Peter Smith

How pure must one be to oppose the common foe?

“By banning from the country as extremists the American anti-jihadis Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, the Home Secretary Teresa May has not only made herself look ridiculous but has sent the enemies of the United Kingdom the message that they have it on the run.”

This is Melanie Phillips (UK Daily Mail journalist and blogger) writing about the recent and latest of the West’s abject surrenders to the religion of peace. You know the one that supports cutting heads off for apostasy and stonings for adultery and which earned the accolade of being peaceful in the mouths of Western apologists and appeasers only after 9/11. Go figure that one.

So far so good; but Spencer and Geller were intending to participate in an English Defence League (EDL) event. This provoked Ms Phillips into saying that she did “not support the approach taken by either Geller or Spencer to the problem of Islamic extremism. Both have endorsed groups such as the EDL and others which at best do not deal with the thuggish elements in their ranks and at worst are truly racist or xenophobic." This caused what might be called an internecine spat.

Geller responded: “With friends like Melanie Phillips, who needs enemies?” And Spencer: “So Melanie Phillips’ bringing up the EDL here is completely gratuitous, designed to distinguish her work from ours, and to show the British elites that she is not tainted with our taint.” Phillips in turn was chagrined that Geller and Spencer turned on her when she, in fact, in substance, is on their side. All of the above can be found here.

Is the EDL a thuggish and racist organisation? I simply don’t know enough about it to form a view one way or the other.

Spencer argues that “the EDL has nothing racist or xenophobic about its platform, and removes such individuals from its ranks when they’re found. It is only ‘thuggish’ in that its members fight back when attacked by Islamic supremacists. Melanie Phillips thinks that the EDL is racist and xenophobic because she has seen a thousand media reports insisting that it is.”

Geller argues: “These boys are a bit dirty and they don’t do high tea at 4. But I know they have no racist agenda, and far from being neo-Nazis, they’re one of the most (if not the most) pro-Israel groups in Britain. They’ve reached out to Jews, Sikhs, women, gays and others. They oppose violence and do not provoke it; they just fight back when attacked. Phillips ought to back up her taint with fact.”

You would not guess it from the tone of the exchanges but in fact Phillips, Spencer and Geller are in complete accord on what matters. They all agree that Islam represents an ominous and insidious threat to Western values. And, at the same time, they are all careful about who they find common cause with. By making a good deal of their view that the EDL is honourable enough, Spencer and Geller are implicitly agreeing with Phillips that it would be wrong to find common cause with a thuggish and racist organisation. Their disagreement turns, and only turns, on the character of the EDL.

The question that I would like to pose is a philosophical one. How choosy should we be when finding common cause against a common enemy? At one extreme the answer is fairly easy. It is surely necessary to eschew the company of psychopaths and out-and-out racists, bigots and Nazis. But often the circumstances are nuanced, not cut and dried.

Those on the conservative/classical liberal side of the barricades have to be careful in insisting that everyone on their side be lily white. On that measure numbers will get very thin. Experience tells us that those on the other side whether they are Islamists, Western self loathers, or left-wing apparatchiks and fascist greenies, will be far less choosy. Moreover they are adept and practised at trying to undermine legitimate causes by singling out instances of untoward behaviour.

Tony Abbott was accused of sexism and even misogyny for addressing a rally opposing the carbon tax because some of those in the crowd held placards with crude and unflattering descriptions of Julia Gillard. The Democrats and the left-wing press in the United States looked as hard as they could at Tea Party crowds to see whether they could slur the whole movement by spotting the odd red neck.

It is fine to hope for a time when sound arguments and honourable jousting among honourable guys and gals will be sufficient to win the day. That time is not now. And the company you keep might have to be geared to the seriousness and immediacy of the threat. You are not going to ask for a character reference before accepting assistance to ward off armed muggers.

This does not mean in this instance that Spencer and Geller are right and that Phillips is wrong. It does mean however that we on the conservative side of the barricades should not rush to judgement, without careful and thorough investigation, on organisations like the EDL, which oppose the clear and present danger represented by Islamist expansion.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics

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