Thursday, 12 March 2009

Luton, Muslim radicals and freedom of speech

The protest by a small group of radical Muslims in Luton at the home-coming parade of the Royal Anglian Regiment, described by the BBC as an "anti-war" protest*, has raised all the usual, interesting points about freedom of speech.
t is clear to me that

a) such demonstrators have the right to exercise their freedom of speech within the limits of the law;

b) the demonstration was not within the limits of the law; the demonstrators were committing offences under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 (I've bolded what I think is relevant in this case) -

5. Harassment, alarm or distress.—

(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he—

(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or

(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,

within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby. ;

c) in any event, the police could and should have seen that the demonstration was highly likely to cause a breach of the peace, and moved on the demonstrators for that reason;

d) it is highly likely that this didn't happen and no arrests were made - save of members of the public offended by the demonstration - because of police sensitivities about racism, Islamophobia etc. Consideration of obvious counterfactuals involving eg the BNP and demonstrations outside mosques is instructive here; and

e) it is wrong - both in terms of principle and for more pragmatic reasons - for the police to be guided by such considerations when enforcing the law.

So far, so relatively uncontentious.

But if there are such protests again, and the police take a similar line, we are, it seems to me, facing a very dangerous situation. A group of bearded Muslim men screaming abuse and insults at British troops lays bare significant cultural fault lines in this country, and extremists on both sides would welcome this. If the Luton protest is repeated round the country, and the police act as they did in Luton, then, combined with the deepening recession, the UK faces the very real prospect of a summer of civil unrest, and the final fragmentation of urban multi-culturalism.

*From the Times editorial today: The Islamist demonstrators in Luton who this week barracked soldiers returning from Iraq have been widely described as anti-war protesters. That is a big assumption. Their banners carried slogans including “Muslims Rise Against British Oppressors” and “Anglian Soldiers Go To Hell”. A local MP has claimed that they were linked to al-Muhajiroun - a now defunct organisation that applauded the 9/11 attacks and sought the establishment of a theocratic Muslim state. The protest appears to have been organised by a splinter from that group called Ahle Sunnah al Jamah, which promises more such events.

Whatever their formal affiliation, it is a reasonable inference that the protesters are not anti-war but pro-war. The war they favour is the one being prosecuted, in various parts of the world, by theocratic terrorism against open societies - and also closed ones that adhere to a different form of religious observance


dNo said...

It worries me that Westminster Square is now a protest free zone - these people should be protesting at the govt, not the soldiers.
I also believe the war was immoral, illegal and wrong on any level, but not one of those soldiers made the decision to go, or was faced with anything other than fear and terror when they got there. Those who acted illegally out there should be prosecuted, but again if they are not then that is a failing of their political masters.
If these protesters had hired a bus and done this outside the HP then they would have had my full support.

Jonny Mac said...

dNo, I agree with you re Parlt Square. The prohibition of protest there is, as you suggest, disgraceful.

But two wrongs don't make a right. If this group of Islamist wankers were protesting in PS, they'd still be Islamist wankers.