Monthly Archives: May 2013

There has been considerable commentary sparked by the Home Secretary’s announcements in TV interviews last week of proposals being considered by Government which would ‘pre-emptively ban’ the circulation of extremist material online and in broadcasting.

Theresa May’s reactions came on the back of criticism aimed at the BBC and Channel 4 for allowing airtime to Anjem Choudary in the hours and days following the murder for Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich. While many would contend that Choudary’s views are obnoxious, do they deserve to be censored in the name of national security? Is it desirable, as Timothy Garton-Ash puts it, to ‘erod[e] our freedom in the name of defending it’?

Kirsty Hughes, of Index on Censorship, rightly points to the failed attempts at censorship in the past, when in the 1980s then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, sought to deny the IRA the ‘oxygen of publicity’ by compelling voiceovers in TV broadcasts. Hughes said, “It did not make sense when we had actors speaking the words of IRA people in the past, and it doesn’t now.”

Former Home Secretary, Jack Straw, appearing at the Hay Festival this week, declared the past measures “a great recruiting sergeant” for the IRA, reinforcing the counter-productive nature of measures designed to silence extremists.

The Government’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, spoke of the need to ‘drive out’ bad ideas by openly challenging them in the free ‘marketplace of ideas’.

The need to keep the marketplace of ideas free and open is also the subject of a comment by former Communities Secretary, John Denham, who in The Guardian, spells out pitfalls of curtailing the parameters of free exchange writing that “If you set the wrong boundaries of acceptability there’s always the danger of alienating potential support and actually feeding the seditious claims that “they want to silence you”.

From evidence given by Charles Farr, Director of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT), to the Home Affairs select committee inquiry into the Roots of Violent Radicalisation, the ability to ‘drive out’ bad ideas is not as robust as the Government would desire. Farr told the inquiry:

“We are concerned about the activities of such people [non-violent extremists], not because they are illegal—they are not—but because they appear to go unchallenged. They are set up in a particularly systematic way and they appear very deliberately, and in a very well organised way, to target universities with significant numbers of Muslim students. We are not asking for that activity to be banned but we are asking it to be challenged and for there to be a degree of balance, which at present in certain areas seems to us to be lacking.”

Demos in its report in 2010, on the power of conspiracy theories too noted the importance of openly challenging those viewpoints that thrive on conspiracies. But if the actions of organizations like Student Rights and the newspapers that give their biased analysis news space are anything to go by, the paucity of counter-arguments in the ‘marketplace of ideas’ is perhaps to be expected.

Of a project undertaken during Denham’s time leading the Department for Communities and Local Government, ‘Connecting Communities’, he writes:

“We knew this would include racist views but reasoned that the drive to extremism was only fostered by the sense that these views were being suppressed. The risk worked. Instead of consolidating racist ideas, it became the first step to winning trust and challenging extreme ideologies. Connecting Communities was dumped by the coalition along with the Prevent community programme, but its model of engaging community concerns may be more useful than Prevent’s attempts to suppress them.”

Denham raises an interesting point about the type of individual attracted to extremist, anti-systemic positions, arguing that what is ‘crucial’ is the “need to give stake, voice and status to the vulnerable and alienated”.

It is a point which is noted in the Home Affairs select committee report mentioned above but one which has yet to be adequately addressed.

Timothy Garton-Ash meanwhile asks the very sensible question, “Who is an extremist? Is it just a political view you disagree with?”

Perhaps there is no better indication of the perils of subjective assessment on “Who is an extremist?” than the debacle of the cases fought by the Home Office against Sheikh Raed Salah and Dr Zakir Naik. Both cases demonstrate the dangerous potential for politicisation of this key question.

Moreover, the causal relationship between articulating extremist views and committing criminal or terrorist attacks is not clear. The answers given by Charles Farr to the select committee inquiry on its question concerning the proscribing of groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir were redacted from the transcript of the evidence session. What connection there is between holding a viewpoint and acting in an illegal manner is not well established it would seem.

Garton-Ash in true liberal fashion argues that extremists need to be taken on “in every medium” using work by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue on “how you can counter extremist narratives online with other online narratives and tools” as an example.

In the annual report on the Government’s Prevent strategy, there is an allusion to similar work noting:

“We have supported community-based campaigns that rebut terrorist and extremist propaganda and offer alternative views to our most vulnerable target audiences. We have worked with digital communications experts to help fifteen civil society groups exploit the potential of the internet.”

There is not, however, any mention of the ‘fifteen civil society groups’ employed to this end. ENGAGE have submitted a freedom of information request to disclose the names of the fifteen groups but we are yet to receive a response from the OSCT.

Transparency over the ‘means’ used in the ‘marketplace of ideas’ battle will be as important as the ‘end’ of driving out ‘bad ideas’.

