Friday, May 21, 2010

'Progressive' Britain

It wasn't until I moved to the United States that I realized the term 'liberal' could be considered negative, or that 'progressive' was a politically dirty word. Part of this is how so-called 'liberals' and 'progressives' have acted in ways that aren't necessarily in keeping with the concept of the words.

Britain is a fine example of how 'progressive' and 'liberal' politics is sometimes anything but.

There have been a host of news stories recently that have demonstrated this; and reveal that the UK is only a 'liberal' place if the only freedoms you wish to express are the 'approved' ones.

Take the story of 42-year-old David McAlpine, for example. He is a Baptist preacher, and spends his free time sermonizing from a stepladder in Cumbria - warning against the dangers of Biblical sins like blasphemy and drunkenness.

Earlier this month, while taking a short break from his stepladder, a curious passerby inquired about his thoughts on homosexuality - something he notably hadn't opinionated about during his sermon. In private conversation with this shopper, he admitted that he personally considered homosexuality to be a Biblical sin.

But clearly not privately enough, as The Daily Telegraph reports that McAlpine's remarks were "overheard by others" and a nearby Police Community Support Officer - one of those volunteer policemen we have in the UK - arrested him for causing "harassment, alarm and distress."

McAlpine was handcuffed, taken down to the local police station in the back of a police van and charged under the 1986 Public Order Act.

And that's just wrong.

Don't get me wrong - I find David McAlpine's opinions as offensive as anybody. I strongly disagree with them and I'm not defending what he believes remotely. However, I was under the impression that he had the right to believe it.

Apparently, in the UK at least, I was mistaken.

McAlpine's words might have been offensive, but they were no crime. He wasn't advocating violence or repression against gay people - he was simply stating that he, personally, believed that homosexuality was a sin according to the Bible. What's more, that's an arguable theological point as some interpretations of scripture do suggest that God was against homosexuality.

So to arrest him for expressing his belief? Absolutely, indefensibly wrong. It's not even as if he was touting his nonsense to a stranger who didn't want to hear it - his private conversation was merely overheard by others.

But even if he was sermonizing about the scriptural sin of homosexuality, you still shouldn't be arrested for it. Isn't there 'freedom of speech' or something? Freedom of religious expression? Not in England, of course.

Two years ago, police threatened to charge two American Christians with 'hate crimes' because they were handing out leaflets about their church in what an officer from the West Midlands Police declared to be a 'Muslim Area.'

"He said we were in a Muslim area and were not allowed to spread our Christian message," said 48-year-old Arthur Cunningham, one of the Christians threatened with arrest. "He said we were committing a hate crime and said that he was going to take us to the police station."

You can read about it in the Daily Telegraph.

This wouldn't even be so much of an issue if Britain was at least consistent with this sort of behavior. The problem is, it always seems aimed at Christians. When similar issues about religion crop up involving Muslims, Brits turn their eyes towards their toes and awkwardly shuffle their feet about - like when the principal of a Muslim private school in London gleefully admitted that his school used textbooks which describe Jews as "apes" and Christians as "pigs" and refused to withdraw them.

This is presumably because Brits are terrified of offending our ever-growing community of Muslim countrymen, because as our Dutch compatriots discovered, Muslims get a little stabby when people disparage the 'religion of peace.'

Last year, Dutch politician Geert Wilders was refused entry to the United Kingdom because of Fitna, a documentary he'd produced which explored "the Koranic sources of Islamist extremism and violence."

Basically, a theological piece which explained which parts of the Qu'ran were used by radical Muslim extremists to justify the violent acts they committed in the name of Islam.

The British government explained their decision thus: "The Secretary of State is of the view that your presence in the UK would pose a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat to one of the fundamental interests of society." Read about it here.

But while we're at it, lets not forget that Britain's not too comfortable with non-religious thought if it strays beyond the boundaries of what's considered 'progressive' or 'liberal.'

Perhaps the most laughable - bitter, grim laughs, that is - example of Britain's illiberal pursuit of 'liberalism' occurred last May, when the British government published a list of foreigners barred from entering the United Kingdom for "fostering extremism or hatred."

One of them was American radio show host Michael Savage - who has a wildly popular conservative talk radio show on America's west coast.

His 'crimes' included calling the Qu'ran a 'book of hate' and suggesting that kids with autism were 'just brats.' His name was amongst jailed murderers, Muslim extremists and terrorists.

Now, Savage is not a very likable chap at all - I find much of what he says offensive - but Savage had a very valid point when he responded to the British ban by saying:

"They're linking me with mass murderers who are in prison for killing Jewish children on buses? For my speech? In the country where the Magna Carta was created?"

I've actually listened to Michael Savage's show, and like all of the examples I've given above, I don't agree with what he says. I even find some of it wildly offensive, and want to scream things at the radio - but it strikes me that in a free country he has every right to say them.
  • I don't believe homosexuality is a Biblical sin, but I don't believe you can arrest somebody for saying that it is, either.
  • I am an Atheist, and my non-belief extends to not believing that you can arrest people for handing out leaflets urging people to go to their Church.
  • I don't believe that the Qu'ran actually encourages violence or hatred, but I don't think you can bar somebody from entering a country for making that argument.
  • And I believe autism is a real disease, but I don't believe you can bar somebody from the country for claiming that it's not.
I don't believe any of those things; but I do believe it's a basic, fundamental cornerstone of a free and democratic society to allow people to express those ideas if they believe them.

After all, arresting people for saying that homosexuality is a sin, or banning people from entering the country for claiming the Qu'ran is a 'book of hate' doesn't actually change the fact that they believe it.

The only way you can ever change people's minds is by engaging them in discussion - and that's something 'liberal' and 'progressive' Britain is becoming far too fascist to allow.


One Salient Oversight said...

British Labour was certainly no friend to progressivism. Mired in the attitudes of old socialism while apparently embracing the "centre" under Blair, they morphed into reactionary populism, which of course ends up leading towards authoritarianism: People being arrested for taking photos; CCTV cameras everywhere; a national ID card being seriously considered.

Who knows whether the Conservatives will agree to the Lib Dems demands of less intrusive laws. But those who have libertarian urges had no choice but to not vote Labour.

Susanne said...

Great post! I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this.

Andy said...

Good piece, Roland. And, OSO's comment gives even more insight.

Honestly, I have not followed closely Brit politics. But, I do get the news stories about the events you mentioned.

I really didn't have anything to add. Just wanted to tell you I read it, and learned something.

BTW: My 4th son is autistic. I KNOW it is a real thing. I don't know if I'd use the word "disease." Maybe "affliction," but that's just splitting hairs.


Lloydie said...

I think I'm reasonably qualified to comment on this one.

I'm a liberal (small and big L)
I consider myself a progressive (just a small p thanks)
I'm a Christian
I'm gay

You know what? There is nothing about the points in this blog that I can disagree with. The only thing I will point out is that these very illiberal acts to which you point are the direct result of the Labour Party's 13 years in power.

Whether it be ID cards, or the anti-terror laws they misused to restrict freedoms, the Labour Government had nothing progressive or liberal about them at all. As someone who is proud that real liberals are now sharing power in the UK, I'm delighted to see that some of these ridiculous laws are already being over-turned.

Your point about winning the argument is truly what "free" society is all about. We do not win against intolerance by arresting people we don't agree with. We win when we expose the lack of logic in their arguments.

Once again - wonderful bloggings