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Monday, January 11, 2010 

The impossibility of freedom of speech.

As quickly as it was announced, and as quickly as the media were tiring of the story, Anjem Choudary and friend(s) have decided that they're not going to march through Wootton Bassett after all. Not that they were ever going to march in the first place, as anyone who had bothered to take a look at the aborted "March for Sharia" last year would have concluded. While Choudary certainly played a blinder throughout, as suggested last week, it's also difficult not to conclude that the media were wholly complicit in and even further encouraged Choudary's offline trolling. Admittedly, it is a great story - Islamic group which hates our freedom wants to march through the same place where our "glorious dead" are first honoured on their return to their final resting place, especially the chutzpah it takes to suggest they'll be doing something similar, carrying empty coffins to symbolise those that the same glorious dead might themselves have killed, and one which few will have decided not to cover on the basis that it's all bullshit. After all, bullshit is something that the media thrives off, as anyone reading a tabloid on almost any occasion will note.

It is however slightly rich to then play the "distress and hurt" line, on how deeply offended the families of the dead will be by these prancing bearded extremists walking down the same street as their relatives were returned down when you yourself are also causing it by suggesting it's going to happen when it's fairly certain that it isn't. It also allows the likes of the Sun to suggest that because there's one idiot with verbal diarrhoea around there must be plenty of others like him also, and that the government isn't doing its job in protecting us from these clearly dangerous mouthbreathers. It doesn't matter that the Sun itself provided him with more of a soapbox than anyone else, interviewing him, printing his nonsense and allowing him to appear on their piss-poor internet radio station with Jon Gaunt. Clearly it's not the media that provides him with space that are the problem - it's the loon himself. The government, naturally, agrees, hence the umpteenth banning of a group that Choudary's been involved with. To call it futile and stupid would be putting it lightly - all he's going to do is after another period of time create a new one, which will again in consequence be banned, until the world explodes or Choudary dies, whichever comes sooner, and each time it happens Choudary can continue to claim both persecution and mystique, martyring an idiot with no support purely for the benefit of other idiots.

All this is distracting us though from a group that actually did go ahead with a protest, and who were today found guilty of public order offences after protesting at a homecoming parade by the Royal Anglian Regiment in Luton last March. Whether they have links with Choudary personally or not is unclear, although it wouldn't be completely surprising if they did, but one suspects that they are also remnants of what was once al-Muhajiroun, or malcontents with an ideology similar to that of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, although that group generally shuns such public confrontation. Luton has had problems with a small minority of Islamists for a few years, causing widespread grief through guilt of association to the wider community, with the protest last March being the final straw.

The conviction of five of the group who were prosecuted, with two others being acquitted, is still however a cause for concern, regardless of whether or not you agree with the views they expressed, when it comes to the right to protest. The old cliche is that to shout "fire" in a crowded theatre when there isn't one is illegal because of the dangers of causing a panic; in this case the men have been convicted not because of something similar, but because they were causing "harassment and distress", to which one response has to be to say "ah, diddums". It would make rather more sense if they were convicted on the grounds that their shouting, accusing the soldiers of variously being murderers, rapists and baby killers, was inflammatory, which it certainly was, to such an extent that the police were having to protect the men from the crowd, with a couple of members of the public themselves arrested for their behaviour in response, but that wasn't the case.

Instead, the worrying thing is that the Crown Prosecution Service felt that their actions had gone "beyond legitimate political protest". Although soldiers themselves are quite rightly very rarely targeted for their role when the responsibility mainly lies with the politicians that send them into conflicts, with the exception of the shout that the soldiers were rapists, the other cries they made would certainly not be out of place on an angry but perfectly legitimate protest against a war, especially one that was ongoing. It's also not as if the slogans themselves are necessarily inaccurate: some relatives of service personnel killed in Afghanistan and Iraq have described them as being "murdered", hence those on the opposite side could say exactly the same, while air strikes have in the past certainly caused the deaths of whole families, babies included. The rape accusation is the only one that couldn't be made to stick in any circumstances. The difference between abuse and insults and legitimate political protest is a very fine one, and one which some swearbloggers would certainly breach if placed in the same situation. In one sense, what today's successful prosecution means is that protesters have to consider whether the public around them might consider their sentiments to be harassment, alarming or distressing. Doubtless those there to welcome home and support the troops did find a protest which was unflinching in its criticism alarming or distressing and also outrageous; do they though, as the judge said, have the right "to demonstrate their support for the troops without experiencing insults and abuse"? Or indeed, the unspoken implication, without having to put with up any sort of protest that disagreed with the view that the troops were courageous heroes?

No one is going to be crying any tears for those convicted, especially when they are quite clearly using freedom of speech only for their own ends, not believing in it for anyone other than themselves. We have though always had a strange notion of freedom of speech in this country, one that is far more restricted than it is in other equivalent democracies: it would be lovely if we could be more like America on this score, where they put up with the likes of the Westboro Baptist Church without having to resort to the law to prosecute them for pushing eccentric, insulting and abusive opinions, but that seems to be beyond us and our media, who delight in being outraged even while pushing that which disgusts them.

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I don't remember anyone in the army raping anyone (there was sexual abuse in Basra, but I don't think rape), so I suppose it's possible that that would come under slander (assuming you can slander the British army generally, and not just specific soldiers). But then slander would be dealt with under the civil law, not the criminal law, as lying during a protest doesn't affect your right to protest.

As for "murderers" and "baby killers", well that's crass and over-emotive, but unfortunately true, and anyone who thinks otherwise, quite clearly hasn't come to terms with the realities of war. Innocent people die during war.

Dying for your country takes courage, and I couldn't do it. Killing for your country takes something else entirely. Particularly when you're killing whoever the State tells you to, without regard to whether it's right or not. That means that one day you may be killing Nazis, and the next killing Iraqi soldiers. "Our boys" aren't always the good guys (like in Iraq), and terrible, regrettable things happen even when going to war was right (think Dresden), and it's time people learnt that.

(1) There is a long and unpleasant association between war, soldiers and rape: cf. Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape, by Susan Brownmiller (1975) - dated, but its central analysis stands.

(2) If someone had approached the Luton demonstrators, and said, "Rapists? Where's your evidence?" - that would have been democracy and reason in action. These convictions further diminish the likelihood of nutters being confronted with what ought to be the far more damning weapons of facts and genuine arguments. That facts and arguments are not seen as powerful weapons is perhaps an issue which our society needs to urgently address.

Although one of my 'neighbours' when I started blogging was a woman who had been detained on what sounded like specious grounds by the hounds of U.K. 'Security' due to the 'terrorism' bullshite, I have never equated the U.S.A. with superior freedom to the U.K.
Rather I have always thought the poor S.O.D.'s do not recognize the magnitude of the brainwashing inflicted upon their psyches : most never having heard of Orwell. The homeland of Hollywood has taken the honoured British tradition of informational suicide and spun it to ever more extreme levels : not realizing that in so doing they are making the overarching power of media control too obvious for the pretense of freedom.
I keep an open file of related finds http://opitslinkfest.blogspot.com/2009/07/perception-alteration.html
As for rape,etc....there is this
http://www.religioustolerance.org/war_rape.htm

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