This country moved away from the principles of free speech this week with the Lords voting to pass the ‘glorification of terrorism bill’.
This pointless law will make it impossible to support in word or deed the struggles many across the globe fight against the forces of totalitarianism. An insiduous censorship of political thought, this bill would have criminalised the ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ concerts, as well as those today who support the struggle of the Palestian people or those in Zimbabwe resisting the state terror of Mugabe.
We find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of being permitted to criticise dictatorial regimes, but being unable to support and act in solidarity with those who oppose them. It is a step towards totalitarianism within our own country, and one wonders why any government would feel it necessary.
You won’t find any information about that on the March for Free Expression website, which has become a playground for anti-islamic right wingers to air their unsavoury views.
I have lived in a multi-ethnic community my whole life, a white male born in Bradford who’s lived in London for the past 12 years. The key to creating successful multi-racial communities I believe can be summarised in one word … tolerance.
As a dog owner for a while I quickly realised when living in Stamford Hill that many of my neighbours were uncomfortable and frightened if I let my dog off the lead in the streets (even though he was about as soft and amiable as they come).
After realising this I began to keep him on the lead until I was outside of the immediate area where people took offence. A minor inconvenience to me and him, but one which stopped the dirty looks and frightened children and allowed me to be more accpeted within the community at large.
I don’t say this to offer myself up as any kind of super moral, super reasonable type, t’was just commen sense and an example of the kind of behaviour modification which can be seen happening in any diverse society everyday by people who have to find a way to get along for the good of all.
Likewise, were I to leave the house wearing a t-shirt depicting Mohammed and my Muslim neighbour pointed out that he or she took great offence to it then I wouldn’t wear it again … I may not understand the reasons why, I may not even agree, however that’s a small price to pay for community cohesion.
f my neighbour were to demand I be arrested for wearing it, that’s a different matter entirely. I do not believe that the government should legislate on free speech, I believe that a just and healthy society will naturally work these things out for themselves at a community level, and hope that (bar a few hard right nutcases or hardcore religious extremists) most in the UK are tolerant enough to faciliate this.
I believe we can, which is why mutlti-ethnic communities in the UK by and large work. Living in Tottenham as I do now, I see everyday great civility and respect amongst communities who have no choice but to live closely together and are largely united only by a lack of cash or access to participation in wider society.
This country has more free speech than at any time in it’s history. The pornography laws have fallen away and the internet has made it possible to access and publish views which may be hugely offensive to some.
For those who worry about militant Islam eroding our right to free speech, just spend some time surfing the net and see what people on both sides of the debate are getting away with saying. Whilst the legislation I mention above may impact on the freedom of political discourse, the requests from the Muslim community for the national press not to publish these cartoons does not.
I do not understand why depicting Mohammed is so offensive, but I understand the genuine hurt and anger felt by almost all Muslims when being forced to view those images again and again. In the interests of living harmoniously (hippy that I can be) I agree that it is responsible of the UK press to avoid publishing the cartoons in the same way I believe the initial publication by the Jyllande Posten was an unecessary and provocative act.
If you read the through the links below you’ll see that I was equally condemnatory of the glut of anti-semetic cartoons which began popping up in response, a kneejerk and reactionary, tit for tat response. I also don’t agree with the chaps with their beheading placards.
I do however think they need to be also seen in the context of a bunch of hyped up young men attempting to cause the same level of offence that was provoked in them by the cartoons.
The western media has come this far without ever depicting an image of Mohammed, without the wailings of censorship which are being heard now. It’s a simple fact of respecting the religions of the brothers and sisters we share our lives with.
Now were there to be calls for a banning on criticism or satire of Islam then I would nail my colours to the mast and fight it with all my heart, just as I would were there calls to ban satire of any religious or political movement. I did not support the hopefully now dead and buried ‘incitement to religious hatred bill’ as I do not believe that it is the states job to legislate on freedom of speech and also feel minority communties such as the Muslim community amongst others in this country would be likely to feel the brunt of it (all those on antiwar marches carrying the interlocked swastika/star of David banners for example – you know who you are).
There are now cartoons depicting Mohammed all over the internet, no-one’s shutting those websites down or murdering their webmasters, and it’s clear that if you wish to satirise Islam on your website or draw some pictures for your friends then go ahead, no-ones stopping you.
That is entirely different to parading them across the national media, or indeed descending on Trafalgar Square carrying them on banners in full view of the world’s press.
Incidentally the Global Civility campaign are not calling for these images to be made illegal, merely that changes be made to the Press Complaints Commission Code of Practice to allow some response and right to redress to those who have been offended by whatever the media chooses to say about any religion.
This is a political demand which they are free to make, they are also free to demand that the cartoons be banned, that’s their freedom of expression, although it would seem unlikely to lead them anywhere as their appears to be no mood in government for banning any kind of cartoon.
I supported the BBC screening Jerry Springer the Opera, would i support Mohammed the Opera on national telly? no, not right now, not at this time. When so many in Islamic communities are literally fearing for their lives, when Islamic communities in this country are facing unprecedented harrassment and racism to stage something like that on a national level, well it feels a bit like putting the boot in.
and so to the riots, again I think the thinking is muddled once more. No one single incident creates a riot, riots happen because of a building of tension within a community until eventually there is a tipping point and that community says enough is enough … those cartoons were a tipping point.
As for artists in fear of their lives, and those dead already, please don’t lose sight of the fact that when the west declared war on Iraq (rightly or wrongly) the west entered into a war. Whilst we prefer our wars to only kill foreign innocents and the odd Britsh soldier the reality of warfare is quite the opposite
Any country which goes to war on this scale can expect civillian casualties, maybe we would do well to remember that the next time GW tries to tempt us into another of his crazy adventures.
So I won’t be going to Trafalgar Square this Saturday. I hope sincerely that the organisers manage to keep the far right wolves from the door, but I’m not optimistic. I also hope that offended communities can rise above this provocation, and allow this movement to whither away as people gradually wake up to the truth of the matter, which is beyond promoting isamaphobia this movement has little of substance behind it.