I was disappointed but not surprised to find how little the British press yesterday commented on Nick Griffin's arrest. Neither the Guardian nor Independent, supposedly liberal papers, expressed any concern about the possible implications for civil liberties, and it took the Torygraph to make the liberal case against it.
At the other end of the political spectrum, the same race-hate laws, the Public Order Act 1986, have also recently been used against the radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri - he faces, among others, "four charges under the Public Order Act 1986 of “using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with the intention of stirring up racial hatred”." Presumably, with Abu Hamza, his target was Zionists and Crusaders. My sympathies lie far more with Abu Hamza than with Nick Griffin, but I'm disturbed that either one faces such a nebulous, unempirical charge as "inciting (racial) hatred".
On the proposed 'incitement to religious hatred' law, I rarely agree with Polly Toynbee but am glad such a mainstream columnist has voiced her caution. However, in today's Guardian, another writer, Seamus Milne, comes out in support.
This measure would extend to the most vulnerable community in the country the very modest protection already offered by race hate legislation to black people, Jews, Sikhs and all religious communities in Northern Ireland. [...]
Many arguments now deployed against this proposal by an unholy alliance of evangelical Christians, xenophobes, the British National Party, secular literalists and libertarians were also used against anti-racist legislation in the 60s and 70s. And none of the public opposition seems to have included the consequent logical demand that protection for Jews, Sikhs and religious people in Northern Ireland be repealed, which only underlines the noxious nature of debate about Islam in Britain.
I don't identify with any of the groups listed in his 'unholy alliance' opposing the measure. And I do follow the logical consequence that the 1986 race-hate laws should also be repealed. Hatred should not be a crime.
When the measure was first mooted, soon after 9/11 (natch), Scientology UK's public affairs director, Graeme Wilson, said this:
There is a lot of inaccurate propaganda about Scientology, and some people make a living from stirring up fear and inciting religious hatred - fortunately this will soon become a criminal offence.
British Muslims, instead of colluding with secretive cults, could learn instead to do with words what Naseem Hamed and Amir Khan have learned to do with their fists - protect themselves and defeat their opponents. I feel a bit weird agreeing with Polly Toynbee, and with evangelical Christians, but these laws are illiberal, unjust, and wide-open to abuse.