Following the tragic events in Woolwich last week, the political rhetoric has taken its usual, predictable course. First of all came the ‘Keep calm and carry on’ style reassurances from the party leaders, who condemned the attacks whilst offering their condolences to the family and friends of the victim. Now, however, the words have moved from comfort to condemnation to crack down.
Politicians are lining up to offer a series of solutions which they believe will prevent such atrocities from happening in the future. Boris Johnson, in an article for the Daily Telegraph, declared that ‘…those who preach hate and violence must be arrested’ and that ‘The universities need to be be much, much tougher in their monitoring of Islamic societies.’
The Home Secretary, Theresa May, has proposed a string of measures, including banning hate preachers from appearing on television and requiring search engines such as Google to block extremist websites. A proposal to revive the Communications Data Bill, more commonly known as the “snoopers’ charter” also appears to be gaining support from the upper echelons of government and Parliament.
The problem with such proposals is that it represents a wider attitude held by politicians and others, that an extension of government power is the ultimate panacea for all our problems. It seems to be an almost instinctive reaction on their part. Before the dust has even settled, the legislation is already being drafted. But does the government really need these additional powers in order to combat these threats? Could these proposed augmentations to government power cause more harm than good?
We already have due process in this country. If the authorities suspect that someone is plotting an attack against us, then they should obtain a warrant from a magistrate in order to gather evidence that could then be used in a prosecution. Simply allowing government officials to monitor the communications of anyone without any checks on that power is an invitation for some individuals to abuse that power for their own ends.
It is worth mentioning at this point that MI5 was already aware of one of the Woolwich suspects before last week’s atrocity. Yet, despite this, they failed to act. Perhaps we should consider how effectively government agencies use the powers they already have before granting them new ones.
If the government, as some have suggested, begins gagging those that it disagrees with it will accomplish very little. In order to combat religious extremism, the arguments of Islamic hate preachers need to be refuted, not silenced. Keeping them hidden from view will only encourage their proponents to advance these views, and may even encourage others to listen.
When it comes to combating Islamic fundamentalism, there are no simple answers. What some have proposed merely disguises the symptoms, but they will not provide a cure. Vigorous criticism and refutation of fundamentalist arguments undoubtedly must be part of the strategy, but we must also look to ourselves.
So far, very few people have advanced the idea the this Islamic extremism may have something to do with a Western, largely American presence in the Middle East, which has at least contributed to the loathing of the West on the part of some Muslims.
If we claim that we are fighting extremism in order to defend our western values of freedom and tolerance then what we must not do is give in to the temptation to not practise what we preach. While the temptation to adopt these kind of measures might be overwhelming for some, to do so would only undermine our position further. These temptations should be resisted, not indulged.