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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.