From the British volunteers fighting against Franco’s fascist Spain, to Churchill’s defiance of Hitler’s Nazi Germany, British liberals have a rich history of defending their principles and opposing divisive ideologies. But have they opposed Islamist fascism with the same amount of vigour?
A UK faction of the German far-right group, Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida), recently staged its inaugural British demonstration in Newcastle. Attracting a far greater amount of support was a counter-demonstration under the umbrella ‘Newcastle Unites’: a collection of anti-fascist individuals and organisations. Labour politician and MP for Newcastle Central, Chi Onwurah, declared that the event “merits a legacy” after thousands united in opposition to Pegida’s values and anti-Islamic rhetoric. Demonstrations by other far-right groups, such as the English Defence League (EDL), are frequently countered by many on the Left and far-Left, with Unite Against Fascism and similar organisations often leading the charge. But despite the many commendable achievements and continued efforts of the Left in combating the bigotry and divisiveness of the Far Right, there remains a pernicious ideology that liberals and leftists alike have conspicuously failed to condemn and denounce: Islamist fascism.
Lost at sea: the Left’s broken moral compass
Fascism is the antithesis of Liberalism. It is therefore ironic, and deeply troubling, that many liberal-leftists have failed to oppose both violent and non-violent Islamist fascism with the same amount of vigour shown towards other forms of extremism. There was the Trojan horse scandal, where many criticised the Birmingham school investigations as nothing more than a “witch-hunt”; Universities UK (UUK) endorsing gender segregation at various university events. I could go on.
Of the many examples of the Left’s failing in this regard, one of the most illuminating was the response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. Freedom of expression, the bedrock of any liberal and civilized society, was attacked. Yet rather than condemn the perpetrators of this abhorrent crime, many chose to criticise and vilify the cartoonists, accusing them of being insensitive, provocative and irresponsible. Others, such as writer and comedian, Will Self, wrote on the “responsibilities” that come with the right to freedom of speech:
Our society makes a fetish of “the right to free speech” without ever questioning what sort of responsibilities are implied by this right.
While seemingly thoughtful and considered, Self’s sentiment is deceptive; tacitly advocating for individuals to engage in self-censorship as not to offend other members of society. This is illiberalism posing as liberal thought and ‘respect for others’. An individual has the right to be offended. There is no right not to be offended. Homosexuality may offend or upset particular members of a society, but hurt feelings do not trump fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
In an open letter, political director of the Huffington Post UK, Mehdi Hasan, wrote on what he considered to be the “double standard” of liberals when giving offence:
Has your publication, for example, run cartoons mocking the Holocaust? No? How about caricatures of the 9/11 victims falling from the twin towers?
Any true liberal would surely be shocked by Hasan’s scandalously false analogy. The Holocaust, one of the vilest events in all human history, saw 6 million Jews perish merely for the crime of being Jewish. On September 11th 2001, close to 3000 innocent lives were killed when Al-Qaeda operatives hijacked passenger jets and flew them into prominent US landmarks. These are barbaric acts, and are in no way comparable to the drawing of mere images. The cartoonists, armed only with pens, ridiculed a particular faith and its founder. Religious beliefs are based on ideas, and no idea should be shielded from criticism or be above satire.
Gita Sahgal’s bitter departure from the human rights organisation, Amnesty International, was another particularly revealing example of the Left’s faltering moral compass. The dispute – over Amnesty’s ties to Islamist pressure group, CAGE – further highlights the Left’s moral bankruptcy and need to reaffirm its values and principles. Only through much negative media attention and pressure from the Charity Commission has Amnesty been forced to cut its links with the controversial advocacy group.
Criticisms and concerns of the Right and Far Right’s frequent homogenisation and stereotyping of Muslims are legitimate. Groups such as Pegida often engage in gross generalisations, depicting all Muslims as anti-Western or apologists for terror. UKIP MEP Gerard Batten, the party’s immigration spokesman, recently renewed his call for all British Muslims to sign a charter against violence. Batten also proposed that, if elected as Mayor of London, he would refuse all planning applications for any new mosques:
No more mosques could be built in London until there is a place of non-Muslim worship in Mecca and Medina.
It is therefore astounding that many on the Left often indulge in a similar style of homogenisation. Speaking in response to the attacks in Paris, Respect MP George Galloway said:
These are pornographic, obscene insults to the Prophet and by extension, 1.7billion human beings on this earth and there are limits.
The implication that the World’s 1.7 billion Muslims are a homogenised block, all taking offence in the same manner and unable to think individually or independently from one another, is a deeply patronising and lazy sentiment. As well as the Sunni majority, there is Shi’a Islam and many other schisms and factions within the religion. Galloway’s statement also lends credence to the notion that to be Muslim is to subscribe to the concept of blasphemy; further isolating progressive, liberal Muslims and doing a great deal of disservice to other dissenting voices within the community.
A reassertion of values and the need to occupy the middle ground
Whether down to the paralysis of cultural relativism, the guilt of our past imperialism and colonialism, mistakes in foreign policy, or fear of being perceived as intolerant, liberals are refusing to defend core principles and values. We must reassert these values and occupy the middle ground: confronting both anti-Muslim prejudice and far-right, Islamist fascism and its sympathisers. There can be no ambiguity. Failing to do this will only serve the Far Right’s agenda and play further into their hands.
Ignoring Islamist extremism in the name of respect for difference will only fuel racism more by feeding the Far Right’s victimhood narrative.