The comments that Donald Trump has made about Muslims entering the United States and the general reaction to them has epitomised all that is wrong with the rhetoric surrounding religious issues, especially freedom of expression.
Since the brutal Paris attacks by Daesh last month, there has rightly been wide condemnation of terrorism of all stamps. What I find worrying, however, is the rise, at the same time, of a feckless, militant secularism. Facebook politicians have told us that Islamist extremism has no religion while ubiquitously sharing the serially misattributed Voltaire quote (which was actually first put in print by the English writer S. G. Tallentyre in a 1906 biography) – the one about being prepared to die for a fellow person’s right to freedom of speech.
It cheers me up that so many otherwise engaged people bathe themselves in the glory of enlightenment values because they are just that, glorious, yet at the same time laugh and scoff at the multi-billionaire Republican candidate Donald Trump, when he opines some parochial nonsense about not allowing Muslims into the USA. It rather spoils the effect.
I sense some deep-seated double standards. When it comes to a solemn tragedy like Paris we rightly reiterate our commitment to the values and policies that make the UK and the USA great countries; but when it comes to the proposed policy solution of a polemical figure who happens to thrive on the phoney disgust directed at his perceived bigotry, we leap onto a bandwagon of condemnation.
Even the Prime Minister was at it.
This is the aspect of the Trump affair I find most bewildering – the establishment’s refusal to take Trump seriously – to the point of casting him as comical, as a parody of himself and a figure of fun. It is, however, to treat politics with contempt.
Politics, whether motivated by religion or secularism, is a serious matter. Should we be comfortable with this caricaturing of Donald Trump? Should we be comfortable about having a presidential candidate’s views and policies portrayed as so extreme and reactionary as to be laughed off?
I’m certainly not – not least because he could actually become the President of the hegemonic superpower that is the United States. To satirise him as David Mitchell did in his Guardian column, suggesting that, “The most dangerous thing we can do now is stop finding him funny” is a distraction to political discourse. I would suggest we should do exactly that, not only because he’s not funny, but also we will be in danger of falling into the clichéd scenario of listening to comedians and laughing at politicians.
We live in a nation of double standards. On the one hand you hear the reiteration of the value of freedom of speech and belief, mostly from patronising atheists who self-righteously sing to the tune of freedom of expression while coming down like a ton of bricks on anyone who dare challenge their liberal utopia, namely those with a wretched conservative moral outlook. This clash of horns becomes so bitter that it descends to accusations of one sort of phobia or another (Islamophobia being the most fatuous example). The result is a futile debate which, by its very nature, cannot provide a solution to any religious issue.
Then, we have situations that work in direct contrast to the above, the latest example being the widespread banning of an advert containing the Lord’s Prayer from cinemas around Britain, yes, it’s not a typo, Britain! There was absolutely no complaints about the advert, yet the Digital Cinema Media Agency – in a case of crying before it was hurt took it upon themselves to ban it on behalf of the British public. This is not freedom of speech, it is thought policing, and the essence of the totalitarianism the liberals purport to decry.
I say let Donald J. Trump in our country, let the advertisement run, and let’s start to employ a deep, serious and consistent brand of free speech in Britain – one of the countries that pioneered the concept in the first place.