Ever since the Woolwich murder I’ve noticed an upsurge in the use of what is now my least favourite cant phrase – 'community cohesion'. Political cant proliferates when theory fails to match reality, and today we have a diverse and vibrant array of words and phrases that mean two contradictory things at once, and also nothing. It’s important to talk about community cohesion because diversity is our strength, and also our weakness, and should be celebrated, and policed.
Community cohesion also has a darker Singaporean edge. In Singapore, the world’s first truly multicultural modern state, speeches and broadcasts can be arbitrarily shut down if community leaders believe them to be offensive or threatening, so that no real criticism of religion is permitted. Surrounded by countries torn apart by religious and racial hatred, the Singaporeans see this as a good trade-off.
Britain is going down the same one-way street, which is why the Home Secretary has banned from this country the American bloggers Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, who according to Hope Not Hate would be bad for 'community cohesion'.
Whether or not one agrees with Geller and Spencer, what they say about Islam is no different from what people have been saying on Speakers’ Corner for umpteen years about various groups. Speakers’ Corner is a great testimony to English tolerance and liberalism, but it could only exist because England was for so many years cohesive, so cohesive we never even used the word.
Another Hope Not Hate spokesman argued that: 'People will now quote Voltaire but he never had the benefit of going to the gates of Auschwitz and seeing where unfettered free speech ends up.'
So free speech caused the Holocaust – an interesting new theory. I do wish people would stop using Nazi Germany as their sole point of historical reference, as Nazism arose for a number of reasons, most of which are not comparable with today’s Europe (the Middle East, maybe). A much better parallel would be the Ottoman Empire, which was truly multicultural and where, as a result, political dissent, liberalism and religious criticism were all repressed for being too dangerous for community cohesion.