IT was a perfectly ordinary day walking along a Manchester street. Two men strolled towards me arm in arm. They were laughing and deeply engrossed in conversation. A man on the corner sold copies of a left-wing magazine and joked with passers by. As I stepped into the café for breakfast, a young mum in a skimpy T-shirt pushed her child along the pavement and was helped across the road by an old man.
On the face of it, just your average English scene, but for two gay men to be able to walk along the street arm in arm in some countries could mean possible death. Someone giving out anti-government propaganda could be imprisoned and girls with arms uncovered beaten up.
This to me was Britain. A country where by nature we are naturally liberal and accommodating of views that might not be our own. This is the country where Karl Marx came when he was in exile, a place that has given sanctuary to those persecuted for speaking out.
This natural liberalism and tolerance has been heralded as our greatest strength, but it could also be our biggest weakness.
Recently there have been cases in other countries where people have been imprisoned for taking off their bras on top of a mountain and yet here we allow people to burn our flag and advocate intolerant views without sanction.
Freedom of speech and freedom of thought are the most precious values that we have. In the quest to preserve them, we often allow things to be said and done that are detrimental to the needs of the greater society.
There has been much said recently about the radicalisation of young people within our communities. In some cases it is clear to see how easy it is to hear strong voices with definite opinions offering a straight answer to the problems of life. It was Osama Bin Laden who said: “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they will naturally want to side with the strong horse.”
It is a strong horse of a specific ideology that is being offered. Britain with its liberal values and views on human sexuality flies in the face of the teachings of the major faiths. It is seen by some as morally and culturally bankrupt.
Although I strongly disagree, it is easy to understand how some of our young people can be put off life in urban Britain and seek to change the world to fit their beliefs. As a growing number attempt to leave to go to other countries more in line with their ideals, I think it is wrong to stop them.
Surely, everyone has the right to reside in a country where they feel comfortable and accepted? Who are we to dictate where someone is allowed to live just because it is in a war zone?
If the person engages in acts of war against this country then they should not be allowed to return, but they should certainly not be stopped from going. That is akin to cultural internment. If people find gay marriage, eating particular foods and worshipping other gods offensive then why should they be stopped from leaving the country?
Britain, in turn, should develop its own strong horse. It should advocate our culture without reservation or embarrassment and seek inclusion of those new to our shores. For many years, assimilation has been seen as a dirty word. It is obvious that in so many areas multi-culturalism has failed. It is very natural for people from the same country or faith group to want to live together. A quick trip along the Costas will show you that, as we Brits appear to be the last ones to assimilate.
I feel that lack of assimilation leads to lack of understanding, mistrust and fear. Becoming integrated doesn’t mean that you lose your cultural identity or religious principles. It means that you hold in tension views that do not agree with your own.
Our only hope for society is promoting British values and culture so that members of differing communities and faiths can find common ground to bring us together. There will still be those disenchanted with our tolerant way of life and they should be afforded our greatest freedom – the right to leave.
GP Taylor is a writer and broadcaster and can be followed @GPTaylorauthor.