The UK think-tank Civitas is suggesting (to quote this Daily Telegraph report), “fanatical Islamist religious leaders who preach hatred of Western values should be prevented from coming to work in British mosques”. Quite how one defines “fanatical” is, obviously, far from straightforward, but the current system under which ministers of religion are exempt from the normal visa rules (there are similar arrangements here in the US) seems not only wrong (why should clerics be given this privilege?) but also dangerous.
The West is facing a threat from a totalitarian and murderous ideology that happens to clothe itself in the guise of a religion – or at least a strand of thought within that religion. Somehow the fact that its advocates are always talking about their vision of God has lulled their potential victims into a curious reluctance to defend themselves properly. The reason usually cited? ‘Sensitivity’ to other faiths. This is nonsense. After far too long a wait, religious toleration has, rightly, become a vital part of Western cultural identity – it should not, however, be allowed to become a suicide pact. If, during the Cold War, East Bloc advocates of a violent overthrow of the West had wanted to come here to preach their message or worse, the visa process would have ensured that, at the very least, they were subjected to some serious scrutiny before their admission. The same should be true of clerics who wish upon our civilization destruction no less total than anything ever dreamt up by commissar or gauleiter. Singling out the clergymen of any one particular faith for a special visa regime would be invidious, so the solution is to require all ‘religious workers’ from abroad to go through a proper screening before they are admitted (certification by church, mosque or temple should not, by itself, be enough) here to carry out their work. Those who truly represent a religion of peace would have nothing to fear.
The authors of the Civitas report also note how the concept of ‘Islamophobia’ is being used to damp down debate over Islam. That’s true. If it’s to mean anything religious toleration must be about more than freedom of worship or, for that matter, not to worship. It should also be about the right to criticize and debate the creeds of others (tolerance is not the same as agreement) and the right to proselytize for your own. And if some people find that ‘offensive’, well, that’s just too bad. Freedom sometimes is.