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The arrest of Paul Weston

Kenan Malik makes many excellent points in this piece, ‘Why hate speech should not be banned’.  For example:

[The concept of hate speech] is a way of making certain ideas illegitimate without bothering politically to challenge them. And that is dangerous.

Paul Weston has apparently been charged for a racially aggravated crime under Section 4 of the Public Order Act. He was quoting from a speech by Winston Churchill:

“How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property – either as a child, a wife, or a concubine – must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the faith: all know how to die but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith.”

Much has been made by his supporters of the fact that it was Churchill’s words which got him into trouble.  But many revered historical figures held seriously bigoted views on a range of issues. In a polemical (as opposed to an academic or journalistic) context their words could certainly be said to be hateful whether or not we think they should be banned, or the focus of a criminal charge.  The assertion that ‘the Aryan stock is bound to triumph’ would sit very nicely on Stormfront, and the fact it is a quotation from Churchill doesn’t make it any better.

Similarly, this quotation wouldn’t look amiss on a number of extremely unpleasant sites.

And it may well be that this same astounding race [the Jews] may at the present time be in the actual process of producing another system of morals and philosophy, as malevolent as Christianity was benevolent, which, if not arrested, would shatter irretrievably all that Christianity has rendered possible. It would almost seem as if the gospel of Christ and the gospel of Antichrist were destined to originate among the same people; and that this mystic and mysterious race had been chosen for the supreme manifestations, both of the divine and the diabolical.

So although it can be argued that it is particularly absurd to censor, in any context, words by such a revered figure, the reputation of Churchill could be used to bolster (various) dubious agendas.  We shouldn’t be banning such discourse (although restrictions on sites with specific codes of practice such as Facebook are a different matter) but engaging with why it is wrong.  Weston clearly just wanted to stir things up – by contrast with those with serious concerns about specific issues relating to Islam/Muslims, such as the secularists protesting later today against the Law Society’s guidance on drawing up Sharia-compliant wills.

The quote used by Weston seems to exist in different forms.  I’ve been unable to track down an authoritative copy of the original text, but this seems much more widely used than the version Weston quotes (which appears to be of more recent provenance.)

“Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen: all know how to die. But the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytising faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science – the science against which it had vainly struggled – the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.

Note the fact that the version Weston has used omits the first sentence altogether, and substitutes ‘soldiers of the faith’ for ‘soldiers of the Queen’.  In its full context this doesn’t really make much sense, but is clearly in line with a wish to erase even the faintest praise from Churchill’s words.

People like Weston hamper the efforts of those (including Muslims) who are concerned about both radical extremism and illiberal conservatism. Last night Yasmin Alibhai Brown and Khalid Mahmood laid into Massoud Shadjareh on Channel 4 News over the Birmingham schools issue.  We need to reject Weston’s Manichean vision of some kind of struggle to the death against Islam, and welcome Muslim allies.