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Cameron signs up to muscular liberalism

5 February 2011

10:42 AM

5 February 2011

10:42 AM

"State multiculturalism has failed." Angela Merkel put voice to that sentiment last October. Now it David Cameron’s turn to do the same. In a speech in Munich today, the Prime Minister has taken a rhetorical torch to
Islamic extremism. "Frankly," he says, "we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism." It is, at the very least, a
significant political moment.

What Cameron is doing here – as explained by Charles
Moore
and Paul
Goodman
– is publicly signing up to a philosophy of the world. It is a philosophy that rejects the idea that extremism should simply be contained. Instead, it says that extremism must be
fought – and that means engaging in a battle of ideas. "Tough on extremism, tough on the causes of extremism," is how Tony Blair might have put it. "This is the battle that
must be won, a battle not just about the terrorist methods but their views. Not just their barbaric acts, but their barbaric ideas. Not only what they do but what they think and the thinking they
would impose on others," is how Tony Blair did put it.


The policies for waging this battle are varied and, in many cases, indirect. Immigration, schooling, even housing – all have an impact in this area. But there are also specific instances
where this government should make its thinking clear. From deciding which organisations to engage with, to – yes – what should be said in speeches; all this matters. Cameron’s words
today suggest that he recognises this. If groups and people fail the tests of liberal society, he argues, "the presumption should be not to engage with [them]. No public money. No sharing of
platforms with Ministers at home. At the same time, we must stop these groups from reaching people in publicly funded institutions."

Whether this will cohere into an effective stand against extremism, we shall see. There are several barriers in Cameron’s way, including political divides and general state inertia. And the
government must also take care to target genuine extremists and their poisonous ideology, rather than stoking paranoia and fear all round. But our Prime Minister has set out his approach today. He
is, it seems, determined to act against homegrown terror in all its manifestations. Which is to say: passivity no more; muscular liberalism from here on in.


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