Technically, the treatment meted out by the British State to those strongly critical of Islam is legal. But is the reaction proportional or unreasonable?
Do those who criticise Islam deserve to be imprisoned? One may expect to hear news like this from Islamic countries, but you might be surprised to know that governments in the Western world, particularly the British government of late are increasingly prosecuting those who criticise Islam. Those strongly critical of Islam have long been under threat by Islamic extremists but now Western governments are getting in on the act, persecuting them under the guise of a variety of legislation, such as hate speech, anti-vilification and blasphemy style laws.
Increasingly, it appears that if the government can’t get them on such charges they scrutinise their lives till they find some misdemeanour and proceed to throw the book at them, assisted by the press who often play along, labelling anyone who criticises Islam as ‘far-right’. The most recent example is prominent English anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson – whose real name is Yaxley Lennon. Already a polarising figure in Britain, his recent imprisonment on 25th May for contempt of court proved so controversial that there had been protests around the world calling for his release. Robinson subsequently appealed the matter and the contempt ruling has now been quashed by the Court of Appeal and is remitted to be heard again.
As readers will remember Tommy Robinson landed in trouble in the first place because he broadcast outside the trial of a grooming gang for rape that had reporting restrictions placed on it. His supporters were outraged that while there were still Islamic grooming gangs roaming the streets yet a man could be sent to prison on a 13 month sentence for merely reporting on them. Whilst many others believe he deserved the conviction, (he was already on a suspended sentence for a similar offence, and that conviction still stands) the fact that thousands upon thousands of people have marched to free Robinson shows his case has hit a raw nerve. But what particularly alarmed many observers was not just his incarceration but the speed at which he was dispatched, because he was arrested, tried and convicted on the same day. A reporting ban was also placed on his case (though that was soon lifted). This left many questioning whether Britain has now become a police state.
Indeed the appeal judges in their ruling criticised the fact that there had been a mere five hours between Robinson’s arrest and subsequent sentencing at Leeds Crown Court. As they noted, this hardly gave Robinson any time to prepare or even submit a defence. They also criticised the lack of clarity given by the judge as to exactly what part of the broadcast had caused the contempt. Robinson will now be on bail whilst he awaits the matter to be heard again, at a date yet to be announced. But Tommy Robinson isn’t the only anti-Islam activist this year to be targeted by the British state.
In March, Canadian journalist and activist Lauren Southern, who famously crowdfunded a mission supposedly to stop NGOs from bringing migrants who had set sail from North Africa into Europe, was banned from entering Britain. She claims she was detained under the terrorism act for having issued ‘racist’ material on a previous trip. The material in question was a satirical rainbow coloured flyer with the wording, “Allah is gay”. Southern had seen an article suggesting Jesus may have been gay, which attracted little backlash, and wondered what reaction a similar themed pamphlet about Allah might induce. She certainly got her answer.
Around the same time other activists known for objecting to Islam, Austrian Martin Sellner and his American girlfriend Brittany Pettibone were also banned from entering Britain. Some would say Sellner deserves the label of far-right as he heads the Identitarian movement, whose aim is to radically reduce immigration to return Europe to a primarily European ethnicity – code for white. He insists that he believes all races are equal but he doesn’t believe multiculturalism works. While it’s certainly an idea that many would call xenophobic and racist, Sellner has, however, never advocated violence. Given that many of them haven’t committed acts that are actually punishable by criminal law, it is troubling as to on what basis they are having their freedom of movement restricted and their entry banned. It seems, to the outside observer that since governments cannot restrict them on the basis of existing criminal laws, they are finding creative means to quell a movement and an ideology that is found objectionable.
While some of Southern, Pettibone and Sellner’s views may be questionable, someone who can hardly be called racist is Shazia Hobbs, a Scottish ex-Muslim of Pakistani descent. Yet she too came under the scrutiny of London Mayor Sadiq Khan for ‘hate speech’ merely for a tweet she reportedly sent about FGM. Shazia’s question was, “If you use a knife to mutilate your daughter’s vagina will the full force of the law be brought down on you? Asking for a Muslim.” Perhaps her tweet was occasioned by her frustration about the fact that an estimated 137,000 women living in Britain, many Muslim, have been subjected to female genital mutilation yet no one has ever been successfully prosecuted for it. Yet, while little extra effort has gone into cracking down on this, Mayor Khan has thrown 1.7 million pounds into policing online hate crime. It seems rather than address the issue of little girls having their genitals hacked off, Khan prefers to criminalise those who speak out about it.
