David Cameron is right to speak against religious extremism, even if it claims not to support violence. But what exactly is religious extremism? He defined it in opposition to British values, meaning democracy and the rule of law and so on. Maybe this is clear enough. But I think the matter can be clarified further.
I think it should be defined in this way.
Religious extremism idealises religious unity as the basis of good politics, and denigrates pluralism, liberal values, ‘secularism’ (in the political sense). In other words, it is theocratic religion.
‘Theocracy’ is an old-fashioned word, but I think we need to use it a lot more. It gets to the heart of the matter. We should more bluntly say: Islam is only compatible with Western values if it clearly ditches its theocratic tendency.
Some will say ‘theocracy’ means rule by God, and all monotheisms believe in this. That’s just semantic trouble-making. In practice, the word means a belief in religious unity as the necessary basis of politics.
Others will say: but Islam can’t ditch its theocratic tendency. This is a bad thing to say. As I said before here recently, we must trust that the majority of Muslims in our midst affirm liberal values, that they are in effect liberal Muslims. Through such ‘tough trust’ we are helping to bring about Islam’s reformation.