Please find the links to our previous newsletters below:

25 October 2012

16 November 2012

23 November 2012

7 December 2012

14 December 2012

21 December 2012

28 December 2012

4 January 2013

11 January 2013

1 February 2013

8 February 2013

15 February 2013

22 February 2013

4 March 2013

11 March 2013

15 March 2013

22 March 2013

28 March 2013

12 April 2013

19 April 2013

26 April 2013

10 May 2013

17 May 2013

24 May 2013

31 May 2013

7 June 2013

14 June 2013

5 July 2013

12 July 2013

19 July 2013

26 July 2013

2 August 2013

13 August 2013

16 August 2013

23 August 2013

30 August 2013

6 September 2013

13 September 2013

20 September 2013

27 September 2013

4 October 2013

11 October 2013

18 October 2013

25 October 2013

8 November 2013

15 November 2013

22 November 2013

29 November 2013

06 December 2013

13 December 2013

The Daily Mail and local paper, Louth Leader, cover cases of social media abuse and police investigations into inciteful and ‘indecent or grossly offensive messages’ posted online.

The Daily Mail reports on the case of Dave Lee who posted a series of messages on Facebook, including posts encouraging people to petrol bomb Muslim businesses.

The Daily Mail reproduces some of the posts written by Lee:

“If just one person petrol bombed any local Muslim business in their area that would be the end of them in one day.”

“F*** off you cheeky ungrateful s**m. Allah is a coward just like you. Two can play your game you Allah a*** kissing s**m.”

“Take a petrol bomb to the whole shop, light a fire and watch it burn.”

‘F*** off now whilst you still can you cheeky vermin. Times are changing, I for one will fight back.”

Other posts were deemed too offensive to report but screenshots on the Mail Online website allows readers to see the comments for themselves.

Lee, when arrested by police for the messages, told them “It was just a joke mate, I didn’t mean it.”

Lee appeared before Bury Magistrates Court yesterday where District Judge Paul Richardson said: “I have to say that the prosecution was understandably reticent in reading out the remarks, when you hear them they are extremely offensive and inflammatory and I think I’m going to ask for an all options referral. I will not rule out a custodial sentence at this stage.

“You pleaded guilty which takes some courage but your situation is serious, the inflammatory comments that are published via a public communications networks like Facebook are serious.”

The Louth Leader reports on the case of Benjamin Flatters, who was arrested last week on charges brought under the 1988 Malicious Communications Act, for posting anti-Muslim messages on Facebook. Flatters appeared in court yesterday and will appear before Skegness Magistrates Court again on 12 June.

The Independent reports on the English Defence League’s plans to organise demonstrations across the country on Saturday 1 June, targeting “at least 30 locations” in localized protests following the killing of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich last Wednesday.

The EDL have protested in a number of cities since the horrific murder in south London last week, including in the capital itself on Bank Holiday Monday.

The Leicester Mercury reports on the imminent arrival of the EDL at the weekend noting instructions that have been issued to participants by the regional office, “not to drink, chant, sing or wear political or group colours”.

A previous demonstration in the city resulted in a number of arrests with four men sentenced for various public order offences, including one man who was charged with criminal damage for smashing the windows of a local takeaway.

An editorial in the Leicester Mercury also highlights the EDL’s nefarious attempts to stoke tensions noting, “If the EDL had any credibility, they would simply go about their wreath-laying in private and mark Drummer Rigby’s death in a dignified and solemn manner.

“Instead, they choose to publicise their demonstration in the hope of promoting divisions within our community. We have a message for them – it won’t work.”

Meanwhile, Brian Reade in a column in the Daily Mirror today remarks on the exploitation of Drummer Lee Rigby’s murder by the EDL noting that the far right movement is on the wrong side of modern Britain. Reade writes:

“Remember half-Jamaican ­Jessica Ennis and Somalian-born Muslim Mohamed Farah giving us the proudest night of British sport ever.

“Those who see multi-culturalism as the antithesis of what being English is about lost the argument in London last summer.

“The only thing the English need a League to defend them from is extremist bigots of every colour.”

Seamus Milne in his column in The Guardian yesterday addressed the issue politicians have been eagerly avoiding in the aftermath of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby on the streets of Woolwich last Wednesday: foreign policy.

Milne, citing the statements of the PM and Mayor Johnson last week, and the policies reactively announced by Home Secretary, Theresa May, writes that “almost nobody in public life mentions the war”.

The inevitable consequence of the ‘war on terror’ being radicalization at home and abroad was voiced by many and “not just opponents of the war on terror who predicted from the start that it would fuel terrorism not fight it. The intelligence services on both sides of the Atlantic did the same,” Milne notes.

The effects of drone attacks and the intimidation and harassment faced by young Muslims returning home from trips abroad have combined to form a toxic combination ripe for exploitation, Milne observes, while noting the misplaced musings on ‘multiculturalism’ or ‘immigration’ and ‘Islamism’ in the introspection on why Adebolajo and Adebowale murdered Lee Rigby.

