Right to protest under attack from state and racists over Luton anti-war protest

Media hysteria is reaching extreme heights over an anti-war protest at a soldiers’ parade in Luton.

It is being widely suggested that raising slogans such as that soldiers are murderers or violate human rights is somehow illegitimate and beyond the bounds of freedom. This is a concerted attack on basic liberties, trying to turn hostility to war crimes into a speech- or thought-crime and to legitimate locking people up simply for expressing the “wrong” beliefs.

The idea that people have the right to protest is once again under attack as the tabloids launch hysteria and moral panics over an anti-war protest in Luton.

Protesters did not do anything particularly extreme. They simply criticised the army for alleged war crimes, calling them things like “baby killers”, “murderers”, “terrorists” – slogans which have been seen on dozens of anti-war demos. But because they were viewed as radical Muslims, they have been singled out in such a way as to suggest that their views are illegitimate and that they shouldn’t have been allowed to protest. Labour and Tory spokespeople are among those joining the tirade.

It has been suggested that “all decent people” will “condemn” the protest, that it is “sickening”, provocative, should not have been allowed by police, should have been “moved along” (banned), that violent attacks on protesters by bystanders should have been permitted… in short, that anything but a right to protest should have prevailed.

A minister says that “whatever their views” they should not have been allowed to do it – ignoring the fact that they had in fact done nothing but express their views.

Nowhere has it been asked if the army has in fact committed human rights violations in Iraq. In fact, such violations are well-documented. But the truth or falsity of the accusations has little bearing on their unacceptability to bigots and crackdown freaks.

There has been an outpouring of hatred from the tabloids, with the Daily Star branding the protesters “the enemy within”, the Sun leading with “Hate for Heroes” and referring to “vile abuse”, and the Express calling it “sickening”.

Many of the papers have effectively supported racist thugs who tried to attack the protesters, leading to arrests.

Hate Britain ... mob stages vile demo
In contrast, the international coverage has given a more accurate picture of the state of hysteria in Britain. See for instance the following:
http://www.3news.co.nz/News/InternationalNews from a mainstream New Zealand newspaper.

On the other hand, violence by pro-militarist counter-protesters has been widely condoned in the tabloids. This has not led to any threats of action against them for clearly inciting violence.

Onlookers ... a group of burkha-wearing Muslim women, one taking photographs, at the parade

One bigot got up on a roof to throw bacon at the protesters in a deliberate gesture of incitement and hatred.

Bizarrely, the condemnation has also come from Muslim leaders such as the head of the local mosque, a Muslim Council of Britain leader and a leading Muslim MP. While it is doubtless true that the protesters are not “representative” of Muslims, this does not affect their right to protest. It is the responsibility of these “representatives” to make sure the other side gets put in the media – for instance, that many Muslims are angry at deaths in Iraq, that (say) extreme Christian protests do not get this kind of media hysteria, that protesters were simply exercising their basic rights, and that there are serious accusations of human rights abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan which should be fully exposed and investigated. Instead they jump on the bandwagon, perhaps angry that their power as “representatives” has been challenged.

It is possible that some ridiculous backdoor way will be found to prosecute the protesters – whether another abuse of harassment laws, some kind of terrorism charge (such as belonging to al-Muhajiroun), public order laws, or something else the police will concoct on the spot. Plans to ban slogans such as calling people murderers were mooted by police some time back, and more recently, attempts were made to bring in laws to ban protests targeting soldiers (not sure if they’re passed yet). The last time radical Muslims were charged over a visible public protest, they received 5-year sentences simply for the slogans they shouted.

Britain is a  police state, and the hysterical demonisation of people who exercise basic rights in ways not in accord with the whims of the dominant majority provides a public cover for the corrosion of basic liberties. The likes of the Express will support the corrosion of basic rights and then complain when such state repression comes home to roost on their own constituency. Britain is fighting unjust and immoral wars using murderous tactics, and attempts are being made to silence dissent against these wars. Against state fascism and its populist hangers-on, there is an urgent need to stand up for the right to demonstrate, the right to offend the bigots, the right to tell what one sees as unpalatable truths.

Abuse ... fanatics yell at soldiers as they parade through streets

With basic rights under attack, what one thinks of the protesters’ views or tactics is a secondary matter. It is possible that they were provoking the racists and militarists to get media coverage, but more likely that they were deliberately defying thought-crime taboos to express a deeply held, conscientious anger. Personally I think a blockade of the parade route would have been a great idea, though likely the media would be less interested. In the current climate, even a militant confrontation might have been safer (5 years for shouting a slogan is above the usual sentences for fighting police on protests, though below some of the more absurd sentences for the Bradford revolt). In any case, protests of this kind had a role in the end of the Vietnam War and other past wars – soldiers who know they face condemnation will become less enthusiastic to commit abuses under orders than those who expect nothing but stage-managed praise.If people are charged over this protest, the anti-war and civil liberties movements should mobilise to protest at the trials, and cause disruption in the event of convictions.


