In his recent column, Boris Johnson makes the point that moral relativism abandons children to the clutches of extremism. He is right.
When angry crowds marched through Dhaka last May, we might have assumed that they were protesting against pervasive corruption or were demanding economic reforms after a building collapse disaster which killed 1,100 workers and injured many more. If we had attributed the protests to any of these reasons, we would have been deeply mistaken. Instead, these protesters who were members of a hardline Salafist group were calling for the arrest of bloggers, the end of programmes to help abused women and the death penalty for those accused of blasphemy.
The juxtaposition of these extremists demanding an end to both free speech and gender equality with a country facing mass poverty and systematic government failure is stark. Moreover, this incongruity highlights the challenge posed by extremist Salafism, which turns disillusioned people into brainwashed followers who ultimately become dedicated to the destruction of liberty and democracy and to the elimination of those who disagree with their views.
The type of terrorism that originates with extremist Salafism is different from the terrorism of the nationalist or regionalist types which face geographical constraints. Instead, the extremist Salafism promoted by Al Qaeda and its sympathisers and apologists, is a totalitarian, collectivist and global movement which wants to force the entire world to submit to its warped perversion of a beautiful, noble religion.
Extremist Salafism is a festering sickness which thrives on the lack of moral certitude amongst its opponents. The tendency towards moral and cultural relativism has taken hold of some policymakers, to the benefit of extremist fanatics. This relativism declares that all cultural practices are equally acceptable and that any criticism is insensitive and therefore unacceptable. It tolerates extreme intolerance and promotes the dogma that any attempt at intervention infringes upon the rights of a community.
This unwillingness to permit moral judgment is a force which actually empowers tyrants and terrorists. Extremist Salafists and others who peddle pathological fantasies masquerading as worthy causes are licensed to spread their vitriol without a firm opposition. This has led to the acquiescence of some towards female genital mutilation and other barbaric practices (which have no basis in classical religion). The work of 17 year old Fahma Mohamed and London MEP Marina Yannakoudakis amongst others in the fight against FGM cannot be praised enough. Their inspirational campaigning shows that we have a duty to uphold the liberty of all human beings, even if this means that we annoy some extremists.
Whether these extremists are shooting students in Pakistan, bombing mosques in Iraq or brutalising women here in the UK, they must be faced with a clear and unequivocal opposition to their attempts to enslave humanity. Ultimately, we all require a little more moral certainty and self-confidence. We must assert that every single human being is born with natural rights to freedom and dignity. We must emphasise that not everything can simply be a matter of subjective debate but that we can be confident enough to say that some things are objectively right and objectively wrong.
We must not be embarrassed to assert the superiority of liberal democracy over brutal totalitarianism. Only then can we begin to eradicate the cancers of extremism, terrorism and tyranny.