides from the truth, it pretends that the Islamic religion is not the intolerant and supremacist ideology that it is. Especially during the time that Labour were in office, large amounts of money were given to mosques and other Islamic organisations in the hope that this would promote a more peaceful “version” of the religion. Then since the Conservative party took over, a rather different strategy was attempted. Essentially this strategy has been to pretend that Islam can be moulded into something that it is not. This interference has more served to alienate a lot of the followers of the religion than it has to reduce the rising threat of Islamic intolerance. This strategy also has failed, and now a new direction is being attempted, which is equally doomed to fail because it avoids the truth.
Ultimately we must face the truth. The UK government cannot re-write Islamic texts. Mohammed’s example was a brutally warlike and intolerant one. Those who attempted to speak out against him were killed. Take for example the story of Asma bint Marwan who was murdered in her bed as she slept with her children around her. This is not the way of a civilized society. This is not the way of democracy. We must allow people to speak freely. We must allow people to mock their leaders. We must allow people to mock religions.
The new Orwellian direction that the policy has now taken is just about the worst reaction possible to Islamic intolerance. By promising to silence the critics of Islam using “Extremist Banning and Disruption Orders”, the Conservative government are handing victory to the terrorists. In a towering gesture of hypocrisy, this policy proposal comes not long after David Cameron’s attendance of the je suis Charlie rally in France that followed the massacre of cartoonists at the Charlie Hebdo magazine. Stéphane Charbonnier must be rolling in his grave.
Supposedly the rationale behind this new direction is that criticism of Islam will lead to hostility towards the Muslim population, which could lead to violence against them. Or if we are more honest with ourselves, perhaps it is that we must keep critics of Islam quiet because followers of the religion get very upset when Islam is criticized, and themselves may turn to violence? Whichever is the main motivation is immaterial. We have free speech because free speech allows us to criticize bad ideas. If we cannot criticize a religion that calls for those who try to criticize the religion to be killed, then we no longer have free speech. If the government were to silence the critics of Islam, then they would simply be doing the bidding of the Islamic terrorists whose goal is also to suppress that criticism. Free speech was not won by cowardice in the face of intimidation and aggression. We must take risks to preserve it.