Thursday, 14 January 2010

Balancing bans

Few people will lose much sleep over the ban on Islam4UK and its parent organisation, al-Muhajiroun. However, even liberals who loathe everything these vile theo-fascist outfits stand for may question the government's motivation and tactics here. The ban was announced the day after I wrote this post about freedom of expression - and if, as liberals and humanists, we defend the right to criticise religion and the political reactionaries who exploit it for their own ends, then to be consistent we surely have to defend the freedom of those very reactionaries to express their views.

The only basis on which that freedom can be circumscribed by government - using the old 'shouting fire in a crowded theatre' principle - is if those ideas, or the act of expressing them, deliberately or intentionally stir up violence. That seems to have been the justification in this case: these organisations are said to have 'glorified terrorism'. But if that's the argument being used, then one has to ask: why wasn't the ban imposed before, given that al-Muhajiroun in its various guises has been organising in Britain for some time and its ideas are well-known?

The suspicion has to be that the ban was imposed as a direct reaction to Islam4UK leader Anjem Choudary's inflammatory proposal to organise a protest march through Wootton Bassett. One is tempted to draw the conclusion that the government acted not in response to the actual violence, or violence-inciting words, of Islam4UK's members, but out of panic at the thought of the likely violence against the group if the provocative march went ahead. Slapping a ban on the organisation must have looked like the quickest and most efficient way of putting the lid on a situation that was threatening to spiral embarrassingly out of control.

Of course, this wouldn't be the first time that the Brown government has used the sledgehammer of a blanket ban to avoid the prospect of a little bit of social disorder. Last year's refusal to allow Geert Wilders entry to Britain seemed to be motivated less by a belief that Wilders was advocating violence (though that was the dissimulating justification), than by fear of the violence threatened by his Islamic fundamentalist opponents if he were allowed to travel here.

Surely it's no coincidence that, on the very day that the Islam4UK ban was announced, the government also let it be known that it was renewing its ban on US shock-jock Michael Savage travelling to Britain. As I've said before, I hold no brief for Savage and his ultra-conservative opinions, but as in the Wilders case, it's the threat of violence against him by Muslim activists that seems to have been behind the original ban (Savage is, among other things, a vocal critic of Islam).

Renewing the ban on Savage this week looked like a cynical and populist tit-for-tat for the Islam4Uk ban: as if the government were sending a message to Muslims saying 'See, we're not anti-Muslim - we've banned an anti-Islamic extremist as well.'

If I'm correct in my analysis, then these bans are a further sign of the Brown government's willingness to use civil liberties instrumentally, as just another tool in its paternalistic approach to managing 'communities' in the interests of 'social cohesion'.


Minnie said...

Very thought-provoking, post, Martin. But in what circumstances could it possibly be acceptable to allow preachers of hate, who promote and actively encourage not only civil disobedience but also mass murder, to incite such things?
Morally, and legally, all of the above are, surely, simply WRONG.
Er, that's it.

Martin said...

I completely agree that governments have a right, indeed a duty, to curtail the activities of those who incite violence. But, as I say in the post, I think those powers should be rigidly defined and delimited. Once you start to talk about 'stirring up hatred' being a criterion, then (in the current climate) there's a danger that politicians will extend this from hatred against individuals and groups, to supposed 'hatred' against a set of ideas - e.g. a religion or political philosophy.

As I say, I hold no brief for Wilders or Savage, but it looks suspiciously as though they were banned because they voiced a dislike of Islam, rather than incited violence against Muslims.

Minnie said...

Agreed. But Wilders and Savage are not suggesting that we go out and murder loads of people just because we don't like 'em or simply for effect - or are they? Moslem preachers of hate are calling for the commission of acts that are prima facie against the law, & must therefore be prevented from doing so (conspiracy to commit an act is a serious charge even if the act has not been committed). Sorry, obviously didn't make myself clear.
And, yes, of course S & W banned in case they upset the Moslems - Govt is terrified of doing so, obviously. What the rest of us think or feel is irrelevant, apparently.

Martin said...

Thanks for the clarification, Minnie. As I said in the post, although I tend to be queasy about any bans that affect freedom of expression, I think the government has a case when it comes to jihadists whose very raison d'etre (sorry can't do the accents on this computer) is violent overthrow of our secular pluralist society. So the Islam 4 UK ban is perfectly legitimate - IF AND ONLY IF that was its motivation and not keeping the lid on so-called 'community cohesion', in Wootton Bassett or elsewhere.