As he plans a new counter-extremism bill, is David Cameron right that Britain has been passively tolerant for too long?

David Cameron is to set out new laws to tackle extremism (Source: Getty)

Emily Dyer, research fellow at The Henry Jackson Society, says Yes

Tolerance is a fundamental British value and it should continue to underpin our treatment of everyone, no matter what their faith or beliefs. However, for too long, we have let our tolerance be abused by the intolerant: those who actively try to destroy our values, such as a respect for democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law.

We have often confused tolerance with turning a blind eye to both grievance-led extremism and cultural relativism – often at the expense of our commitment to equality and human rights. We have tolerated extremist ideology in the name of religion, and even violence against women in the name of culture.

While there should always be room for dissent and different opinions, it is our job as British citizens – of all faiths and of no faith – to challenge those individuals who want to harm our freedoms. Otherwise, we run the risk of losing them altogether.

Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked Online, says No

Cameron couldn’t be more wrong. Too tolerant? This is a country where the un-PC are hounded by Twittermobs. Footie fans are arrested for risque chants. Students “No Platform” edgy thinkers. And where, now, extremists will be “disrupted” — a nice way of saying censored.

Cameron’s extremism disruption orders are deeply illiberal. They reach beyond those who “directly support violence,” targeting people who simply spout extremist ideas. These people could be forced to seek police approval even before tweeting. This dents freedom of speech.

If someone is planning or promoting criminal activity, the state should feel his collar. But if they’re merely expressing an idea, then they should be dealt with in the public sphere, through open, rowdy debate. Cameron is setting a terrifying precedent: today, it might be radical Islamists who have to plead with police for permission to speak. But who will it be tomorrow? Communists? Climate-change deniers? Me? You?

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