Belfast Telegraph

Ruth Dudley Edwards: Why it's time for liberals to stop criticising anyone who holds different views to them

Brexiteers are one group who've been dismissed and given the silent treatment, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

Maria Steen wrote an article in the Irish Times criticising liberals
Maria Steen wrote an article in the Irish Times criticising liberals
Ruth Dudley Edwards

By Ruth Dudley Edwards

I was surprised on Saturday that the profoundly intolerant Irish Times had published an article by Maria Steen with the headline: "Liberals fail to practise what they preach about tolerance." This was a few days after I had heard in Carlingford at the excellent Thomas D'Arcy McGill Summer School that the Irish Times had spiked an interview with Ray Bassett, a former senior Irish ambassador, because he's pro-Brexit.

That he had been a distinguished participant in the Irish team during the talks that brought about the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement makes him particularly unacceptable because he knows what he is talking about when he says the backstop is unnecessary.

Mrs Steen is a member of the Iona Institute, which liberals dismiss as a Roman Catholic reactionary pressure group that should be ignored, yet its members include a Church of Ireland bishop and say they support the role of religion in society but are religiously-based.

What unites them in their opposition to euthanasia, abortion, civil partnerships and same-sex marriage is fear that the family is under threat from militant progressives.

I'm with them on euthanasia; I hate abortion, though I'm not absolutist about it; I'm happy with civil partnerships, and though I'm okay with single sex marriage, I understand why some of my friends think it undermines the family.

What I firmly believe is that polite and thoughtful social conservatives deserve to be treated with respect and welcomed on public platforms.

Yet mostly they are insulted as crackpots and dinosaurs, and accused, often by people who extol murderers, of being enemies of human rights.

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Mrs Steen pointed out that intolerance has reached such a pitch that "those who don't subscribe to the new liberal orthodoxy… are no longer expected merely to tolerate those views with which they disagree, but to affirm and celebrate them - anything less is seen as bigotry or any one of a hundred categories of phobia".

What is more "secular liberals can be as intolerant as they like, verbally attacking people and their characters while almost never engaging with and debating their ideas".

As she pointed out, if tolerance means anything "it means precisely that liberals must put up with speech that they regard as 'intolerant' of what they like and celebrate. Otherwise they are no better than their favourite target: the hypocritical priest who refuses to practise what he preaches".

The same should apply to disagreements over Brexit where people of all political opinions are routinely shouted down as far-right xenophobes - especially by liberals.

Ray Bassett was one of the few Euroheretics in Carlingford, but like me he was mostly given a civil hearing: there was concern expressed that the southern Irish media are mostly in lockstep in their determination to don the green jersey and drown out dissenting voices.

An exception is the Sunday Independent, which has been a haven for critics of appeasement of terrorists. Although editorially it hates Brexit, it has published articles by Eoghan Harris and Dan O'Brien warning that intransigence over the backstop is an own-goal by the Irish Republic.

As Harris put it brutally yesterday, instead of working out a solution with the UK, Ireland has clung on to "forlorn hopes: a second referendum (dump the unionists), Corbyn would rescue us (dump the unionists), John Bercow would save us (dump the unionists), parliament would save us (dump the unionists), Nancy Pelosi and other Adams admirers will save us, etc.

"But now it just boils down to hoping Johnson will betray the unionists."

Which I, like Harris, believe he won't do.

To fervent anti-Brexiteers, I frequently quote the Scots journalist Andrew Marr in 2016 about the vicious attacks on Nigel Farage in Edinburgh from "hardcore nationalists who were accusing him of raging nationalist sentiment. Now, as I understand it, whatever you think of him, Nigel Farage is trying to get independence for Britain from Brussels, which is not necessarily totally different from trying to get independence for Scotland from London. But your neighbour's nationalism is always toxic and xenophobic and your nationalism is always good".

Is it too much to expect liberals to respect the biblical injunction to remove the beam from one's own eye before the speck from our brother's?

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