The British recruits who have joined Isis are not exceptions. They flourish in a culture in which it is so commonplace to offer support to authoritarian regimes and movements that few bother to condemn it. Free speech ought to mean the freedom to challenge and criticise in all except the most tightly defined circumstances. Instead in Britain tolerance has become indifference; a lazy desire to live in our comfortable bubbles. The dominant culture views vigorous criticism as rude or insensitive – or, to use that popular and completely meaningless school-prefect putdown, “inappropriate.” More often that not, criticism is taken down and used as evidence of the critic’s failings, his or her obsessions and phobias.
We cannot be bothered to challenge fanatics. We say we don’t want to ‘force our views on others’ – as if argument were physical coercion. And if those others leave England to enslave Kurdish women, or applaud kleptomaniac dictators, we are not responsible. We never concerned ourselves with their affairs, nor argued with them for a moment.
Many poisonous plants have bloomed in this dank climate. From the left, George Galloway has crawled to half the tyrants and tyrannical movements of the Middle East, and the National Union of Students and the ludicrously misnamed ‘Stop the War Coalition’ have refused to condemn Islamic State’s war against the ethnic and religious minorities of Syria and Iraq. More recently, the Bruges Group from the right of the Tory Party, the Conservative Friends of Russia, Nick Griffin and Nigel Farage – the far right and the further right, you might say – have formed a British fan club for Vladimir Putin.
Not to be outdone, British leftists are back, bending the knee this time to Communist China. Chinese liberals call them ‘the panda huggers’: Western intellectuals, who tell Chinese people how lucky they are to live under communist rule.