In the lead-up to the 2015 UK election, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband cheerily announced his intention to outlaw “Islamophobia” if he won (he didn’t).
“We are going to make it an aggravated crime. We are going to make sure it is marked on people’s records with the police to make sure they root out Islamophobia as a hate crime.”
Post-election, newly re-elected prime minister David Cameron took one step further in the opposite direction, announcing a new counter-extremism bill handing powers to police and government ministers to limit the “harmful activities” of individuals and groups deemed a “threat to democracy,” with additional powers to close religious schools found teaching views intolerant of other religions.
The announcement¹ came couched in language so vague and totalitarian to make George Orwell swell with pride/roll in his grave.
“For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.”
These vastly differing views on Islam point to a crisis in British politics about how to deal with the threat posed by religious extremism. On one hand, the view that Islam is beyond reproach. On the other, that otherwise law-abiding Muslims be treated with suspicion. Both would curtail the rights of British citizens for the purpose of creating a more tolerant society, and both would do well to consider these questions.
• For saying Islam has a problem with extremism, is Cameron guilty of Islamophobia?
• For attempting to suppress criticism of Islam, does Miliband qualify as an extremist?
Orwell coined the term “doublethink” to describe the ability to hold two mutually contradictory beliefs simultaneously. Considering the current state of British politics, he would be proud indeed. Or aghast. Or both.
¹As cleverly illustrated by comic book enthusiasts, these ominous words are fairly convincing in the metal mouth of Doctor Doom.