These kinds of acts of extreme bigotry aren't restricted to one religion and don't remotely reflect the way that the vast majority of Muslims think or behave. They do, however, give us a very sharp object lesson on the value of tolerance. And the limits.
Britain has a long and deeply unpleasant history of its own of burning people for holding the wrong religious beliefs. Fortunately we have mostly managed to put the curse of religious extremism behind us. The country went through a long period when whether you got burned for being a Protestant or being a Catholic depended solely on which hereditary monarch happened to be in power. Only one good thing ever came out of that experience. The average British person emerged from it with a healthy distrust of religious extremism and an even healthier conviction that you should let other people get on with worshipping and believing whatever they like without aggressively trying to convert them to your own cause. That attitude has been handed down through the generations and the British people by and large don't like fanatics because we have a collective memory of how much damage they do.
That is one of the reasons that Oswald Mosley didn't get far in Britain. His defeat wasn't just down to the brave folks who turned out on the streets of East London and faced him down at the battle of Cable Street. It was also because whenever his blackshirts turned up and tried to strut around their local neighbourhoods whipping up hatred they got what they deserved. Ordinary local people took the piss out of them mercilessly and so their movement never took off. It is hard to give a Hitler salute convincingly when your neighbours are making fun of you. British people like a good laugh and were every bit as good at ridiculing fascists off the streets as they were at fighting them in the war.
That is part of the reason why the values of tolerance, freedom of thought and speech are for me fundamental and non negotiable. So what should I do and how should I act when a religious group demands the right to force others into silence or claims the right to enforce a cultural practice that is contrary to the freedoms of others? My answer is simple. Progressive people cannot be easygoing about the value of tolerance. You cannot be tolerant of intolerance.
Respect for the views of people from other communities is quite rightly the default position of most progressive people. But that shouldn't mean dumping respect for your own values and beliefs when they run contrary to the minority of intolerant extremists that shame all religious groups.
It was part of the religious beliefs of some Hindus to insist that a bride was burned when her husband died. I don't think many people would argue that this practice should be allowed even if the woman involved declared that she agreed with it.
Genetic mutilation of young girls is widely practices amongst a number of communities resident in the UK from a range of religious backgrounds. That is rightly outlawed in this country and I do not believe anyone should tolerate the practice because it is what that community believes in or the girl herself declares it to be what she wishes to happen. Just because a culture teaches its girls that this is their fate from an early age does not make this acceptable. The majority of people within a country have the right, exercised with appropriate caution, to decide that they themselves are so strongly opposed to a practice they want to ban a minority from carrying it out. Put simply I have more respect for women's rights than I do for cultural practices and sometimes the law reflects the fact that most people share that conviction.
There are occasions when the majority disagrees profoundly with an oppressive cultural practice but making it illegal might be counter-productive. That is the only reason why I am on balance marginally opposed to banning the wearing of the full face veil. No man ever modestly hid his looks behind a veil and everyone should be encouraged to show their face proudly and to own an identity and the chance to make friendships across the community. It may be counter-productive to ban this practice but that doesn't mean we should treat it as if it was some neutral value free choice. It isn't. It is a public statement that women should not be free whilst, by comparison, a headscarf is a choice which leaves a woman with an identity and a pride.
Many progressives waver badly around these issues and allow horrible right wing fanatics to claim that they are the only ones standing up against male dominated religious oppression. I think the left should have no shame whatsoever in owning the issue and proclaiming majority beliefs when they are progressive even if this means facing down the deep religious convictions of others. I believe in scientific knowledge that has been tested and challenged and can be changed when new evidence arrives. I don't believe in blind faith in a set of truths that have been kindly interpreted for me by a wise male oracle. I also believe in the rule of law - provided, of course, that the law in question has not been manipulated by the rich and wealthy too obviously in its own favour!
So I think it is progressives who should be saying that Sharia law should be banned in the UK. This is not a value free cultural practice. It is the imposition of a set of negotiations and agreements which are not remotely equal for men and women. People in this country fought for decades to get fair divorce arrangements for women. Why would we wish to deny that to people coming from a particular religion and allow women to be pushed into accepting a different set of standards? I want the divorce and separation laws throughout the whole of the UK and for all its people set by parliament and by judges. I don't believe it is acceptable to allow women to be bullied or manipulated by so called representatives of 'the community' into being forced back into marriages that are violent or simply unhappy by a parallel judgement system that no one has the chance to challenge at the ballot box.
We have heard a great deal lately from people that keep saying that "They want their country back." If we are tolerant of intolerance we play into their hands. I would like to see the progressive decent people in this country from all communities able to say with complete conviction that we also want our country back. The difference is that we want our tolerant, funny, easygoing country back not a home for bigots from any community.