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End this craven indulgence of the religious fanatics

End this craven indulgence of the religious fanatics

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Telegraph, UK
Date: March 15, 2009
URL: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/telegraph-view/4992240/End-this-craven-indulgence-of-the-religious-fanatics.html

By not confronting the extremists who protest against our soldiers, ministers have helped them to flourish.

The sight of British troops recently returned from Iraq being viciously insulted by a group of Islamist radicals as they marched through Luton on a welcome home parade has rightly angered and offended many people. This includes the majority of British Muslims, who have been at pains to stress their loyalty to this country and its institutions. The disgraceful protest represented no-one and nothing except the Islamists and their bigoted vision of a Britain in which democracy is replaced by the rule of mullahs and Sharia law, and in which the personal freedoms which define our society - and which most Muslims prize - have been extinguished.

Anger at the Islamists' behaviour has led one Tory MP to propose extending the Religious Hatred Act - which makes it an offence to insult Muslims or to make derogatory and insulting comments about Islam - so that insulting a British soldier on active service would also be an offence. While we sympathise with the emotion behind that proposal, we do not think that further restrictions on free speech are called for. The British Army is not an institution in need of special protection, and it has a venerable tradition of being able to defend itself against, indeed to shrug off, concerted protests against it. It would in any case be difficult to frame a law that would not also have the effect of curbing the legitimate and traditional right of British citizens to demonstrate against wars they do not support. If consistency is to be achieved in the law, then we believe that the best way to do it is to repeal, or at least to diminish, the provisions of the Religious Hatred Act - not to extend them so as to make martyrs out of a few offensively stupid fanatics.

In the battle against Muslim extremism in Britain, there are anyway more urgent, and more important, tasks for the Government. As Ed Husain points out in these pages today, Labour's strategy for opposing violent Islamic extremism has failed in its central task: to diminish the appeal of fundamentalism to a small, but apparently growing, minority of young men who, far from conforming to the stereotype of being "marginalised and disadvantaged by British society", are often well educated and from privileged backgrounds. Part of the reason for that failure has been the mistaken belief that it is possible to "engage" with the penumbra of groups who do not directly advocate terrorism in Britain, but who call for the destruction of Israel, who support jihad against British troops abroad, and who insist that laws passed by a secular government can never have the same authority for a Muslim as the commands of religion. By not confronting that extremist ideology, but rather tolerating it - indeed almost recognising it as a "legitimate" point of view - ministers have helped it to flourish.

There is a battle being fought within Government on whether that strategy - which Mr Husain, who knows the extremist movement from the inside, believes to be a form of appeasement - should be replaced with a more aggressive and more robust defence of British values. That defence begins with an insistence that a condition of "engagement" with any Islamist group must be its recognition that an acceptance of the rule of democracy and secular law in Britain is not negotiable. Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary, is apparently lobbying for precisely that change to be a central part of Contest 2, the White Paper which will set out the Government's new strategy for dealing with Islamist extremism in Britain. But she is being opposed by some of the more timid officials in Whitehall, who wish to continue with the failed policy of pretending that if we talk politely and show respect to the extremists, they will go away. That is a dangerous delusion. Miss Blears must win her battle with the appeasers inside Whitehall. If she does not, the Government will never win the war with the Islamist terrorists outside it.

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