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2 responses to “Right to protest under attack from state and racists over Luton anti-war protest

  1. Ultimately we need to remember this was a peaceful protest, actually very careful to not break any of the more specific laws, but they’ll always find something to label as too “extreme”… There have certainly been similar protests in the past from anarchists, socialists etc where soldiers have been told to stop fighting in e.g. Vietnam and army recruiters in colleges verbally confronted and even disrupted; and there are also cases where e.g. debt collectors and Poll Tax enforcers have been driven off. We’ve seen the same kind of rhetoric about animal rights recently, i.e., people aren’t supposed to call vivisectionists torturers, murderers, scum etc according to the state.

    I don’t see at all why soldiers are not a fair target for protest or why targeting them is particularly “tactless”. Granted it’s not all their fault that they’re being sent to do this stuff, but they still do it rather than refuse. What I’m hearing is, they’re viewed as above being protested either because they’re viewed as entirely innocent (which is false), or because they’re viewed as “brave”, “heroes” etc (i.e. because others disagree with the opinions of the protesters), or because they’re a “respected institution” revered by the British people (which amounts to fascism).

    What’s happening here is that the state is saying that social insiders must not be insulted or called names which might offend them (regardless of the truth or accuracy of these names).

    Yes there’s a point where I’d “stand up” to political Islam, but it comes when they kill innocent people or enforce oppressive laws – NOT when they protest.

    The condemnation from Muslim leaders is mostly coming from people plugged into the multiculturalist patronage system, who don’t like their “representative” status being usurped or ignored. To be sure, the protesters don’t represent all/most Muslims – but how many protesters actually do “represent” anyone? If you’re a Christian and you hold a placard saying “this war is wrong”, do you expect the next day for the Archbishop of Canterbury to appear in the press condemning you because you’re not a designated representative of the church?

    Peaceful protest – Offensive to Bigots? and what i read in some comments on this, make me wonder is there any further friendship to be had with such bigots? look at the wider image and not what we are been told..

  2. The police didn’t seem particularly badly behaved on the day, actually they just seem to have kept the two groups apart (unless there’s footage I haven’t seen). But the problem is in hindsight – nobody arrested on the day (except counter-protesters) does not add up to getting away scot free.

    The threat at the mo is that they’ll be charged with belonging to al-Muhajiroun, which is banned as a terrorist group despite never carrying out a terrorist act. Someone from Luton racial equality forum (see on Youtube) thinks that they aren’t all from al-Muhajiroun, some of them are from the local anti-war group (the organisers had leafleted in advance for the demo). Just wait for the legal manoeuvres if they try this – they would have to argue that participation in a demonstration makes someone a member of the organisation which called the demonstration, as well as that the organisation which called the demonstration can be inferred indirectly from the former allegiances of those who make it up. If they get away with this (as well they might given some of the miscarriages of justice we’ve seen already), it will be another big problem for activists – I can see it being used in animal rights cases for instance, claiming that everyone who goes on a Shac demo is a member of Shac and liable for whatever it’s alleged to have done, or that everyone at Climate Camp is a member of Plane Stupid or everyone on the G20 demo a member of some shady anarchist group as yet unnamed.

    5 years is not the norm for shouting a slogan – 0 years is the norm for shouting a slogan, it’s legal most of the time (even if the slogan is provocative, offensive to some, etc), but unfortunately, shouting a slogan taken to “glorify terrorism” or “solicit murder” carries sentences of 5 years (probably more at maximum), whereas the MAXIMUM sentence for “violent disorder” (used for self-defence against police) is 5 years and usual sentences are a lot less. In addition, police will now have video footage of all 15 or 20 men (none of the 15 burqa-clad women) and could charge the lot if they feel like it (though probably they’ll pick a few instead), whereas if they were properly masked up the police would only catch the ones they could arrest or identify. Ah well, so it goes.

    I’ve seen some footage btw, the protesters seem rather inoffensive really, whereas the counter-demonstrators who rallied against them look like BNP and were being very aggressive – shouting things like THIS IS OUR COUNTRY NOT YOURS and chanting “Eng-er-land” over and over. I do wonder if the BNP (or NF, C18, whoever) were alerted in advance to the demo – rather supporting the provocation/set-up angle. Then again, if they have people in Luton they’d probably be out for the parade anyway.

    What’s really shocking is how these very nasty counter-protesters seem to be glorified and praised across the right-wing media, from the Times to the Sun. It’s come to something if neofash hooligans have come to stand for the entire “nation”.

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