More Gibson Square

Sorry to write about The Jewel of Medina again but there are a couple more entertaining arguments I’d like to highlight.

The first is from Richard ‘Lenny’ Seymour’ (who we met back in July.) He summarises recent developments this way:

Gibson Square in London, (the publisher of Melanie Phillips’ racist crap, Londonistan), took up the offer. The millionaire owner’s house in Barnsbury was then clumsily attacked, apparently by three young males who are said to have shoved a petrol bomb through the letter box.

Don’t you love the insinuations there? Gibson Square published the idiotic Melanie Phillips – but also House of Bush, House of Saud, Craig Unger’s seminal investigation into the entwinement of the Saudi theocracy with the Bush administration. And is Martin Rynja really a millionaire? Or is this just prolier-than-thou rhetoric?

So, now it’s a ‘free speech’ issue, and the predictable battle lines are being manned. The right, and their liberal allies, insist that it’s a straightforward matter of Anglosphere traditions of free speech being subverted by Johnny Foreigner (I have decoded the artful euphemisms to save you the trouble).

… or, alternatively, fantasised a subtext that isn’t there.

Well-meaning liberals say that there’s no such thing as free speech, that there exist taboos and restrictions on expression that we barely even acknowledge as well as ones that we are all perfectly well aware of. They say that ‘we’ defer to the sensibilities of many other groups, but not Muslims, and thereby communicate that ‘we’ don’t give a damn about what they consider important. Moreover, since this is connected to the conspicuous dehumanisation of Muslims in the context of the ‘war on terror’, anti-racists ought to take the side of the embattled community and expose the demands for ‘free speech’ as in fact demands for the protection of racism. I will not equivocate. I find the latter view far more persuasive and sociologically realistic than the former, which is obviously implicit in the way I’ve presented the arguments.

Where to start? Well, who are the ‘other groups’ whose sensibilities we defer to? If Muslims are being dehumanised, then why do politicians bend over backwards to make it clear that Islamism is a perversion of Islam and that most Muslims don’t support terrorism? And why does Seymour claim that demands to protect the right of Sherry Jones to publish are in fact demands for ‘protection of racism’ when a) he almost certainly hasn’t read the book and b) he probably hasn’t read Jones’s comments on the religion – which are far from Islamophobic or racist.

And there are plenty of curtailments of expression that have been designed with Muslims in mind, such as restrictions on the wearing of the hijab in several European countries, albeit wearing the hijab is an entirely harmless procedure that could offend no one but a bigot. There is also a restriction on speech that ‘glorifies’ terrorism. There is also a restriction on the kinds of published material one might possess, such that the so-called ‘lyrical terrorist’ Samina Malik was prosecuted and convicted for possessing materials likely to be useful for terrorism, despite the fact that she was obviously not a plotter. On the matter of who gets protected and who doesn’t, recall that it was suggested in 2005 that Muslims might be entitled to the same protection against bigotry as other groups targeted by racists. This was another occasion for a ‘free speech’ binge, in which liberals moaned that their right to criticise religion was being attacked (this was false). And shortly thereafter, there was a legal case in which Nick Griffin and Mark Collett of the BNP were acquitted of incitement to racial hatred, in part because of their defense arguing that they had attacked Islam as a religion, not Muslims as such. The fact is that Muslims can experience racism every day, but may not expect any help from the law because it is not officially considered racism.

Let’s break down this typically overlong paragraph.

1) The hijab ban was intended to give women the right not to wear the veil. Patrick Weil, one of the policy makers, explains the reasoning:

In this period, and especially in the last two to three years, it has become clear that in schools where some Muslim girls do wear the headscarf and others do not, there is strong pressure on the latter to ‘conform’. This daily pressure takes different forms, from insults to violence. In the view of the (mostly male) aggressors, these girls are ‘bad Muslims’, ‘whores’, who should follow the example of their sisters who respect Koranic prescriptions.

A large majority of Muslim girls do not want to wear the scarf; they too have the right of freedom of conscience. Principals and teachers have tried their best to bring back some order in an impossible situation where pressure, insults or violence sets pupils against one another, yet where to protest against this treatment is seen as treason to the community. There are cases where pupils who have had their arms broken in violent acts have lied to their parents in order to avoid denouncing their peers.

It’s worth remembering that Weil was originally against any ban but changed his mind once he researched the issue.

2) Lenny is on safer ground with the anti-terror laws – they are useless and stupid. But Samina Malik is not the best example of this point because she emailed details of airport security to a self-proclaimed jihadist.

3) Also, people like Nick Griffin and Mark Collett don’t object to Islam because, say, of its prescriptions on women, or because it substitutes the word of God for the rule of law. They dislike Islam because the majority of its believers are black people. Religion doesn’t come into it – look at the amount of people from the British far right who have converted to Islamism. As David T says: it’s the ideology, not the ethnicity. The 2005 law failed precisely because it would have extended the blasphemy laws to cover Islam without affording any day-to-day protection to Muslims.

Finally, Seymour displays a rare moment of sanity: ‘Though it is clear that many Muslims were offended by [The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie] it is not clear that most wanted to see it banned’ before finishing with a Phil Jones-style plea of ‘Move along, nothing to see here’.

He claims that the right are insisting that this is a straightforward matter of ‘Anglosphere traditions of free speech.’ In fact, most of the supportive comment I’ve read has come from the Guardian/Index on Censorship left. The right has been more or less silent on this one.

Except for this hysterical column in the Torygraph. It’s Christopher Howse, the paper’s religious columnist, who argues that ‘Salman Rushdie taught liberals to hate Islam.’ He claims that since the publication of The Satanic Verses there has been ‘a creeping racialist antipathy towards Muslims, by the Left.’ He goes on to discuss Theo van Gogh, in a manner that suggests that he approves of the filmmaker’s murder: ‘Tee hee, he chortled in his Dutch way.’

Now, Salman Rushdie has declared that he has nothing against true believers until their faith spills over into the public sphere and becomes ‘my business’. That, he must know is a fallacious distinction. It is like saying that one has nothing against a novelist as long as he does not publish his novels.

Or it would be if, say, novelists started insisting that people take the messages of their fiction as superseding the laws of elected governments.

The piece is far too moronic to discuss at length, but Ophelia Benson is a patient soul and she has done a quick response to Howse’s claim that ‘The secularist haters of Islam pretend that that they have a sacred principle of their own, which is freedom of speech, freedom to publish’:

Yes, that’s right. We’re funny that way. Of course we wouldn’t (the sensible among us at least) call it a sacred principle, and we would agree that freedom to publish is not completely without limits, but we do have ‘a principle’ that we should be able to publish stories and polemics and disputes about religion and religions, in general and in particular, without being threatened or set on fire or blown up or shot or carved up. Does Christopher Howse not agree?

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2 Responses to “More Gibson Square”

  1. modernityblog Says:

    hmm. an SWPer trying the old “prolier than thou” trick?

    it comes over as a bit hollow from the likes of Lenny, doesn’t it?

    that 9/11 stuff is very funny.

  2. maxdunbar Says:

    In the comments Lenny says that he’s from the ‘N/I hood’ and that petrol bombs are de rigeur round his way.

    Being working class is like that old quote about being ladylike – if you have to say you are, you probably ain’t.

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