Aldous Huxley was right. Sort of.
Much the same goes for the "my tram experience" video posted at the end of last year, featuring a clearly drunk woman being gratuitously ignorant and bigoted. Why record someone who is clearly not in full control of themselves unless, and this is a big unless, you're going to hand it over to the authorities as evidence that this person is potentially endangering their child by being sloshed in public? Don't put it up on the internet as evidence of how racist Britain still is when it shows nothing of the sort, especially when you ought to know full well that the person behind the obnoxious views is then going to be subjected to what might be called the full force of hate from keyboard warriors. It's very doubtful that Emma West will be raped or killed as a result of her inebriated ravings, as so many suggested she should be on forums and social networks afterwards, but the whole incident was simply unnecessary and avoidable.
Azhar Ahmed should then have known when he wrote his status update on the reaction to the deaths of six British servicemen last week that his shall we say forthright views were likely to offend. What he couldn't possibly have known was that he would be arrested, charged with a racially aggravated public order offence and then bailed to an address outside of West Yorkshire as a direct result. While I'm one of those who believes free speech should mean just that up to the point of inciting hatred or murder, I should imagine that had Ahmed given similar vent out in the street he could well have been arrested for breaching the peace. Where though is there anything that could be considered racial in his statement, at least as far we've seen through screengrabs? He doesn't make any reference to soldiers being British, being white or any other colour; he simply says "all soldiers should die".
The charge simply doesn't seem to make any sense. This has inevitably been explained in some quarters as obviously being down to the fact that Ahmed is Asian, and so therefore a Muslim, and so his comments must be either racially or religiously motivated, leading to the charge. More likely is that his remarks, even if not racist in tone, do resemble somewhat the line taken by groups such as Islam 4 UK, especially the line about women being raped, a point they often dwell upon regardless of their failure to come up with any examples of Iraqi or Afghani women being raped by foreign soldiers. It's not completely beyond credence that Ahmed has some links to such groups, or alternatively that the police decided that his remarks were so similar to their spouting that it justified the racial element.
Alternatively, there might be more to it than what we've so far seen. Harry Paterson relates some of the responses Ahmed's status received, some of them moving from the personally abusive into the realm of racism. Did Ahmed then respond in kind to some of these, with the police deciding that since he had started the discussion they would overlook the racism from the others and just deal with him? It certainly seems possible. Or have the police simply overreacted, seen something that isn't actually there, and will as a result have to drop the racially aggravated part on March the 20th?
Regardless of such concerns, Ahmed has nonetheless been subjected to much the same treatment as Emma West was. Deserving of being called an idiot as he is, the comments and responses go far beyond that. The best example is the Azhar Ahmed Scumbag!!! page over on Facebook, which until a few hours ago had as its description
"Azhar Ahmed need to be killed for what he wrote on facebook the scum! people like this should not be in our county if their not going to support it! out with the scum!!!"
Apart from being severely lacking in grammar, this goes further than Ahmed did. He merely said all soldiers should die; he didn't say they should be killed, or "need to be killed". With numerous people apparently reporting the page not just to Facebook but to the police, the description has now been subtly changed to
Azhar Ahmed need to be put away and never let out for what he wrote on facebook the scum! people like this should not be in our county if their not going to support it! out with the scum!!!
Still as lacking in grammar, and still over the top, but at least it no longer incites murder.
Hopefully we'll receive more details next Tuesday as to exactly why the charge against Ahmed is racially motivated and not a simple public order one. Until then it would be lovely if we could get things in perspective, and realise that regardless of whether we're saying it out loud or typing it, saying without irony that someone should die or be killed simply for something they themselves have said never adds much to a debate.