Tuesday, June 7, 2011

War on Extremism?

There is nothing quite so disconcerting as waking up to bad news on the radio.  This morning the source happened to be Newshour on the BBC World Service, which I continue to monitor regularly through my satellite radio subscription.  The story in question, which also appears on the BBC News Web site, concerns a pending statement from Home Secretary Theresa May that the British government needs to implement a more proactive set of anti-extremism measures in the interest of national security.  The motivation seems to be that the measures in place are both inefficient and ineffective;  but, given all the evidence that has accumulated about the ineffectiveness (not to mention wrongheadedness) of our own “Global War on Terror,” one would have hoped that even the British Conservatives would have done a better job of taking stock of their current situation.

What is most depressing is May’s accusation that British universities are being complacent in doing their part to wipe out Islamist extremism.  One wonders just where the line exists between complacency and open-mindedness.  Most telling, however, is the caption for a video clip on the Web page for this story:

Baroness Neville-Jones:  It is not all right to “actively to assist and advocate those who are advocating quite different values.”

Disregarding the grammatical muddle, this is quite a position to take;  but it may help us to understand why the government mindset differs so radically from that of the universities.  Granted, Great Britain may not have their own strict equivalent of our First Amendment;  but I suspect that there is no shortage of British academics who both understand and appreciate the “biography” of that amendment written by Anthony Lewis under the title Freedom for the Thought That We Hate.

May’s proposals amount to the foundation for a “thought police” designed to protect Britain from “the thought that we hate” in the name of a difference of values.  Here, again, we may find an interesting parallel between Great Britain and the United States.  Through globalization both countries have cultivated a new market-based culture in which, as I have previously suggested, all values of substance have been dismantled.  What may be most frightening about the sorts of extremists that May has in mind is that they have strongly held values within countries that have none at all.  So, rather than trying to restore the values we have lost, which these days seem to be taken more seriously by Arab Spring rebels, and recognize that they are strong enough to prevail over the values of terrorism, we end up playing into the hands of terrorist ideologues, taking the situation they wish to change and making it even worse.  Will this strategy really improve the security of American and British citizens?

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