Tolerance is one of the central tenets of liberalism; it is this value of respect and understanding that has created the multicultural society that British and other people in Europe enjoy today.

Yet last week’s terrorist attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket that saw 17 people murdered in cold blood will severely test the progressive values of liberalism. With the rallies against the ‘anti-Islamisation of Europe’ that hit the streets of Germany earlier in the week, it is clear that a permissive cloud of anti-Islam sentiment was bubbling below the surface and is now in danger of boiling over.

We have to accept that the liberal values of individualism, freedom of speech and freedom of expression are not shared by all. Indeed, some regard them as anathema and want to destroy them. As a result, we cannot be surprised that the frequent inflammatory words and cartoons that rolled off the Charlie Hebdo production lines resulted in disastrous, murderous retribution.

However, as Simon Jenkins said in the Guardian, freedom of speech bears the burden of testing the boundaries of taste and religious tolerance, and rightly so. Unfortunately, said Jenkins, the so-called ‘war on terror’ has realised the terrorists’ wildest dreams; western governments have torn up the liberties of their citizens – habeas corpus, legal process, freedom of speech – in a supposed effort to stop those who want to do harm to our society and its citizens.

Britain has never been free from terrorists – the extreme violence of the IRA is still fresh in the memory – but it is only the Jihadists of the 21st century who have provoked such an extreme reaction from Western governments. We now live in a society where respect for privacy and the rule of law means less and less; and it is all done in the name of the greater good.

Surely the path that we are currently on is a path to Orwellian authoritarianism, a place where they say if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear; it is not something that I or many others want to be a part of.

Yet just as we must not surrender the right to free expression, we must also not let these attacks fuel anti-Islam sentiment. Tolerance must not be given up because we have some kind of misguided and incorrect view that Muslims are to blame.

With the head of MI5 warning last week that a terrorist attack similar to the Charlie Hebdo massacre is highly likely to happen in Britain, the level-headed amongst us must prepare for a challenge to the social cohesion of our society.

Just because these terrorists claim to be killing in the name of Islam, the religion itself is no more to blame than fatherhood is to blame for abusive fathers. Indeed, Muslim integration, said Fraser Nelson in the Telegraph, has been a great British success story, and in the age of increasingly brutal terrorist attacks, the voices of mainstream, moderate Muslims are needed more than ever.

When the next attack does come, we must not only remember the above point, we need to also recognise that giving in to terror sets a standard and only pours fuel on the terrorists’ fire.


Harry Howard

Categories: Comment Opinion


The Paris attacks and liberalism

  1. I fundamentally disagree with a lot of this. Tolerance is yes, a very fundamental tenant of liberalism, and necessary etc. etc. Take that as read. And no, I don’t think that Europe is being ‘Islamified’ very much, whatever that means, and doesn’t really concern me. But I am concerned with the number of people like yourself who accord Islam the degree of respect that you do. It’s fundamentally a barbaric religion, as a lot of world religions are. I genuinely believe that religion acts as an ideology for some people, and acts as a motivation to commit acts of suppression and aggression in the name of a supernatural deity. As I said, I’m a big fan of tolerance, and I don’t think western societies should attempt to alienate or blame ordinary Muslims for the actions of a minority. But I think as a society we should recognise the religion as the dogmatic manifesto that it is, which is followed to the letter by some people, and not at all by others. Islam is a set of beliefs – not a race – while I don’t want people to be divided over what they believe in, I think it is important to remind ourselves of the distinction.

    Finally the idea that western governments have “torn up habeas corpus, the legal process and freedom of speech” is just utter tripe. Yes Blair was too authoritarian in dealing with the “war on terror” – agreed – but we are not a “path to Orwellian authoritarianism”… I hope!

  2. You seem to be implying that Muslims who follow the Qur’an directly could be driven to carry out a terrorist attack, that itself is both incorrect and inflammatory. The very word Islam translates as ‘peace’.

    You have also seemed to confirm the argument in the article which is that a violent person would be violent regardless of what religion they follow; don’t blame Islam because some extremely violent and dangerous individuals happen to claim to be Muslim.

    And you say that it is tripe that western governments are impinging on our freedoms, have a look at the US PATRIOT Act; it allows the state to imprison someone without charge or trial and without telling them why they are being held.

  3. It must be said that you wouldn’t get this kind of reaction from any other religion, and violence in the name of Islam is becoming increasingly common in the west, more so than any other religion.

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