Friday, February 04, 2011

muscular liberalism

So David Cameron has come out of the closet. He is a muscular liberal. In a speech this weekend he espouses "muscular liberalism" as the acceptable way forwards for a complex 21st Century British Society. Multiculturalism, with its "you do your thing & I'll do mine" is dead. There are certain things we all have to hold dear.

What are they?

The Telegraph report says the following:

Entering the debate on national identity and religious tolerance, the Prime Minister will declare an end to “passive tolerance” of divided communities, and say that members of all faiths must integrate into wider society and accept core values.
To be British is to believe in freedom of speech and religion, democracy and equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality, he will say. Proclaiming a doctrine of “muscular liberalism”, he will say that everyone, from ministers to ordinary voters, should actively confront those who hold extremist views.
He will also warn that groups that fail to promote British values will no longer receive public money or be able to engage with the state.
 Three things:

 1. This is printed in the Telegraph as a swipe at extreme Islam. But it is aimed at "all faiths". Just this week there has been an attempt in Parliament to make the Church of England accept women bishops on equality grounds. Fair enough, but Parliament and secular thinking shouldn't ever have the power to set the faith or practice of any church (even if they are right). "Core Values" are tricky things, after all. Mr Cameron's and Mr Miliband's aren't quite the same. Ask Mrs Miliband. Oops, you can't just yet. But they will be married soon.

2. "To be British is..." complete this sentence and post in to BBC Broadcasting House etc etc. In the US it would have Mom's Apple Pie in there somewhere. And guns (depending where you live). Here it's the NHS or Foxhunting. These "rights" of course don't actually exist, so nice trendy additions are easy to put in there. I like his additions, and I'd put them in myself - and of course they are there because he is arguing against intolerance. Liberalism versus Extremism. But then he might as well say it's more British to be Middle Class than poor or posh.

3. Agreed. If people refuse to accept British standards, they should not have access to State funds. Absolutely. Unfortunately this is so open to abuse I regret it enormously. Secular Fundamentalists (who will embrace the "muscular liberal" tag) will seize upon this as an opportunity to refuse all State money to any religious group. They'll seize upon anything to achieve that end...

And yet... He's right, even if he's walking a dangerous road. Any faith that is about building up communities of love has to be about building together, not seperating. We have our distinctives, but in a common society we are not ringfenced ghettos and should not try to either portray ourselves as such or make ourselves such. There are core values in a society, and when we in the faith communities can work with them (even when they are "the Spirit of the Age" and not exactly to our own taste) we should. We are community builders par excellence. Cameron's call is for faith communities not to sit to the side but to play a full part - we are to embrace this.  Freedom of speech for all is surely vital (and unquestionable), and it is not just those of an extremist Islamic background that suffer clipped wings here. Evangelicals who disagree with the standard harsh line vocal members of their religious party preach on sexuality simply stay quiet - it's safer. Respect is about being able to discuss all things without fear, and Cameron is talking about that freedom as a core value. Tick, as far as I can see, and as far as I can see, most religious communities struggle with this somewhere. Freedom of speech isn't the same as licence to be disrespectful - to say stupid and angry things, but it is to allow openness and thoughtful debate. Questions grow faith.

So I am ambivalent. I agree with his call for people of faith to work together and to play a full part in society; but fear any society that would limit my faith (and therefore any faith) from setting its own path by saying it is "unpatriotic", and by having power to change that definition at will.

That indeed is muscular, but not very liberal.

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