Perhaps the most tragically telling indication of the direction in which Britain has gone is the story of the father who tried to rescue his daughter who was being raped by an Islamic grooming gang. The police arrived to arrest both father and daughter for disorderly behaviour, in the father’s case because he had reportedly yelled out something racist to the rapists. Yet none of the rapists were arrested. This is a prime example of how the British state is now prioritising so called ‘hate’ speech over actual horrific violence, even when the crime itself was the provocation for the racist utterance. As a result many anti-Islam activists have become focused on free speech. In fact on May 6th, Tommy Robinson held a ‘Day For Freedom’ rally, attended by thousands. The title was somewhat prophetic given his incarceration later that month.
There is no denying that some of those attending the event could be classified as alt-right. Other than advocating for free speech the only clear commonality between the attendees is that most of them are concerned about, and opposed to the consequences of the spread of Islam. But it’s also clear from videos uploaded to YouTube that there was plenty of diversity on display, from the promo to the rally itself. In what is now becoming an inescapable trend, even though Shazia Hobbs spoke and many others in attendance came from a variety of backgrounds, the fact that the rally seemingly focused on its opposition to Islam merited it the label of being far-right and risked it coming under the wrath of the government.
But it’s not just the reach of the government that has become a concern. Anti-discrimination laws have long been in place in many Western nations, yet we are increasingly seeing those who hold disparate views being fired or otherwise discriminated against by employers. In a recent, disturbing case, Vanity von Glow, a drag queen who performed at the Rally for Freedom, subsequently lost gigs at LGBT clubs for doing so. It will be little consolation to people like Vanity von Glow if they avoid imprisonment for their views but have to join the unemployment line
One may wonder, is it reasonable and fair to consider that the above mentioned persons are being ‘persecuted’ for their views? Could it not be, one may ask that western governments are only seeking to maintain security and order, and attacking a religion is to deliberately make trouble? If so, such a motivation by the government would be particularly hypocritical in that they often focus on persecuting those who critique Islam, yet it is open season on Christianity. Indeed criticism of any belief, religious or otherwise, should be up for scrutiny. We must be able to critically evaluate dogma to find out whether these ideas motivate actions. So if criticizing Christianity is acceptable, why are those who critique Islam called far-right?
The ‘far-right’ has traditionally been the label for racist movements, such as Nazism. If one is to draw a comparison between the Nazis and the current activists, however, one must also take note of a particular distinction. The Nazis were famously anti-Semitic, but it wasn’t just the religion of Judaism they objected to, their doctrine decreed Jews and many others as racially inferior. Therefore secular Jews were still considered racially inferior and marked for elimination by Hitler and his followers. Conversely it appears many anti-Islam activists are not concerned with race – their concern appears to be primarily with the ideology of Islam and whether it is the motivation behind terrorism and other atrocities. Therefore they have no issue with secular or ex-Muslims, who assimilate within their host countries.
It is possible that prominent Muslims like Sadiq Khan who downplay the threat and target activists like Robinson are terrified that any admission of problems within his community will lead to wide scale vilification of innocent, law abiding Muslims. This may be an understandable concern given that not all Muslims are involved in heinous criminal activities and of course, there are in the UK, as well as elsewhere, plenty of non-Muslim criminals as well. But what Khan and others like him should realise is that the lack of accountability that actual Muslim perpetrators have faced (such as those involved in the grooming gangs), combined with the suppression of criticism of Islam, has made the problem a whole lot worse. Not only have horrific crimes gone unchecked but many Britons have reached boiling point.
So the question is should those who criticise Islam be condemned as far-right, racist or hate speakers?
It seems that the British state has already made that decision. For whose good remains to be seen.
Dana Forrest is a freelance writer and writes on issues of cultural and political significance