Last night the Oxford Union provoked controversy by inviting allegedly discredited historian, David Irving, and BNP leader, Nick Griffin, to address the Union. This on the same day that a British subject, Gillian Gibbons, was arrested in the Sudan for apparently naming a teddy bear, after a poll of her classroom students, Mohammed. Under local Sharia law she could face either a six month prison sentence or 40 lashes of a whip.
Extremism always seems to me to be a dangerous thing. Honest passion can be exploited ruthlessly to become the kind of obsessive behaviour which ignores the rights of people and, at its worst, the sanctity of human life. It plays on our fears and anxieties in a way that, in the end, undermines human community. The privilege of leadership brings with it a great responsibility.
On Radio 5 there was a somewhat hopeful report. It suggested that Griffin and Irving had to be kept apart in separate rooms. Initially this was thought to be because of the security threat posed by protesters. It was later alleged that this was not the case, but they had been separated because in the past they had fallen out with each other. This led to Radio Five presenter, Nicky Campbell, observing that people from extremist groups frequently fall out with each other, even when they are broadly ‘batting’ for the same side.
I have thought about this all day long and can see that there is some evidence to suggest that Campbell’s observation has some validity. Therein lies some hope that might limit the threat of extremism. Nearly always at the visible end of any extremist group there is a large ego. Within the Christian Church it is a noticeable phenomenon. In the end self-idolatory becomes self-destructive.
This is not an argument for ignoring such people. The balance of people’s rights and the requirements of national security is an equally hot topic. However, it is worth thinking about……