The doublethink of counter extremism.
Also among our distinct, British values are of course hypocrisy, humbuggery, obsequiousness to foreign despots so long as they are on our side and doublethink, the ability as Orwell described it to "hold two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accept both of them". Cameron and the Tories do then believe deeply and sincerely in our distinct British values, while at the same time welcoming with open arms a leader who has further cracked down upon freedom of speech and opposition to one-party rule in both China and Hong Kong. Our relationship is being hailed as going through a "golden era", and any objections from either human rights blitherers or the Americans, concerned as ever about security rather than our economic well-being, can be dismissed out of hand. You've got to be a realist about these things, is the message being sent, even if ministers themselves cannot be so blunt.
In a similar way, at the very heart of the government's Counter-Extremism Strategy is a contradiction. According to David Cameron we have built something truly extraordinary in this green and pleasant land: "a successful multi-racial, multi-faith democracy ... more vibrant, buoyant and diverse than ever before in our history." And yet this successful, vibrant and diverse democracy is threatened more than it has ever been not by a foreign nation state, but by extremism. Extremism which according to Theresa May is "operating at an unprecedented pace and scale". Not at such an unprecedented pace and scale that either May or Cameron can point to events in this country itself as proof, as they remain lacking. Instead, flagged up is Islamic State in Syria, the attacks in Paris in January and the attack in Tunisia in June.
Don't however take my word for it. Included as evidence to just how popular and pervasive extremist material is are a few stats. Quoted is a neo-Nazi group which we're told has 1,500 followers on Twitter, and the video of a Syria-based UK terrorist viewed over 55,000 times. Videos (note the plural) by both far-right groups and Islamist preachers have been viewed more than 5,000 and 59,000 times respectively. Not included is just how many of these viewers or followers are actually from the UK, but you get the point, or rather don't. Hate crime since 2010 has risen as overall crime has fallen, but it's not clear whether this is down to better recording and people being more willing to come forward or if there has been a true increase in intolerance, which is not the same thing as extremism in any case.
By historical standards, the idea that either violent Islamism or the few remaining knuckledraggers on the extreme right pose any sort of threat to the life of the nation is laughable. If anything, it's an insult to the people who lived through the age of totalitarianisms that are still with us to suggest these are more dangerous times, or that our new enemies are operating at an "unprecedented pace and scale". Adherents to the "ideology" of extremist Islamism, as though there are a coherent set of beliefs behind the working of Islamic State (to be clear, there very much is a coherent ideology behind al-Qaida style Islamism, just as there is behind the Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas Islamism, whereas Islamic State makes it up as it goes along) as opposed instead to what Mao described as all "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun", may be operating at such a scale, but that is not by any means the same thing.
This is not to suggest that extremism, racism or other kinds of discrimination are not serious problems. They are, and will without doubt remain so. We are however far more resilient than governments and the media almost ever give us credit for. While there is much to potentially take issue with in the introduction to the document on how we became this successful democracy, the fact is that while true representative parliamentary democracy is a relatively new innovation, it has often been thanks to the people themselves rather than governments that we have arrived at where we are now. Incidentally, the introduction also states that our values are not exclusive to Britain, which rather puts the whole kibosh on the entire "British values" the government is so determined to bang on about.
Not that such chauvinism is surprising when so many of the proposed solutions to the problem of extremism are to in fact either limit liberty or restrict freedom of speech. Interestingly, freedom of speech is not mentioned as one of our fundamental values, probably because we have long rejected the wacky Americans and their wacky interpretation of the concept. Considering also that David Cameron was so keen to flag up in particular the continuing discrimination that Muslims face in his conference speech, it seems somewhat odd that one of the recommendations is a full review of the potential for "entryism" in state institutions. The "Trojan Horse" affair, where any evidence for pupils being moulded into extremists, let alone radicalised is still lacking, is the justification. It's not clear why extremists would want to infiltrate the NHS, to pick up on just one other possible example, but we can no doubt rest assured this will not turn into a search for jihadists under the hospital bed. Also confirmed is that the government will attempt to ban extremist organisations that promote hatred and draw people into extremism but do not break the law, introduce orders on known individual extremists who act similarly and close down premises which are used to support extremism. It's not explained how any of this will be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, just that it will most certainly not curtail the right to protest or close down debate. The law will also be subject to a high level of judicial scrutiny, just in case that doesn't convince you.
The most fundamental problem with the strategy though is the politicians behind it. Theresa May in her conference speech argued the exact opposite of the document she now seeks to sell: that far from it being our very diversity that is behind our success, too much in fact prevents our society from being cohesive. The document speaks of "our belief in equality", as though the Conservatives or indeed we as a people have always believed in such things. The same government that wants to make landlords check the passports of renters on pain of fines in a bid to make the country a hostile environment for illegal immigrants, a move guaranteed to lead to discrimination, wants "everyone" to "enforce our values right across the spectrum". Extremist groups and individuals, while a threat, if not an unprecedented one, have nothing like the impact that elected politicians and the mainstream media can have on community relations and levels of hate and fear, as Xi Jinping could perhaps attest to. Being concerned that our values are threatened is one thing; regarding them as so flimsy they can be destroyed by such pitifully weak opponents, at the same time as maintaining they are so universal and strong is quite another.