Spiral Notebook: A failure of tolerance
By Giles Broadbent
Tolerance has been taken hostage. Last week, three men were jailed for their actions as part of the east London "Muslim Patrol", a gang of extremists who tried to enforce Sharia law by bullying passers-by, first with megaphones and then with fists.
Extremists such as these feel emboldened to pursue their cause because our muddle-headed society hesitates.
The fanatics know that if they dress their thuggery in the robes of religion, tickle society's liberal guilt and excite its base fears they will be given a loophole, maybe even an embrace.
Society does not condemn swiftly and with venom because we are out of practice and because condemnation itself is a minefield of shifting tastes.
Instead, we gather in the outlaws and normalise their behaviour. For evidence, look to the hate preachers who crave an audience at our universities.
Last month, Universities UK gave their members clearance to segregate an audience - men on one side, women on the other - if a mixed audience would cause "offence" to the speaker.
It's almost too atavistic to believe.
If homosexuals had outward signs of their leanings, would universities suggest a section for them too? Or if Jewish people could be identified - by means of a Star of David pinned to their lapels perhaps - would the speakers be permitted to put them in a pen?
This complicity in the name of tolerance is not just lily-livered. It is slippery, it is disgusting and it is dangerous.
Follow Giles Broadbent on Twitter: @MediaGulch
Image: A Muslim Patrol "sticker"