Our free, democratic society is what makes us better than extremists. We do neither ourselves nor our values any favours by pretending that that freedom extends to tolerating – indeed, welcoming – people in our society who wish to destroy it. We all have a duty to make sure that we nurture and promote our British values wherever we can.
Nor do we do our values and society any favours by blurring the lines between what is and isn’t acceptable. That’s why I am against the death penalty, against control orders, and against torture. It is not by saying those things are ok sometimes that we stamp out their use around the world.
That is why the decision to stop funding and making excuses for extremist views is so important. It is in no way acceptable for anyone to excuse, let alone encourage, attacks on British troops. It is a key driver of our society that we all have opportunities – so education for girls is for all girls not just some.
One area where I do, however, differ is on engaging with the arguments put forward by extremists. I think there is a fine line to be trod between ensuring effective rebuttal and giving credibility but I think it should at least be attempted (for the same reasons I believe that the policy of No Platform to the BNP is ultimately counter-productive).
As Julian Astle wrote in his Telegraph blog yesterday afternoon, and as I have seen while working on various pro-democracy projects, simply saying “You’re wrong” is not the answer. You do need to point out the absurdities, the contradictions, the inanities of extremism (why else do you think so much was made of the supposed attempt by Usama Bin Laden to use his wife as a human shield, or the stash of porn found in his hideout?) otherwise it remains a credible creed.
But all this detail is masking a really important question. Why is it necessary for a government report to ask, to legislate, for responsible members of society to work together to counter extremism? I find it extraordinary that such a request has to be made. We all shape our own environment – and as the Big Society, localism and social mobility grow and empower us all, we will all have greater opportunities to do so. We all have a responsibility to think about what we want our society to be; it’s not the government’s job to do that for us.