Press: Anti-extremism law fails the Clarkson test

12 April 2019

PA

Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

ALTHOUGH it was not directly religious, the Telegraph’s coverage of a lecture by Lord Anderson QC, who used to be the Government’s independent reviewer of anti-terrorist measures, was a significant story. He plays an important but easily overlooked part in the defence of freedom, which is often under threat from politicians more than from terrorists.

His lecture marked, I hope, the abandonment of efforts to legislate against “extremist activity” in ways that would satisfy the intermittent outrage of readers of the Daily Mail and The Guardian. The Government had announced counter-extremism Bills in both 2015 and 2016, but these never even reached Parliament; Lord Anderson was one of the few people to see the proposed texts, and he thought that they were dreadful.

The Telegraph quotes him saying: “There can be no one-size-fits-all legislative solution to activities as various as violent racism, campaigning against gay rights, sectarian marching, and, in the manner of Jeremy Clarkson, calling someone a one-eyed Scottish idiot: all of which, so far as I could see, would have been caught by the Bill.”

One does not, obviously, know exactly how these would have been criminalised, but since the Government defined extremism as “vocal or active opposition to . . . democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”, and described these all as “fundamental British values”, which, historically speaking, they clearly are not (has anyone but I and Clifford Longley actually read the Coronation Oath?), the scope for disaster is obvious.

IN PRACTICE, of course, certain attitudes are already almost criminalised. The under-reported row between certain Muslim parents, supported by certain Christians, over teaching children about gay people made The Sunday Times, which reported: “A parent at a primary in the north-west was reported to social services last week after telling teachers she would have to kill her son if he turned out to be gay.”

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The school’s head told The Sunday Times: “This parent said to one of my members of staff, ‘It [being LGBT] is disgusting. If my child turned out like that, I would have to kill him for his honour.’ The parent said it to a Muslim member of staff and not in English. . . The member of staff reported it to me. We dealt with that via the appropriate channels.”

This actually seems to me a hopeful development, in that the teacher was obviously expected to sympathise with the parent, and perhaps to applaud her, but failed to do so. The process of integration cannot be entirely one way, but the idea that children might be killed to preserve the family’s honour is incompatible with civilised British values.

THE same paper carried an imaginative attempt to portray the Roman Catholic clergy as smouldering sex bombs, rather in the manner of the priest in Fleabag, who allows the heroine to seduce him without unduly wrestling with his conscience.

Approached by Nicholas Hellen to stand up the idea, the Rector of Oscott Seminary defended his Church stoutly: “I don’t think [women] are queuing up. Have you looked at most Catholic priests? They are not the most attractive men. Their diet is wrong and they can be extremely self-centred, some of them.

“They live on their own. They haven’t a wife who says, ‘For goodness’ sake, go to the GP, darling, and sort yourself out,’ or ‘Go to the dentist, you have got terrible halitosis.’”

He also pointed out that the average age of these men was now 65.

THE next story may come as an inspiration to anyone in the clergy who has to deal with the media, althoughn for some reasonn it did not make the Church House daily roundup of religious news, perhaps because it comes from North Carolina.

Sometime around Christmas, I wrote about the prosperity-gospel preacher who had given his wife a $200,000 Lamborghini in front of an applauding congregation. None of them seem to read the Church Times, but some do read the Greenville News, which had originally reported the story, and followed it up with the news that their Relentless Church had brought a house for the preacher worth $1.8 million, but asked the congregation to pay for repairs to the church roof.

The woman who had built up Relentless Church, Hope Carpenter, defended her successor. In a video on the Washington Post site, she tells the congregation: “I love you Pastor John and Pastor Aventer. I believe in you. . . I’m praying for you. I’m rooting for you!”

“Then”, the Post continues, “her monologue took an abrupt, violent turn. . . ‘I cut people. I got a knife right in that pocketbook,’ Carpenter said, gesturing toward her seat. ‘Greenville News, come on!’”

AT LEAST her meaning was plain. I can’t resist an example of Italian journalism, from the supposedly English-language version of La Stampa, which was trying to explain Pope Francis: “In front of the abyss of clerical paedophilia, the neo-rigorist homo-sexphobic reaction along with the ‘politically correct’ technocratic response end up sharing conditioned reflections similar to the ancient heresy.”

Thanks for clearing that up.

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