“Those who carried out last week’s killing are of course responsible for what they did. But those who have sent British troops to wage war in the Arab and Muslim world for more than a decade must share culpability”, he concludes.

Reyhana Patel on Huffington Post and Rachel Shabi on Comment is Free also look at the centrality of foreign policy to the problem of radicalization.

Trustee of Finsbury Park Mosque, Mohammed Kozbar, in an interview with local paper, Islington Gazette, speaks of a rise in verbal abuse experienced by worshippers at the mosque since the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby last week.

Kozbar told the paper: “We have been the subject of attacks. We have seen a lot of verbal attacks since Mr Rigby died where people have been accused of being terrorists and have been sworn at and the police are aware of it.”

Denouncing the attackers, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, and their actions Kozbar said:

“These people are not normal. Whoever has done this, they are sick or mentally ill. We have condemned this from the beginning.

“We don’t know these two people. They have never been within our community and we don’t want these types of people in our community.

“These types of acts are insulting and are an assault on our religion and all our community because they are saying they are doing this in our name and this is not true. This is not in our name and we condemn this.”

Local paper, The Lincolnite, reports on a planned protest on 8 June by the East Anglian Patriots at the site of a former dairy that is to be converted into a mosque.

Lincoln City Council approved the plans submitted by the Islamic Association of Lincoln in November last year to convert Boultham Dairy into a mosque and Islamic centre.

The planned protest against the proposed mosque was announced some time ago with the East Anglian Patriots stating their objections to the “ever-increasing mosque building program that is taking hold in this country and increasing Islam encroachment on our way of life,” in a poster advertising the protest.

Following the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich on Wednesday, Lincolnshire police have issued stern warnings against incitement to racial or religious hatred before and during the protest.

In a statement, Lincolnshire Police said:

“Any public disorder, or offences related to inciting racial and religious hatred or violence at such an event, will be met with a robust policing response.”

“Any communications reported to us that breach law may be monitored, captured and robust police action will be considered.”

The Guardian reports on the various charges that have been brought by the Metropolitan Police against individuals arrested during the English Defence League demonstration in London on Bank Holiday Monday.

The paper notes that “Four men have been charged with offences including possession of a bladed article and possession of class A drugs”.

A total of 13 arrests have been made for “offences ranging from racially aggravated criminal damage to violent disorder”.

“Of the other nine people arrested, five were released with no charge while four were taken into custody and subsequently bailed, pending further investigations”, according to The Guardian.

The Daily Mirror reports on the police investigation into Northern Premier League player, Shaun Tuck, 26, after the footballer allegedly posted a series of inflammatory tweets following the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby.

Tuck is said to have tweeted messages calling for “bomb [ing] and gas[sing] every mosque in England” and the killing of Muslim children.

The Daily Mirror reproduces the tweets which read:

“All the mosque’s in England now should be bombed or gassed out!!!… Or stormed by 50 lads machetes, swords the lot. An make a statement.

“Am raging in me loft here yno… Got the balaclava out, dusted down an ready for the meet.

“I’d be going through there door mate an taking there kids head off an killing whoever was in site!!”

“Go f**king nuts!!! About time this country fought back. EDL are in Woolwich now!! What I’d give to be there with them now #flop #flop #flop #curryheadseverywhere.”

The paper notes that police are investigating the messages and considering bringing criminal charges under the Malicious Communications and Public Order Acts.

The paper also notes the statement of Witton Albion Football Club, for whom Tuck plays, who said:

“We are aware the alleged recent remarks made by Shaun Tuck are now subject to investigation by both Merseyside Police and the FA.

“As a result, the club will make no further comment on this matter until the conclusion of both investigations.

“The remarks made by the player do not in any way reflect the views of Witton Albion FC, which works hard to attract members of all communities and has supported the Help for Heroes campaign for a number of years.”

There is some coverage in the news today (Daily Mail, Independent) on the court appearance of two men charged with ‘arson with intent to endanger the lives of others’ for allegedly throwing petrol bombs at a mosque in Grimsby on Sunday night.

The men are thought to be former soldiers.

Local paper, The Grimsby Telegraph, confirms the identity and background of the men as:

“Stuart Harness, 33 who has served in the Army for 13 years, including in Iraq, Kosovo and Northern Ireland, and Gavin Humphries, 37, who had served in the Army but was now unemployed.”

“It is also believed that one of the defendants spent time in Woolwich while serving in the Army,” the paper notes.

The men were refused bail and have been remanded in custody until their scheduled appearance before Grimsby Crown Court on 7 June.

The local paper adds that the police have said “they will continue to patrol the mosque, and keep in touch with the community there.”

Grimsby mosque has been targeted in two separate attacks in the last few days since the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich, south London, on Wednesday 22 May.