In the struggle against terrorism what hope is there for free-speech?


Reports of  Theresa May’s speech at the Tory Party Conference are beginning to cause some concern. For while the British people are united behind efforts to counter violent terrorism, some commentators identity an important shift in the Home Secretary’s thinking. The words “terrorist” and “extremist” are often used in the same sentence, and certainly “terrorists” are “extremists” who use violence to bring about political change and to enforce their views on others. But some are taking this identification further insisting that non-violent extremism, though not illegal, is a ‘social ill that British society should be intolerant of.’ (from an internet blog)

But how do we define “extremism” and, if we are to be “intolerant” of views which are not our own, then what happens to the cherished British notion of “free speech”? I have the privilege of saying Mass for a group of (mainly) young people who provide a counselling service for women considering abortion. Since they are Catholics they hope to persuade women to embrace a solution which does not involve terminating the pregnancy. Their work includes prayer vigils outside abortion clinics. There are people in our society now who regard abortion as a women’s “right” and become angry and vociferous at any attempt to curtail this “right”. They have ample space in the media (listen for example to “Woman’s Hour”) to expound their views. To be anti-abortion is presented as “unacceptable”, hostile to women, and indeed a form of “violence”.

But this manipulation of language must be challenged. It is not “violent” to express views different from the mainstream (and indeed minority views may well become mainstream in 20 or 30 years time. If anyone had suggested thirty years ago that it would be possible for two men to “marry” his views would have been described as “extremist”, and “unacceptable” to the huge majority, including many gay men and women.)

Moreover, it is offensive to talk about religious extremism when our problem is violent Islamic terrorism. It is as silly as talking about “sport hooliganism” when we actually mean “football hooliganism”. We do not have to spend millions policing bowls matches, and as yet Centre Court at Wimbledon has not been invaded by rival fans wearing steel-capped plimsolls. Christians may well ask why it was so easy to talk about going to the help of Bosnian Muslims (and thank God we did) but much more of a problem talking about (let alone rescuing) the Christians of Syria.

Finally, the secular establishment in the UK needs to be much more open in acknowledging where our tradition of tolerance, free-speech, exchange of ideas, welcome and protection of minorities, actually comes from. It is not from secular atheism which has only Soviet Russia and Communist China to hold up as examples. Central to our way of life today is the conversion of this country to Christianity, a religion which has the image of the God-Man, broken, rejected and dying on the cross, at its heart. In the recovery and renewal of this faith lies our hope of freedom and of peace – and with it hearts captured by divine love and so able to reject extremist violence.


About Scott Anderson

Formerly an Anglican priest (ordained 1975) received into the Catholic Church in February 2012, and ordained to the Diaconate on 27th July 2013. I took early retirement, and divide my time between London and northern France. I am deeply committed to the Ordinariate as a gift of the Holy Spirit in the search for unity. Like many Ordinariate members I feel a personal gratitude to Pope Emeritus Benedict, together with loyalty to our Holy Father, Pope Francis. My blog tries to make a small contribution to the growth of the Ordinariate by asking questions (and proposing some answers) about the 'Anglican Patrimony'. I have always been fascinated by the whole issue of growth and decline, and therefore concerned for appropriate means of evangelisation in western Europe. I believe that the Holy Spirit is constantly renewing the People of God and that we must be open to him. My love of music and motorcycles will occasionally surface in my posts. On Saturday 19th October 2013, I was ordained to the Priesthood at Most Precious Blood, Borough, by the Most Revd Peter Smith, Archbishop of Southwark, for the service of the Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham. I continued to serve the Ordinariate group and Parish at Most Precious Blood until the end of 2014. Subsequently, I helped in the care of the Ordinariate Groups at Hemel Hempstead and Croydon, and in the Archdiocese of Southwark, until the beginning of September 2015. With the agreement of my Ordinary, Mgr Keith Newton, the Bishop of Amiens appointed me Administrator of the Parish of Notre Dame des Etangs (Pont Remy) in Picardie, France. This appointment is to last for a year, to give the Bishop the opportunity to assess the future of the parish.
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One Response to In the struggle against terrorism what hope is there for free-speech?

  1. Harry says:

    In general I’d say that 30 years late, Orwell’s ‘1984’ is here with a political elite and its manipulation of language – Newspeak – see Wkipedia here:
    Politicians have always been manipulators of language, in my immediate memory the euphemisms of the Nazi Party that were used to hide what was really happening and of course all the double speak of the communist parties in Europe, the Soviet Union and China, especially the catastrophe of the Great Leap Forward when millions died of starvation.
    Another factor is the rise of what has been called intolerant liberalism where the only right not defended is the right to disagree with the ‘message’. The problems that result are addressed by Fr Tomlinson in his blog:
    I can’t say that I always agree with him but I think the general point is made.
    Re abortion, sorry ‘a woman’s right to chose’, you probably heard the same Woman’s Hour this week as I did with a very aggressive member of the Green Party angrily defending this ‘right’ against the ‘violence’ of those who oppose it. What is always side-stepped is what leads to the pregnancy in the first place, where both partners have a choice and the use of abortion as a form of contraception. Interestingly, the same edition of Woman’s Hour also had an item on a contraceptive pill for men where the view was expressed that the man really shouldn’t have any say in whether or not the woman should become pregnant. More frightening however is the refusal to discuss or even consider the rights of the unborn child, when does it acquire a ‘right to choose’?
    As far as the media and many politicians go, there is an opinion that is very much in line with Dawkins view that religion is at the least harmful to society and so it is easier to say that religion is at the root of violence and extremism thus avoiding facing up to the possibility that it is politicians or those who would seize power that hijack religious differences as a means to dividing people and furthering their political ambitions. But religion is always a shorthand – I did grow up in N Ireland until the 1970’s where religious denomination was always considered a sure indication of political affiliation.

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