Despite earlier proof of arse-elbow location difficulties, Rod Liddle was caught in a rare act of sense-speaking this weekend in his Sunday Times column. He hasn’t always used his own freedom of speech in such a sensible manner, but his argument that banning groups for being obnoxious or unpleasant is a crass method for combating them, is sound.
You may also have heard Pat Robertson’s measured commentary on the Haiti disaster coming as a result of a ‘pact with the devil’. Is this callous? Yes. Stupid? Very much so. Worthy of banning? I would say, absolutely not.
I am lucky enough to have people in my circle of friends and family with whom I do not need to adhere to many niceties when speaking. Our debates and conversations often seem like arguments to the outside observer, because no holds need to be barred, no punches pulled, all is up for grabs. It is true freedom of speech – you are soon told if you are going wrong or being foolish, but you won’t be censured for it – so it allows for true freedom of thought as well.
We must have the courage to allow our national conversations to display the candour of a group of friends gathered around a table after a few too many. Words are not our enemies. There is no idea, which by being voiced, can take your life, rob you of your money or cause your hair to drop out. I am confident that the sky won’t fall in because a group of people walk through a town holding empty coffins, however repugnant the idea of that is.
I believe that allowing Islam4UK’s march to go ahead would have done more to condemn the group than banning them can ever achieve. Wootton Bassett is not sacred ground, nor has it been consecrated or designated as an official monument. It is a place in our country where people have chosen to make their own personal tribute to the dead. I support this completely. We should all remember the (often young) people who fight for our freedoms, some being left horribly scarred, in such a personal, reflective and dignified way.
What we shouldn’t do is give away so cheaply the freedom that we require our armed services to defend. What sets us apart from the Taliban and their ilk is our belief in freedom. This includes, but should not be limited to, freedom to protest, freedom to speak and, crucially, the complete and untrammelled freedom to make a right arse of ourselves on a national stage so that other people can point out our errors.
Also in Sunday’s Times, you see, was an interview with the, well, I hesitate to call him a ‘mastermind’ but for want of a better word, the ‘mastermind’ behind Islam4UK and, it should not surprise anyone to find out, he is an absolute, 24-carat, idiot of a man. Inconsistent, stupid and wrong, plain wrong. From watching the news, you might have suspected he was evil incarnate, read the interview and he comes across in a very different way. Make your own mind up here.
There was once a similar debate about banning marches by Fascists in the 1930s. Then, it was decided that to allow them to go ahead was to reveal the movement in all its goose-stepping, uniform-wearing stupidity. A ban was only imposed when it became too difficult to police the inevitable battles with anti-fascists that would ensue. So, while it is tempting to want to turn up to any future march and throw bricks at ‘the group formerly known as Islam4UK’, might I suggest that a better response would be to show them on heavy rotation across all channels instead. That was an effective strategy with Nick Griffin, as it was previously with Oswald Mosley, and no doubt will be again, so long as we manage to resist the urge to ban everything we don’t agree with.