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.