Thursday, 24 July 2014

On 'right wing fundamentalism'...


It is commonplace to describe religious fundamentalism as 'conservative' or 'right-wing'. In one respect this is simply laziness, a sort of sloppy thought-process from left inclined folk who assume that, because they don't like what those religious folk are saying, they are 'right wing'. Here - and I'm not having a dig at Jonathan who is a sincere liberal, at least in the modern, leftist meaning of the term - is a good example:

However, this got me to thinking about whether there's a world where liberal fundamentals are considered to be the views of 'nutters'. We could argue that this was - and still is in China - the official line under communist regimes. But, it then struck me that we already live in a world where those who hold to the fundamentals of liberalism - all those things that start with the qualifier, "free" - are often considered to be slightly loopy.

As a society we have a hit and miss adherence to those things we had in our Bill of Rights and that the Americans' put in theirs - free speech, free assembly, free choice and so forth are more honoured in the breach than considered fundamental. And we allow for our legislators and our courts to limit and restrict these freedoms, these fundamentals of a liberal society.

I am reminded about the debate Bradford Council held under the helpful heading of 'Islamaphobia'. The motion put forward by Respect was a very lengthy exposition of  'islamaphobia' as a concept so as to provide a justification for new restrictions to those liberal fundamentals in the interests of a thing called 'community cohesion'. The Conservative Group, in respecting those liberal fundamentals, put down an amendment that replaced the lengthy motion with this:

"Bradford Council affirms its belief in free speech"

The amendment was defeated as Labour, Respect and Lib Dems voted against - preferring instead to support an amendment that sought to deny rights to speech where the subject was religion.

Our defending free speech was seen as 'unhelpful' rather than an assertion of principle. And we see this everywhere - in the enthusiasm for press regulation (by that mythical thing called an 'independent body'), in the locking up of people for being grossly offensive on social media and in the banning of protest and agitation. Oh and we see it in the banning of drinking outside and smoking inside.

Yet when people agitate in support of these fundamentals, especially people arguing for free speech and personal choice, terms like 'libertarian nutter' and 'right wing troll' pop up like mushrooms in a fairy ring. We say we support free speech but then join in the fray when some semi-celebrity screams about needing controls on social media. We sign petitions in favour of gagging the press because Stephen Fry doesn't want the newspapers to be nasty to his friends. And then, having done this, we call for the heads of essentially harmless Christians because they don't want to bake a cake for a gay wedding.

Another bunch of us want to stop people doing things we don't like, especially when we can claim they're bad for people's health and, worse still, cost the NHS money! So fast food shops are banned near schools, sugar taxes are proposed, smoking is forbidden almost everywhere and drinking outside is stopped. Yet we'll then proclaim our support for a 'free society' when we really means a 'free-to-do-what-we-allow-you-to-do society' which isn't the same thing at all.

I'm guessing that holding to the fundamentals of a religious faith in an essentially secular world is pretty hard work. But, if our faith is in those liberal principles written down in those bills of rights, it is just as hard. Defending free speech is easy when we agree with the speaker but a whole lot harder when that speaker is saying something unpleasant, offensive or disturbing. Speaking up for personal free choice is easy when its about the convenience of modern living but when some person makes a choice to abuse themselves it's much harder to stand by those principles.

If 'right wing' is the right term to apply to those who hold to the fundamentals of a given religious belief, it should also apply to every fundamentalist - including those strange people who are utterly consistent in defending liberal principles like free speech and free choice. And who set out their philosophy as:

"Don't hit people and don't take their stuff."  

If believing this makes you a right wing nut-job then count me in!


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