I have just read a very presentable booklet, which despite its gloss and size carries an important message (it took me all of two minutes to do so) by the Christian Institute, titled “The Little Book of Non-Violent Extremists” (downloadable here). It begins: “This little booklet makes the big point that some non-violent ‘extremists’ turn out to be heroic people of global significance. These were people willing to be in a minority of one. Who shook up the consensus of the day. How glad we are that they did. The Government wants to introduce a law to silence non-violent extremists who show “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values”. Our little list of heroes could easily have breached this threshold were it in place in their day. They stood firmly against violence, yet were vilified as extremists who incited violence and revolution. Their beliefs were so out of kilter with the thinking of the time that all were accused of breaching fundamental values in some way or other. They were victims of the most appalling violence yet didn’t hit back. They practised what they preached”.
In its press release it makes the point: “If these pioneers were campaigning in the UK today, they could well be labelled extremists once again under the Government’s current counter-extremism proposals. The Government wants to introduce a new law to silence people it deems to be non-violent extremists. These are people classified as showing “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values”. The Government’s dangerously vague language on extremism means that simply holding socially conservative beliefs could mean Christians are identified as potential extremists. Proposed Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs) could have lead to our list of heroes being gagged or punished if they were alive today. But sometimes unpopular ideas are just what a society needs. Ideas that rail against the politically correct views of the age, put forward by people once thought seditious or even dangerous. Democracy needs dissent, and silencing it undermines the very foundations of a free society”.
The list of Non-Violent Extremists given in the book are all well known and are by no means all Christian. As the book points out, they were opposed by persons of influence of the time. Many were vilified and suffered for their efforts, but persisted in what they saw as a just cause. Most of us who have thought about the matter could well come up with additional names. One friend lamented the fact that LBGT rights activist, Peter Tatchell, was not included, to which I responded that given his past actions he did not carry favour with the Christian Institute. Even so, few would disagree with those they did choose or fail to recognise that their actions has had a profound and positive effect on human development and societal well being:
- Rosa Parks: Civil rights
- Martin Luther King: Civil rights
- Mahatma Gandhi: Father of a nation
- Harriet Beecher Stowe: Anti-slavery
- William Tyndale: Bible translation
- John Bunyan: Freedom of religion
- Lord Shaftesbury: Serving the poor and marginalized
- Josephine Butler: Child protection
- William Wilberforce: Anti-slavery
- John Wesley: Revived a nation
- Tolpuddle Martyrs: Trade Union rights
- Robert Raikes: Founded Sunday Schools
- William Booth: Founded the Salvation Army
Even a secular newspaper like the Independent has thrown doubt on whether the measures that were put forward by the Cameron government in the last Queen Speech would prove effective: ““A leading anti-extremism group has criticised the Government’s proposed Extremism Bill, arguing that its measures could make matters worse and are based on a flawed strategy. The Bill, officially announced in the Queen’s Speech, would see people with convictions for so-called “hate speech” and other extremism related offences subject to restrictions on their employment. But the think-tank Quilliam, which has previously worked with the Government on counter-extremism strategy, said the new laws would likely drive extreme Islamists underground and make it more difficult to challenge their narrative. Young people who question Government ‘may be extremists’ “Banning will send these groups underground and make it harder for liberals to win the battle of ideas,” a spokesman for the organisation said. “The Queen’s Speech is part of a wider strategy seeking to legislate against danger. We cannot legislate away ideas, but we can challenge them. “Investing in effective counter messaging and opposition groups to extremism is far more effective than banning.” The group warned that the proposals amounted to a drift towards the “totalitarian” and that the heavy-handed approach would play into the hands of extremists who sought to exploit grievances. “By banning extremism we play into the extremist narrative of victimhood and ‘the nanny state’. Challenge ideas, don’t ban them,” he said.”
When the government decided to stop search and rescue operations to deter refugees trying to escape by sea from coming into Europe, as far as I was concerned they lost any moral authority to determine British values. While I recognize that extremists can be dangerous and extremism needs to be curbed, I fear the sledge hammer to crack a nut legislation being proposed will not have the desired effect of curbing dangerous extremism but will have the undesirable effect of gagging or inconveniencing the non-violent extremists, the very people who do so much good in society and need encouraging. I for one will carry on being a non-violent extremist as the main, maybe only, way of making the difference that matters.