14 Nov 2015 - The Paris attacks: no knee-jerk responses, but no cop-outs either

The worst terrorist attack in western Europe for a decade has left us all feeling numb. Our thoughts go out to the bereaved and injured. But inevitably our minds look to the consequences. What we must avoid is any knee-jerk responses. Two such responses we must avoid are: first, a rush by governments to remove yet more of our hard-won freedoms; and second, a rush to close our borders to refugees coming from the Middle East.

Our freedoms of speech, expression and religion, and our rights to privacy and to live our lives as we want were hard won over many centuries and we must defend the honour of those who fought and sometimes died to secure them for us. When it comes to refugees from the Middle East, the first thing we should remember is that this type of horrific slaughter is exactly what the refugees are fleeing from. The terror we saw in Paris should make us more acutely understanding of why the refugees are fleeing, because attacks like this have been going on in Syria and Iraq now for a decade.

It is true, of course, that among the refugees there may be a small number of terrorist operatives. That is no reason to block entry to all refugees, any more than home-grown terrorist operatives are a reason to do away with our right to privacy. It is a reason to process incoming refugees quickly and efficiently, and monitor them for any association with known radical circles in the UK. The overwhelming majority of refugees, having just escaped Islamism, will want to be as far away from it as possible in the UK. So any refugees found to be associating with radical Islamists are clearly not refugees at all, and therefore are in the country illegally - and can be deported immediately and without any legal obstacle at all.

We should also be clear that the Koran did not cause these terrorist attacks. I have read many of the world's holy books including the Koran, and it is a holy book much like the others. The Koran is actually considerably less violent than the Old Testament.

Many liberals are tempted to say that Islamist terrorism is as unrepresentative of Islam as Anders Breivik was of Christianity. However, this is only partially true, and this is where things get difficult for liberals. The number of Christians having sympathy for Breivik's motives has always been vanishingly small - much less than a single percent - but a ComRes poll in February found that 27% of UK Muslims had sympathy for the motives behind the Charlie Hebdo murders. Likewise, while the number of Christians in militias like Breivik's is a few dozen at most, there are, right now, more British Muslims fighting for ISIS than there are Muslims in the British armed forces. In addition, 45% of British Muslims believe clerics preaching that violence against the west can be justified are in touch with mainstream Muslim opinion. These figures are inescapably distressing and indicate a cultural disconnect that needs to be addressed.

Many progressives and liberals sadly gave mealy-mouthed responses to the Charlie Hebdo murders, often straying into victim-blaming and absurd moral-relativism. Now is the time to restate our commitment to our core cultural values of tolerance, equality, freedom, secularism; and to say that we will not surrender our cultural freedoms of expression - either to authoritarian governments or to other cultures that dislike our values or the things that we say, write or draw. Now is the time to be standing strong behind progressive, liberal, secular Muslims (like our own Maajid Nawaz) in their call for considered, reasoned responses to Islamist terrorists, but also crucially in their calls for Islamic culture and religion to modernise and reform in the ways necessary to adapt to the modern world.

Dr Mark Wright

The ComRes opinion poll.

This article was published on LibDemVoice.