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Thursday, March 12, 2009 

How not to react to idiotic protests.

Over 5,000 people protested yesterday across Northern Ireland for peace. That was on the inside pages. On Tuesday between 12 and 20 Islamists, almost certainly connected with the successor groups to al-Muhajiroun, exercising their clear democratic right, protested at a parade of troops returning from Iraq. Their slogans and placards were admittedly inflammatory, but probably just on the side of not causing a public order offence or inciting hatred, and in any event they should have been given the benefit of the doubt in order to exercise their legitimate right to demonstrate. Their protest, clearly designed to attract widespread attention, makes the front pages of the tabloids for two days running. Forgive me for wondering about the sense of priorities.

Not that any of this was in the slightest bit surprising. It ticked all the buttons for the tabloids: our brave heroic boys being unfairly abused when they are just doing their jobs, mad Muslims doubtless sponging off the state daring to appear in public with a different view from that of the Fleet Street consensus, and then they of course got to make phone calls to their favourite people, the spouting likes of Anjem Choudary and Omar Bakri Muhammad, always waiting on the end of the phone line to deliver a diatribe against some part of life or society. All so predictable.

Less predictable was the tenor of the condemnation from politicians, who rather than suggesting that perhaps the best way to respond to the protest was to not give those who desperately wanted publicity the exact thing that they craved instead competed to spout the most meaningless platitude. Hence we had Harriet Harman hilariously suggesting that the soldiers were fighting for "democracy and for freedom of speech as well as peace and security in the region and the world." These were the troops which have just spent their last six months rarely leaving their base outside Basra, and according to most accounts doing a rather poor job of training the Iraqi police. Their presence, according to no less an authority than the head of the army himself, was in fact "exacerbating" the security situation. She was however outdone by the egregious Liam Fox, who said "[I]t is only because of the sacrifices made by our armed forces that these people live in a free society where they are able to make their sordid protests." He is of course right, up to a point, but the idea that our current armed forces and their deployments are in any way protecting us currently, and that this somehow means that they are beyond criticism, is an attempt to close down such debate, without getting into other arguments such as that made by Matthew Norman. We could however depend on other shrill Tory politicians, such as Sayeedi Warsi, who described the protesters as "criminals", and this blog's much loved Nadine Dorries, who described their intervention as "atrocities" (according to the Sun, although I can't seem to find her describing them thusly elsewhere, although she makes points similar to Harman and Fox on her blog) to even further ramp up the synthetic outrage.

Quite how far what should have been an insignificant protest launched by marginalised individuals with absolutely no wide support was blown out of proportion was symbolised by what we have since learned about the attempts to organise their presence. Mass leafleting went on in Luton, which has an estimated population of around 20,000 Muslims, to encourage protests at the homecoming: that just 20 turned up, and that indeed there are claims that some of those there were not even from Luton or the surrounding area shows how ignored their message was in the town itself. Indeed, the TV pictures clearly showed that there were plenty of other Muslims who had turned up to applaud the troops, who have been completely ignored in all of this. That though was never going to fit into the message which was meant to be conveyed here: that the protest itself was bordering on the almost treasonable, and that anyone who treats the armed forces in such a disrespectful matter ought to be put on the first plane out of the country.

The reaction which those who organised the protest have received will if anything embolden them to repeat their actions. That one of them has lost his job working at Luton airport due to his attendance will be a further greviance they will build on. The real victims in all of this will of course will be the ordinary Muslims whom have been tarnished, both by the protesters themselves and by the media who at the first opportunity get in contact with individuals who build themselves up as representative of the wider community when they are representative only of themselves. Choudary and al-Bakri stigmatise Muslims as a whole, and then individuals demand that good, decent Muslims raise their voices against them; why should they when it should already be apparent that they loathe those who are only interested in their own self-aggrandisement? The other beneficiaries, as always, are the BNP, with Nick Griffin sending out an email to supporters which was actually milder in the language used than most other politicians were.

One final, controversial point to make is to challenge the idea that the troops themselves are completely above reproach. While we thankfully don't have the same jingoistic view of our soldiers as they do in the US, the tabloid press especially insists on regarding every single member of the armed forces automatically as a "hero"; this, it should go without saying, is an incredibly simplistic and unhelpful view to take. The soldiers themselves for the most part resent the way the media portrays them, regarding it both as cynical and false, not to mention embarrassing when they themselves are for the most part incredibly humble about what they do. It also undermines the very real fact that they are working for what many of us would regard as poverty pay, in often horrendous conditions, with old equipment and in unsanitary housing. They deserve respect and support, not fawning and brown-nosing. Targeting them in such insulting terms is wrong, but is not to say that all protests against soldiers are automatically unacceptable. If only we could get past all such orthodoxies, we might eventually get somewhere in challenging all those involved, but it seems destined not to be.

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On the button as usual.

Seems to me that the 'blowing up out of all proportion' is of a piece with whole 'War on Terror' narrative. Call me a cynic but the decision to have such parades through the streets in the first place seems calculated to provoke this sort of thing, the better to validate the narrative in the minds of a credulous public. As for the reaction of politicians - Christ they really do make me want to puke. But the really, thoroughly, totally bloody depressing thing is that the vast majority of the population are such suckers for it.

While the protest was designed to be insulting and inflammatory, and so were knowingly irresponsible, what really pissed me off was all this talk about how "it's because of what these soldiers do that we have the right to protest at all."

Smells a bit like "if you don't like it here, bog off back to where you came from, where you wouldn't have freedom of expression." How have these soldiers been protecting my rights?

Why must we automatically be proud of British soldiers, regardless of what they do? Are we still living in a century where the very act of voluntarily signing up to fight wars is deserving of public parades and adulation? I've blogged on it here.

Dear Obsolete,
I decided to write about your post (as well as other similar ones) on my blog Hagley Road to Ladywood. There were too many points I wanted to make to just comprise them all into a comment.
All the best.
http://mymarilyn.blogspot.com/2009/03/left-and-irredeemable-back-foot.html

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