This week Mark Easton of the BBC put Anjem Choudhary, Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela in the same breath, pointing out that Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were extremists according to the political establishments of their time. James Bloodworth of the Independent, swiftly endorsed Easton’s view that we should defend Choudhary’s civil liberties. He stated in his article dated 15th May that Easton was correct to forge this oddball association of the monumental and the minor.
After all, why should we undermine our cherished right to express an alternate social and political viewpoint? Are we not playing into the hands of the far right if we permit these new Tory measures, (draconian as they appear), to curb Choudhary and his ilk? Bloodworth says, ‘We may absolutely despise the hate preacher’s ideas, but they’re still ideas’.
Yes. But they are not simply ideas.
Gandhi and Mandela both fought for civil liberties and human freedom. Choudhary himself despises the comparison, which he finds contemptuous, calling Gandhi and Mandela unbelievers, slated for hellfire. As for Choudhary, who is openly draconian and totalitarian, surely an intellectual association with the Nazi regime would be more accurate?
Nevertheless, Bloodworth makes a good point when he argues that the very freedom Cameron seeks to defend is jeopardised in his ‘defence’ of it.
BUT EXTREMISM IS AN ALL-PURPOSE TERM APPLICABLE TO A WIDE ARRAY OF IDEAS. AS IS “VOCAL OR ACTIVE OPPOSITION TO FUNDAMENTAL BRITISH VALUES”. FREE SPEECH IS REGULARLY NAMED BY THE PUBLIC AS THE MOST CHERISHED OF THE SO-CALLED BRITISH VALUES, YET CAMERON IS HAPPY TO SUPPRESS IT IN THE NAME OF SAFEGUARDING THE VALUES HE’S SUPPOSEDLY DETERMINED TO PROTECT. WOULD IT NOW BE CORRECT TO PHONE THE POLICE TO HAVE DAVID CAMERON ARRESTED FOR “OPPOSITION TO FUNDAMENTAL BRITISH VALUES”?
However, no democratic freedom is ever perfect and absolute. The media, both left and right, (if those two polarities truly exist), regularly suppresses ‘ideas’ that run contrary to its view of itself, and the society it seeks to portray. Moderate Muslims, those women and men of Islamic faith and opposed to Sharia Law, for example, are rarely given airtime on BBC, nor do they have a voice in the supposedly left-wing press. Our commentators would rather promote copy by airing the views, and defending the freedoms of tin-pot tyrants. In his complacent and rather smug analysis, Bloodworth opines, ‘We don’t arrest the eccentrics, crackpots and – more often – adolescents who espouse such ideas, because we grasp that they will never catch on and that their proponents will probably grow out of it’. Presumably, therefore, he would be in favour of the media’s continued courtship and promotion of Choudhary’s ideas.
Hitler too was a tin-pot tyrant. He too developed ‘harmless’ ideas; the insane, or if you prefer ‘eccentric’ notion that eradicating an entire ethnoreligious group of people, would be good for German society. After his failed coup in 1923, and in the ferment of Germany’s economic decay, Hitler’s crazy, crackpot ideas did indeed ‘catch on’. He became Chancellor in 1933 and immediately promulgated his rabid anti-Semitism to an indifferent, and even at times sympathetic Europe.
The result – among other death camps – was Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Treblinka, and most horrifying of all, Sobibor.
The interesting question is why do otherwise perceptive journalists fail to comprehend the link between ideas and political realities? ISIS is staring us in the face. Is there no link between this new totalitarian movement and social-political ideas fermented in Europe over the past 30 years?
Far from decrying the instinctive abhorrence to Easton’s erroneous association, Bloodworth ought to be examining Choudhary’s strange rise to prominence in the press. Where are the truly searching questions about his continued publicity, or his freedom to incite hatred under the guise of the famed ‘British tolerance’?
I agree that our civil liberties need to be rigorously protected and that Theresa May and David Cameron need to ponder carefully the implications of what they are about to propose. But the media needs to play its part in countering the extremist rhetoric and relegating the Sharia law campaign to the back seat of history, where it belongs. Giving intellectual credence to Choudhary and his ilk – as Mark Easton has done – is not the way to go.