Debate Magazine

Banning Hate Preachers is Not the Answer

Posted on the 02 March 2015 by Lesterjholloway @brolezholloway

Banning hate preachers is not the answerVince Cable and the Liberal Democrats are right to oppose Conservative moves to ban 'hate preachers' from Britain's universities. Of course genuine hate preachers are distasteful, but all the evidence shows that the UK's social commentators, media, politicians and many elements within universities are singularly unable to differentiate between 'hate preachers' and moderate Muslim clerics.

Worse, the banning of visiting clerics simply exacerbates religious tensions on campuses and feeds growing polarization which can only enhance feelings of the persecution of Islam in general and potentially make radicalization more, not less, likely.

Good progress has been made in recent years to build bridges between Islamic Societies (Isoc's) - which invite speakers which have sparked controversies - and Jewish Societies (Jsoc's) which mostly lead the protests against the speakers. By fostering mutual understanding and creating more opportunities for personal contact students from different faiths develop greater friendships and realise the commonalities - not least their shared

Banning hate preachers is not the answer
Abrahamic traditions - and cultural similarities between them.

Slapping a ban on all 'hate preachers' undoes all this good work and takes campuses back to square one. It risks breathing new life into the old antagonisms whereby defenders of the Islamic clerics protest that their opponents simply do not understand the difference between a radical 'hate preacher' and a respected cleric from the mainstream of the faith who has a long record of condemning extremism.

At the same time Muslim students have in the past accused Jsoc's of their own brand of extremism in supporting Right-wing strands of Zionism and they question why figures to which Jsoc's are associated with are not themselves subject to the same scrutiny as Isoc's, feeding suspicions of Islamophobia. And so the cycle goes on. It is a cycle that cannot be broken by blanket bans.

Isoc's have a point about the inability of some to tell the difference between radical Islamists and moderate clerics. Visiting preachers like Yusuf Qaradawi have been the focus of sustained campaigns which pluck quotes on issues out of context in order to falsely portray them as raving radicals when the reality is they are located right at the heart of moderate thinking. Which begs the question that if we cannot listen and engage with the likes of Qaradawi who can we engage with?

The answer - according to those who agitate for a blanket ban - is clearly 'no-one'. How tragically sad that some people are willing to cut off all dialogue with moderate clerics because they have objections to one or two views from those clerics. Cutting off contact with the very figures who are most influential in fighting against genuine radicalism makes no sense whatsoever. It is tantamount to severing links with a whole faith, and that is ultimately as likely to feed anger that leads to radicalism as anger at Western foreign policy.

The 'screening' of Muslim academics and preachers for anything controversial they may have said stems from a position of cultural supremacy that assumes certain 'rules' of how citizens should think and makes lepers of anyone who does not conform, while turning a blind eye to other forms of extremism - from visiting Far Right leaders to advocates of building the West Bank out of existence and containing the remainder of Palestinians in the open prison camp of Gaza.

Clearly the answer is not a blanket ban but extending efforts to build bridges of understanding between students of different faiths and no faith, and to bring all students of faith closer to educational institutions to counter an 'us and them' mentality on both sides. It is a slower, less dramatic, solution than banning preachers, but there are no magic wands or silver bullets to building mutual understanding and even friendships. It is a gradual process which involves 'education' on all sides, a cycle of explaining and listening not banning and protesting.

Dialogue is an essential part of a liberal society that values freedom of speech. If we listen to Muslim clerics we might just find they believe the same thing too.

By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway

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