Padraig Reidy argues against banning Islam4UK at Indexoncensorship:
Are the ban and the convictions really a problem for the group? Their reactions to previous bans would suggest that, organisationally, things will carry on as normal, just with a new title and web domain. Moreover, last night’s and this morning’s broadcast news were filled with Choudary and chums, highlighting how their convictions and banning proved that democracy and free expression are at best a sham and at worst a conspiracy against Islam. It’s not quite free publicity, but it’s exceptionally cheap.
So a mixed week for Anjem, but an exceptionally bad one for justice and free expression. The conviction of the five Luton protesters throws up massive problems. While their slogans were nasty, they called soldiers “baby killers” and “rapists”, they were part of a political protest, of which police had been made aware. Anyone who’s been on a protest knows that the language is rarely of the “rectify the anomaly” variety. How many times has Tony Blair been called a murderer? How many times have “Nazi scum” been ordered off our streets? A protest’s sole function is to get noticed — and strong language gets you noticed.
If there had been a public order issue at Luton, the police could have told the protestors to disperse, or even detained them temporarily; it’s far from ideal, but it beats a conviction.
I couldn’t agree more. There’s no way the banning wasn’t in response to the group’s so-called planned march through Wootton Bassett and banning the group on those grounds is patently ridiculous. Is the right to protest contingent on who you are, what you say or what your political agenda is? From the conviction of the protesters in Luton it would appear so and Peter Tatchell is right when he says:
But I defend their right to express their opinions, even though they are offensive and distressing to many people.
Insult and offence are not sufficient grounds in a democratic society to criminalise words and actions. The criminalisation of insulting, abusive or offensive speech is wrong. The only words that should be criminalised are untrue defamations and threats of violence, such as falsely branding someone as a paedophile or inciting murder.
Some sections of the Public Order Act inhibit the right to free speech and the right to protest. They should be repealed.
David Mitchell discusses the furore about the Islamist march ‘planned’ by Islam4UK in Wootton Bassett. Considering the group hasn’t even made the necessary initial representation to the police in order for the march to take place, I’ve found myself astonished at the level of invective raised, particularly the calls for it to be banned. Firstly it obviously was never going to take place anyway, so why make such a fuss, but doesn’t freedom of speech also bring with it the freedom to be offensive or to cause offence? Mitchell is thoroughly right in his support for the freedom to offend for all:
The thing about freedom of speech is that people are allowed to say offensive, indefensible things; that we needn’t fear that because we’re sure that wiser counsels are more likely to convince. “Let the idiots and bullies speak openly and they will be revealed for what they are!” is the idea. It’s a brilliant one and, in confident, educated societies, it almost always works – certainly much more often than any of the alternatives. Why has Alan Johnson lost confidence in this principle? Why have the 700,000 signatories of a Facebook petition calling for the event to be banned?
I know there are circumstances in which freedom of speech is rightly limited – I’m not arguing for a repeal of all libel or incitement to hatred laws. But it’s difficult to see how this demonstration would incite hatred of anyone other than the demonstrators. Public safety can also be an issue. I understand that the police couldn’t let the protest go ahead without a reasonable expectation that it wouldn’t become violent. But if it is banned, let us be 100% sure, let our consciences be absolutely clear, that public safety was the reason, not the excuse.
Entirely right. Of course it’ll never even get that far, because Islam4UK never intended for it to get that far; they merely wanted (as Mitchell says) the free, anti-Muslim invective to prove their case against the establishment. Alan Johnson has said he’d be prepared to ban the march on public order grounds, but contained as that was in the language of having himself felt offended by the march, it’s unclear on what grounds he was really prepared to do so. Let’s be clear: although it was never intended to take place, that march should have had the nominal right to take place in the same way that reprinting the Danish cartoons of Mohammed remains something we all have the nominal right to do. It may cause offence, but being offended is part and parcel for all of us of living in this society. Islam4UK’s Anjem Choudary articulates his own position:
Watch how he deftly blurs the lines between religion and race for his own, self-serving intent. What a bastard, right? He’s then followed by Gordon Brown:
And I couldn’t agree less with Brown’s reasons for wanting the march stopped – being ‘disgusting’, ‘not having public support’ and an ‘abuse of goodwill’ along with being (you guessed it) ‘offensive’ aren’t anywhere near good enough reasons for limiting anyone’s freedom of speech. I agree with his sentiments, and I suspect David Mitchell is right when he says Choudary and Islam4UK’s real intent is merely to ‘defile our holy places’, but is our offense at this really something we need protection from? At what point did our we lose our ability to cope with being offended, when there are so many straightforward strategies available to deal with speech we just don’t like, such as ignoring it?
For those of you sufficiently outraged at the intended (it isn’t even planned) march on Wootton Bassett by Islam 4 UK, be aware of the counter demonstration and who’s running it:
The British Humanist Association (BHA) has today supported calls from British Muslims for Secular Democracy to counter a demonstration planned by Islam 4 UK in Wootton Bassett. Islam 4 UK, a group who have held demonstrations in the past calling for Shariah law in the UK, plan to hold the march in the town which has become a symbol of mourning for British service men and women who have died in conflicts abroad.
If the march goes ahead, British Muslims for Secular Democracy are planning to organise a counter demonstration bringing together a number of religious and non-religious groups.
Pepper Harow, Campaigns Officer, stated, ‘The BHA supports free speech, democracy and freedom of belief and expression. By organising this march against such values, Islam 4 UK seek to offend and to divide. The BHA will support any counter demonstration that brings together people from diverse backgrounds and celebrates the values that we share as a free and open society.’
On public order grounds it’s pretty obvious the Islamist march will never take place. I just hope that those so easily drawn into Islamophobia appreciate that Islam 4 UK really doesn’t represent British Muslims.