Freedom of Expression

Defend Sunny Hundal

I was, for a long time, a big fan of Sunny and Pickled Politics. I still think that PP is an excellent blog, and admire many of the contributors who write and have written for it. It is a strong anti-sectarian voice.

Some of you might have noticed that Sunny and I have fallen out, to a certain degree. I think it started, for me at least, with a piece he wrote suggesting that “brown people” should vote Tory (because of Davis Davis). There have been a number of other issues, too. However, I have personally done my very best not to blog-war with him, because I think that to do so would be pointless.

A couple of days ago, Sunny wrote a piece on Pickled Politics which in turn repeated a story on Barth’s Notes relating to a rather farcical dinner at which Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch, somebody from a group called the Christian Action Network, and Douglas Murray attended. The CAN bloke invited somebody from the football-hooliganish “English Defence League”, whereupon Douglas Murray quite rightly left the meeting. You can read the whole story by working back from this point. In a nutshell, however, this is what happened:

CAN asked Douglas to do an interview with them – upon seeing the presence of the EDL at the CAN discussion he refused to deal with them and left the venue. He did however give an interview to CAN at another location on the water front. He didn’t actually know who the CAN were, and always says yes to interviews, hence his appearances on other dubious channels such as the Islam Channel.

He also did have dinner only with Spencer in a personal capacity later that evening.

Spencer,  in my view, essentialises Islam and Muslims. Although his position is sometimes difficult to pin down, my impression is that he has more or less accepted that Islamist perspective on Islam, and takes the view that any Muslim who disagrees is not properly following his religion.

The Christian Action Network, I knew nothing about until yesterday. They turn out to be a pretty nasty anti-Muslim and anti-Gay Jerry Falwell-aligned outfit.

I have to admit that I admire Douglas Murray’s unflinching readiness to debate with all comers. I saw him turn up to speak against Anjem Choudry, in a hall that was packed with chanting and bellicose Al Muhajiroun members, who shouted homophobic abuse at him as he arrived. That was genuinely brave.  However, as is well known, he made a speech a number of years ago in which he expressed the view that “all immigration into Europe from Muslim countries must stop”. I have a huge problem with that. First of all, it assumes that Muslims will inevitably reject liberal values. Not only is that false: it also betrays a certain lack of confidence in liberalism. Worst, were such a policy implemented, it would that dissenters and minorities in those countries would be left stranded. I understand that this is not Douglas Murray’s view today: but I wish he would say so in an article. It was a pretty disgraceful thing to have said, and ought to be retracted.

Sunny’s article on Pickled Politics repeated the information in the first Barth’s Notes piece, part of which suggested that Douglas Murray was hanging out with the English Defence League. The original piece also contained a silly swipe at Harry’s Place, which I thought it best to ignore.

When I looked again yesterday, the piece had changed. The suggestion that Douglas Murray was associated with the EDL had been removed, along with the jibe at Harry’s Place. Now, all references to Douglas Murray have disappeared.

It transpires that Sunny received some sort of legal threat from Douglas Murray.

I find this hugely dispiriting. First, it is outrageous to use Britain’s notoriously unfair libel laws to silence a blogger. It is particularly surprising conduct from Douglas Murray, who makes a point of debating and agreeing to interviews with everybody – as he points out, from the Islam Channel to the Christian Action Network – and who pulled out of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islam Expo event when Sawalha threatened to sue me.

Sunny, I know was supportive of Liberty chief, Shami Chakrabarti’s threat to sue Andy Burnham over his joke about the unlikeliness of the left wing civil libertarian’s alliance with the hanger-and-flogger, Davis Davis. [Sunny points out below, quite rightly, that he has also taken a strong line against libel threats against bloggers – and indeed has defended us when we were targeted by Lawfarists] However, that has no bearing on the core argument. If you think you have been misrepresented, particularly by a blogger, your first reaction should not be to unleash the libel lawyers.

My problem with the law of defamation is that it is structurally strongly weighted in favour of claimants, and against freedom of expression. It effectively appoints the likes of Mr Justice Eady the arbiter of public debate – and I do not trust his judgement. It shuts down speech. One of the particularly obnoxious consequences of our law of defamation is that, the worse the subject of the alleged libel has behaved, the more difficult it is to report on it. Look at my travails with the Lawfare-deploying Islamists, for example.

Particularly where bloggers are concerned, there is no real prospect of properly defending an action. To do so would be ruinously expensive. David Osler, of Dave’s Part, has found this out to his very real cost. Therefore, once lawyers are involved, the only real option is to roll over if you can. Better still: give up blogging.

Furthermore, bloggers are particularly exposed to libel threats. Because blogs are reactive, and often end up reporting stories while the facts are in the process of emerging, they will get things wrong once in a while. You do your best to put the pieces together, but sometimes you reach the wrong conclusions. When that happens, the right thing to do is to put the record straight. Ironically, the use of libel lawyers makes it more difficult to do that. It might be poor strategy to admit your error, if to do so could be used against you in a subsequent trial.

By way of contrast, have a look at Peter Tatchell’s actions, when he was the subject of an extremely defamatory article in what purported to be a serious book by a reputable academic publisher. Peter did not call in the lawyers. Rather, he explained in detail to the publishers why the article was untrue and defamatory. They responded, voluntarily, by accepting his arguments and publishing a very full retraction.

I don’t know whether Sunny would have retracted his piece if he had been informed of his error and asked to correct it. He may well have done so. Perhaps Douglas Murray thinks that it would have been pointless to have tried.

However, we will never know.

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