When Rudolph Giuliani was mayor of New York City, he took an approach to criminology called “Broken Windows”, generating respect for the law by prosecuting the smallest infractions.
Focusing only on major crime and tolerating petty crime and vandalism, a culture of disrespect for the law and those who enforce it developed, lead to more and more serious crime, according to Giuliani’s thought. The Broken Windows policy was a resounding success — New York hasn’t been a byword for rampant crime for nearly twenty years now — and so it can be with community-based activist Islamism
Last Monday’s announcement by Theresa May “we have tolerated extremism too long” was a heartening first step. Because as with crime in the bad old days of New York City, until now we have tolerated just about anything up to actual loss of life from terrorism. But what she said goes a lot deeper than that.
The root cause of creeping tolerance of Islamist utterances is our own lack of cultural self-respect, itself born out of self-effacing good manners mixed with postmodern relativism.
Faced with an unwillingness even to take our own position in an argument, Islamists smell victory. With every small win, comes a new demand, with their explicitly stated goal of total subservience to their world view always hanging in the background.
In any counter-insurgency operation, not only must the ruthlessness of the jihadists’ leadership be matched, but the ideology of Islamism – defined as the effort to impose any form of Islam over others – must also be challenged at every step.
Part of that process should include a polite refusal to make any accommodation on the basis of religious demands in the secular space.
Neuroscientist and author Sam Harris said, “If your free expression of religion requires that I follow any of its tenets, then that is not freedom of religion, that’s theocracy.” He’s right.
It starts with a request for halal food at school canteens as an option for Muslim kids. Fair enough.
But before long, demands come to make all school food halal, assuming we shouldn’t care.
And many have been taught to loathe their own culture so much that they don’t. They give in.
I have heard of an instance of a nine year-old school child bullying others for eating pork in front of her. She even roped her teacher into apologising for saying the word “pig” in class. One parent wouldn’t stand for it and wrote letters to the principal. Other parents were angry but felt powerless to act.
Without mentioning Islam or Muslims, the matter was approached as a bullying issue which, after one or two hiccoughs, was stopped in its tracks. The principal took the episode as an opportunity to educate the children about the enlightenment concept of freedom of expression.
I work in a public hospital, another place where religious accommodation shouldn’t be made.
We have a very high standard of respect for all patients, regardless of background. Some time ago, a hospital I work at received a letter weeks in advance of a Caesarean section, requesting all-female staffing on the basis of the patient’s religion.
We discussed it at a departmental level and decided not to comply.
On the day he was told, with unfailing politeness, that secular hospitals make no accommodation for religion and that his wife would be given the same high level of respect for her modesty as any other lady.
He insisted; an Arabic interpreter was sought to speak with his wife directly. She was reassured and then asked to consent specifically for the male anaesthetic registrar to place her spinal anaesthetic. You know what happened? Nothing, apart from a healthy baby and mother, that is. There was no complaint.
Non-compliance need not be a loud, or “uncomfortable conversation”, as May termed it.
It’s a matter of believing in what we stand for, knowing deep down that we do already treat people with respect. It means holding fast to the reality that we are a very tolerant and open people, but that tolerance has its limits, and then quietly enforcing those limits. If we lack self-belief in our own civilisation, why should we expect others to respect it?
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