Last week, I wrote an article discussing the growth of the FLA and rising organisation of the far-right. The post itself has drawn a lot of comment, both from supporters and critics of the FLA. Based on such debate, I feel it necessary to clarify a few of the statements made in that article – primarily due to the point itself being entirely overlooked by many who were quick to denounce the article as an “attack on free speech”.
Robinson, former leader of the EDL and regularly seen denouncing Islam as a violent and radical religion, promotes hate and incites division based on racial and religious prejudice. His incarceration is not an attack on free speech, but a product of contempt for court and justified under the rule of law in this country. Anyone who thinks Robinson’s arrest is about free speech is simply objectively incorrect.
Rhetoric surrounding the FLA (and yes, the far-right) seems to cry for victimhood. People now apparently feel that to receive criticism for their incitement of hatred towards Islam, or indeed towards any societal group, is an attack on their right to freedom of speech. This criticism, in actuality, is a product of freedom of speech; freedom of consequence. If you are free to believe and speak what you think, then it is natural that your argument will face criticism which, in itself, is freedom of opinion and the free expression of the opposing individual’s beliefs. It is naïve to assume that criticism is an infringement upon your rights, when in fact the free exchange of ideas and debate is a cornerstone of the democracy we all take for granted.
Similarly, there is a distinct difference between freedom of speech and the incitement of hatred, bigotry and violence. It is perfectly acceptable, as the FLA does, to take opposition to acts of terrorism in this country and across the western world. It is not acceptable to the describe Islam as a violent and twisted religion, both because it incites hatred and is false. Footage from an FLA march in London shows key speakers referring to immigrants and people of the Islamic faith as “the enemy”, before marchers then swear and threaten violence towards the “traitors” in counter-protest demonstrations. Robinson has previously threatened all Muslims stating
The Islamic community will feel the full force of the English Defence League if we see any of our British citizens killed, maimed, or hurt on British soil ever again..
Such threats are not empty in nature; pro-Robinson supporters assaulted a Union leader in an unprovoked, targeted assault, following his speech at the 14th July counter-demonstration to the free-Robinson rally. That is the truth of the FLA, they are violent and authoritarian. They want to force a selective freedom, which of course isn’t freedom at all. Steve Hedley, the man who was attacked, stated afterwards:
“It’s alright having free speech for Tommy, but if you oppose Tommy you get attacked with a glass and a chair”
The picture at the top of the article shows the state Tommy’s supporters put him in.
Make no mistake, the hypocrisy is clear. If you believe in freedom of expression, then to denounce and incite violence towards those exercising their right to protest is, in essence, an attack on free speech. These “patriots” cannot claim to be defending our freedom of expression and democracy, when they themselves incite violence, and denounce the right of those opposed to them to protest and express their distaste. This is a group that describe immigrants and those of the Islamic faith as violent and twisted, before then threatening violence to those who do not agree with their radical position. This is, no matter how far the imagination is stretched, a group that operates on intimidation, violence and hatred; and not one that can claim to be fighting for the good of freedom of speech and our democracy.
In reality, there exists a simple argument that those who support Robinson and the FLA must understand.
Democracy, and your right to freedom of speech protected by it, are not under attack. The government is not threatening or enacting violence due to speech. You are free to oppose acts of terror, and to be “patriotic” if that is what you choose. But when the FLA and its affiliates commit violence and incite hatred, do not bury your head in the sand and shout “free speech” when all those who oppose your false view use our right to freedom of speech and prove you wrong. Such sentiments have no place in the 21st century; it is the job of those opposed not to suppress them, but to disprove them.
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