Via the Bucks Free Press, my letter on freedom of expression and extremism:
I was delighted that this year’s parade in High Wycombe to celebrate the birth of Muhammad once again demonstrated the friendship we enjoy in our Town. It was by all accounts a happy and successful occasion.
I have observed closely the development of local commentary in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. I read the Mayor’s statement on Facebook carefully, and the support and criticism he received. I have privately heard the concerns and fears of both Muslims and non-Muslims.
This is a time decisively to reject violence and embrace freedom of expression. A time when fanatics have slaughtered people is not the moment to open a delicate conversation about the sensibilities of devout people.
There is never any excuse for murder. No one has any right to take vengeance. What is said, written, drawn or otherwise published is not an excuse. Our law already has some protections against insult and abuse and, while people have no right not to be offended, neither does anyone have a duty to offend.
In civil society, we simply must be civil to one another: our society would be much improved if we all respected the legitimate sensitivities of others and were slow to anger and quick to forgive.
It is conceivable that a small number of people in our country believe it is acceptable to respond to offensive publications with violence, threats of violence or support for violence. It is not. I say to anyone who has this view, my position is non-negotiable.
Perhaps one of the greatest moral and spiritual revolutions in history has been the establishment of our open society in which we can free our minds from mere authority and prejudice.
We try to preserve, develop and establish institutions which are humane and can withstand rational criticism. We are not bound to the merely traditional and the merely established.
Our open society was won at great cost. It is not to be surrendered in cowardice. It is to be recognised that an open society is in everyone’s interests and it is for the protection of everyone’s rights that I support it.
I am confident, as I have previously indicated, that everyone in Wycombe in a position of responsibility, of all faiths and none, is wholly united against violence and extremism. We therefore have nothing to fear from one another.
We must continue the process of open, critical discussion in an atmosphere of friendship and peace in order to maintain and develop what unity we can. If we choose another path, our tolerant society will face severe challenges.