Provincial Tory attacks free speech

In case anyone was really thinking that the Tories had become the party of civil liberties in the UK (rather than the party which started the ball rolling on bringing in laws restricting the right to protest and which abolished the right to silence without it leading to the presumption of guilt), the idiotic demonstration by a couple of dozen MuhajiGoons earlier this week in Luton has led to an amendment to the religious hatred law being tabled by some guy called David Davies, Tory MP for Monmouthshire, to outlaw abusive demonstrations against serving soldiers.

This is at least the second time that the antics of al-Muhajiroun have led to a campaign to ban whatever they are doing - the law banning people from “glorifying” terrorism was in direct response to their post-9/11 press conferences in which they crowed about the “magnificent” attacks on the World Trade Centre. Their strength then was barely more than it is now, and yet laws are framed which affect all of us just to stop a few dozen loud-mouths whose ravings are amplified by a press which, while feigning hostility to them, actually loves the money they bring in.

I do not believe that these protests are equivalent to inciting hatred for people based on religion or race, anyway. Racial and religious hatred is what communal riots and mass murder, rape and general destruction is based on; a few strong words aimed at soldiers on parade in a public place is not in the same league at all. In any case, if our soldiers had really been involved in an atrocity - if something like Abu Ghraib had been British soldiers’ responsibility rather than Americans’ - then public anger, particularly from any community connected in some way to the victims, would be quite understandable. If the soldiers had been returning from Sierra Leone or Bosnia, suffice to say that there would have been no protest, but how many regiments were taken on a parade through a town centre after coming back from either of those places, when a heroes’ welcome might have been more appropriate?

It is depressing that we see reactive legislation, or attempts at it, in response to vexatious antics by loud-mouths such as Anjem Choudhary and his gang, who should have been denied the oxygen of publicity years ago rather than being dignified with bills in parliament in response. I notice that there have been few prosecutions for inciting hatred based on religion, despite the flood of Muslim-bashing headlines from the Daily Express, which a lot of Muslims, including myself, find more worrying than the rantings of delinquent BNP activists. Why do people cry “ban it” every time an annoying public demonstration is reported on the news? Why does freedom of speech mean so little to us? This could never happen in the USA, where the First Amendment would make it not worth discussing unless real harm could happen as a direct result.

Mr Davies’s voting record is interesting - very strongly against ID cards, generally against Labour anti-terrorist laws, and in favour of an investigation into the causes of the Iraq war; his position, as expressed in the BBC news report, is that any protest should be directed at Parliament and not at the soldiers themselves. I wonder if he sees the irony in voting in favour of civil-libertarian causes but proposing a law telling us how we should talk about soldiers in their presence? This is exactly the kind of law used by dictatorships and pseudo-democracies like Turkey to ban criticism of the military. There would be some justification if abusive or violent demonstrations at such events were a known problem (and even then, police action to keep them away would be a better idea), but this is one incident involving a small number of people, and a law banning such demonstrations is a disproportionate response.

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