Wootton Bassett

Islam4UK want to march through Wooten Basset in a provocative protest against the British presence in Afghanistan. It is, as Dave Osler says on Liberal Conspiracy, a huge “headache” for the principled secular left who want defend free speech. Also at LibCon, Scepticisle points out that Anjem Choudry, who leads Islam4UK, is a “media troll” who is being deliberately provocative.  He wants to provoke a violent reaction, and the best course of action is to not give him one.  This means allowing the march to proceed, however offensive the message.  The small numbers it will attract will demonstrate just how fringe and ridiculous Choudry and his ideas actually are.

I’m surprised by the illiberal line taken by James Alexander at Progress:

This planned event will turn to violence and lead to a counter-response by the English Defence League. Then the BNP will begin to stir up divisions in the surrounding localities.

Even if you disagree with the actions of the brave soldiers who fight to protect British security, it is wrong to antagonise the families of the fallen. This is hateful and evil. I am writing to the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson MP, to call for Islam4UK to be also banned.

I don’t buy into the meme that a provocative march will necessarily be met with violence from outraged Britons.  Politicians and public figures should seize this as a ‘teaching moment’ and now use their influence to condemn in advance such actions, and inspire people to a more tolerant approach.  Gordon Brown has failed to do this so far.

Alexander’s Progress piece seems to have been seized upon by the sort of comments that one usually sees on tabloid comment boards.  I’ve just posted my own comment which sums up what I think:

I disagree with James Alexander … in suggesting that the Islam4UK march should be banned. That would be anti-free speech. If our troops are fighting for anything in Afghanistan, it is human rights, including the right to free expression (something sadly lacking in that country at the moment). The greatest tribute to our soldiers, living and fallen, would be to maintain our principles consistently at home and abroad: This means allowing the Islam4UK march.

The idea that the British people en mass cannot control themselves when confronted with a sorry band of Islamists is ridiculous and divisive. Locals and others who disagree with Islam4UK’s ridiculous ideas are perfectly capable of staging a bigger, peaceful counter-march, without any of the pathetic threats of violence that the other commenters here are so keen to see realised. It is this, and only this course of action that is consistent with the British spirit of tolerance and democracy. Progress members should be using their power and influence to bring this course of action about. Anything less is to sink towards the level of the fundamentalists.

Photo by Robin Hodson

A Wootten Basset memorial procession, 17th Nov 2009. Photo by Robin Hodson on Flickr.

13 thoughts on “Wootton Bassett

  1. Correct Robert – unless they plan violence or destruction of property, the march should not be banned. Indeed it should be marshalled to ensure that it passes off peacefully.

    But ideally, there should indeed be a large counter demonstration and the streets should be lined with people holding simple placards alternately listing the names of all those saved by the actions of the forces in preventing suicide bombers and – probably an equally long list – the names of those killed by terrorists that Choudary and his loons apparently support – the ones we failed to stop.

  2. Correct, P-G – unless they plan hate speech, incitement to violence, defamation, slander, or other illegal activity, including violence, the march should not be banned.

    Sadly, Rob’s and your recommended course of action doesn’t sell papers though. Let us not kid ourselves – it is sales, not ideas (or even memes) that cynically underpins the stated hoped-for outcome to which you object.

  3. Correct Clarice. (how long can we keep this up?)

    Unfortunately, whilst correct (that is what the papers think), it’s not true.

    Just imagine how powerful that counter demo would be. Just think of the journalisty avenues to explore and expand on. Just think of all the follow on articles examining what the implications of Choudary’s views really are and how they are resoundingly rejected everywhere that they are experienced and given the chance to be resoundingly rejected.

    Ho hum.

  4. Rob, forgive me, but you are an idiot. Wootton Bassett is the setting for a respectful and solemn return of the war dead, often attended by the families of those who have died. These young people sent to die went to try to make a difference. It is NOT the place for angry protests and demonstration. Would the Stop the War Coalition have suggested similar activity in Wootton Bassett? no, they would have shown respect. The tradition of free speech is one of the greatest achievements of this country, but it should be viewed as a privilege not be be abused. They can march in central London should they choose. Permission to march in Wootton Bassett MUST be denied on public order grounds.

    1. Ellie, your conception of free speech is very dangerous. Free expression us a right, not a “privilege” as you put it. We simply cannot place rules on who can protest, and where they can protest, based on what other people find offensive. As soon as you introduce such a subjective judgement then it is an easy slide into an extremely censorious system of politics. ‘Offence’ is an unpleasant part of living in a democracy.

      Public order, you say? Oh ye of little faith! Have you so little esteem or the people of Wootton Bassett and the United Kingdom, that faced with an unpleasant set of opinions, they can do nothing but riot?! As I say above, a peaceful demonstration of tolerance will be so muhore eloquent than a knee-jerk ban based on hypotheticals and fear.

  5. Be that as it may, if we WANT to celebrate Christmas, we should not be told we can't. Also, what annoys me, is that in every airport, there is a sign "to prayer room". Where is the sign – "to the chapel" or "to the synagogue". What's good for the goose, etc" . No one took any notice of Hitler when he wrote Mein Kamph and literally spelled out what he planned to do – and then DID it. Now we are all cow-towing when in 20 year's time (hopefully not sooner!) we'll all be saying – why the hell didn't we take note of what was happening then!!! In the end, the only thing that will work – is plain and simple – live and let live! The very best is what the Ozzie PM said – if you don't like it, leave!!!

  6. Hmm, I think you might be confusing several issues here. Who on earth is saying that we cannot celebrate Christmas?! In the UK, the War on Christmas is a complete myth: See Oliver Burkeman's dismantling here:www.guardian.co​.uk/christmas20​06/story/0,,196​7367,00.htmlIn Malaysia, a Muslim Country, they may well be attacking the celebration of a Christian festival. But its totally erroneous thinking to say that because something has been attacked in one country, that we should engage in some sort of tit-for-tat in the UK or other secular democracies like South Africa. The 'Us vs. Them' battle is not Muslims vs Christians, but Fundamentalists​ vs. secular democracy. This is why the protection of free expression, however odious, is something worth fighting for.

  7. Hmm, I think you might be confusing several issues here. Who on earth is saying that we cannot celebrate Christmas?! In the UK, the War on Christmas is a complete myth: See Oliver Burkeman's dismantling here:www.guardian.co.uk/christmas2006/story/0,,1967367,00.htmlIn Malaysia, a Muslim Country, they may well be attacking the celebration of a Christian festival. But its totally erroneous thinking to say that because something has been attacked in one country, that we should engage in some sort of tit-for-tat in the UK or other secular democracies like South Africa. The 'Us vs. Them' battle is not Muslims vs Christians, but Fundamentalists vs. secular democracy. This is why the protection of free expression, however odious, is something worth fighting for.

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