I THINK one of the reasons why we’re not sure how to react to the showing of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in Yorkshire's Batley Grammar is because we realise that the Muslim protestors have strong beliefs and they find this image deeply offensive.

If wider society had a strong belief in the importance of tolerance as a value, we may have thought about how best to engage this issue in a school setting. We’d certainly be far more confident about defending the teacher in question.

One of the reasons society finds the “offence” question so difficult to engage with today is that for some years our modern political elites have adopted the position of not causing offence, and confusingly calling this tolerance. Consequently, being tolerant today is more likely to be associated with holding your tongue rather than being able to speak your mind.

As I’ve mentioned before, we can see this being played out through the new laws and police practices in Scotland where, for example, street preachers in Glasgow and other cities are arrested for expressing their belief that homosexuality is a sin.

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Speaking your mind is now understood as being offensive, which we brand as a form of intolerant hatred that is to be stamped out by the police.

Nominally we continue to think of ourselves as a liberal people living in a free, tolerant society. But this shift in the meaning of tolerance, away from freedom of speech and thought to the policing of it tells a very different story.

Imagine if Nicola Sturgeon or Humza Yousaf were the head teacher in this school. I wouldn’t be surprised if they not only suspended the teacher but called in the police.

The old meaning of tolerance was vitally important for the development of a more civilised society. It helped put an end to religious wars and limited the power of the state to determine what people could and could not believe.

It went on to be the basis of freedom of speech, again by limiting state and police powers to determine what we thought and said.

It also helped to draw a strong line between words and actions and educated the public that it was not acceptable to use violence against a person even if you hated what that person thought and said.

Indeed, tolerance was recognised to be of such importance to enlightened liberal thinkers that the thoughts of individuals like Voltaire can be summed up by the famous saying, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

In Voltaire’s world, Muslims and Christians would be free to express their religious beliefs, and we would be free to question them or ridicule them, to challenge their ideas and allow them the freedom to challenge ours.

Violence, the threat of violence, and intimidation to stop someone expressing their views would be rightly seen as backward and unacceptable.

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Today, unfortunately, we are fast losing the vital importance of what being genuinely tolerant means. Indeed, we are being educated to be intolerant, to demand people be sacked and arrested for saying things we dislike, or to think it is acceptable to intimidate people we disagree with – all in the name of being “offended”.

Now, these protestors do not represent every Muslim but we shouldn’t be surprised by the intimidating tactics of those outside of this school. Nor should we be shocked at the claim in the protest letter sent to the school that showing this image is a form of “terrorism”

We shouldn’t be surprised because once we lose a sense of the vital importance of tolerance and free thought and speech, we quickly slip into a world where intimidating people to shut their mouths becomes the new norm.

These Muslim protestors do not represent a strange new outlook, they are a reflection of our own dangerous and illiberal elites.

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