The public relations brilliance of Anjem Choudary.
Calling for a sense of perspective is of course a complete waste of time. It doesn't matter that Islam4UK, the umpteenth successor organisation to Al-Muhjarioun, which may once have been a potentially dangerous grouping but which has long since become quite the opposite, probably has less than a hundred supporters and that its only purpose seems to be to get what still could be spoofs into the press (such as how Trafalgar Square would look under Sharia law). It also doesn't matter than the group already has a record for not following through on its stunts: it had a "march for Sharia" through Whitehall and Westminster planned for the 31st of October last year which they didn't turn up for, although the planned counter-demonstrations to it did go ahead. No, what clearly matters is that Choudary makes for good news and especially for outrage when there isn't much to get worked up about going on. And boy, how he and his media accomplices have succeeded this time: already there's a 200,000 plus strong group opposing his march plans on Gulliblebook (sorry, I mean Idiotbook, err, Facebook), while the politicians themselves have competed to condemn him.
It is almost enough to make you wonder whether Choudary is in fact for real and not a long-standing security service plant; after all, we now know that the likes of the IRA had agents right at the very top, or at least those that while still sharing the ultimate aims still felt the need to prevent some of the more egregious actions of their colleagues by informing on them, so it isn't completely impossible. What's far more likely though is that he's become that creature who can be relied upon when news is slow to provide something for readers to get themselves worked up about, a creation as much of the media themselves as a representation of their own personality. Choudary is himself after all describing his group's plans as "publicity stunts"; by firing off press releases that can easily be turned out and churned on by lazy hacks, it's as if the events have already happened without anyone needing to leave the house.
Even by the Sun's standards they are though laying it on a bit thick. Jon Gaunt, who can always be relied upon to turn a molehill into a politically correct Guardianista mountain, suggested that Choudary's plans for the march amounted to "treason". Really? Even when although we can hardly rely upon Choudary's word for it, his plans for the demo seem to amount not to the usual placards and slogans about the superiority of Islam, but instead for an almost reasonable carrying of clear coffins to represent the others that have died in Afghanistan but whom have received no memorial?
Underneath all this nonsense, there is something far more serious going on, and it's just how quickly politicians and others that declare they love freedom of speech and demonstration change their tune when it's a message they don't like being expressed. There is of course the risk if Choudary's unlikely march was to go ahead, even in its rather benign form, that it would naturally attract the attention of equally unpleasant individuals who seem to imagine that the entire notion of Britishness is being defiled by allowing such people to put their own points across; indeed, that's the other point of the stunt in the first place. Choudary wants a reaction, both written and physical. Without it, there's no point to his doing anything in the first place. When Alan Johnson says that the idea of Choudary's march fills him with "revulsion", he's doing Choudary's job for him; in what other circumstances would a perfectly legitimate protest fill him with such an emotion? The Sun's editorial says it's a "unfortunate downside" of our "cherished tradition of free speech" that he and his supporters can demonstrate. An "unfortunate downside"? No one with any true belief in free speech would describe any peaceful protest, even one they disagree with, in such terms.
Increasingly, even while those who oppose the war in Afghanistan increase in number, the actual ways of expressing disapproval about it decrease. It's no coincidence that the Sun, whose whole "Our Boys" campaign, alongside its support for the "Help for Heroes" charity has ensured that to even suggest that perhaps the soldiers themselves aren't entirely blameless in all of this when they freely volunteered to join the army is the outlet leading the cries against Choudary's antics (despite its role in actively promoting them, repeatedly). Those who protested during the Luton homecoming parade back in March are by coincidence currently being prosecuted under Public Order legislation for having the temerity to suggest that British soldiers might be killers; when does something that might be perfectly legitimate to suggest about politicians become unacceptable when it's said against those that actually do the killing? That's a distinction that the jury are hardly likely to reflect too long upon.
As the Heresiarch suggests, Wootton Bassett has become the very centre of the justification for the war, because what started out as a spontaneous and heartfelt tribute for those who lost their lives in the line of duty has become an almost official and politicised remembrance centre where no dissent from the official line can be tolerated. This isn't the fault of the people there, but the media especially and others for exceptionally focusing it on. When there is no major political outlet for discontent, as there currently isn't from any of the main three parties, you can hardly blame the likes of Choudary for wanting to fill the void. If Choudary should give a kick up the backside to anyone, it should be to those that are not lunatics or comedians but who oppose the war to step up their game and properly make their voices heard; the risk is that they get silenced both by the backlash and the view that to oppose the war is to somehow invite bloodshed on our own streets. At the moment it's more likely that the brainless anti-Choudary brigade could cause it through fighting amongst themselves than it happening as the result of anything else.