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J.E. Dyer: Ceramic Pig Watch – Offensive Speech in Britain

Shah Jahan Mosque, one of the oldest in the UK

Photo Credit: Roger Haworth/Wikimedia

Ever since the case of the offensive ceramic pigs in 1998, the British have been assiduously refining their methods for dealing with offenses to Islam.  Earlier this year, Bruce Bawer at Frontpage recounted the tale of David Jones, who was going through security at Gatwick Airport when he made a stray comment that brought down the full force of the Speech Police on his head (emphasis added):

[A]ccording to the Telegraph, “he spotted a Muslim woman in hijab pass through the area without showing her face” and, in a “light-hearted aside to a security official who had been assisting him,” said: “If I was wearing this scarf over my face, I wonder what would happen.”

Kapow! Poor Mr. Jones spent the next hour or so being lectured about what he was and was not allowed to say by an airline official, a police officer, and several security guards, one of whom identified herself as a Muslim and told him she was “deeply distressed” by his comment. Of course it was Jones who was being unjustly harassed and who had every right to feel “deeply distressed,” but, as he later pointed out, “Something like George Orwell’s 1984 now seems to have arrived in Gatwick airport,” so that it is now considered reasonable for individuals in positions of power to claim that they are being caused “distress” by the very people whom they, in an outrageous abuse of power, are in the very process of tormenting. The cop on the scene even instructed Jones “that we now live in a different time and some things are not to be said.”

It now turns out that not only are things not to be said, but no one else is to be allowed to know what was said when someone is jailed for saying them.

A Mr. Darren Conway of Gainsborough, Leicestershire, was sentenced in March to 12 months in prison for the crime of posting “offensive” posters about Mohammed and Islam on the window of his apartment.   According to the Gainsborough Standard, Conway said he printed the posters from images at Facebook, which suggests he found them online through his connection with the British National Party (BNP).  Presumably the images are no longer available, or there is no way to verify which ones he printed out.  At any rate, the British authorities and the media offered no details about the posters after the police removed them.

A number of British citizens were naturally interested in what was on the posters, since they got a man convicted and sent to prison.  It does seem reasonable for the people to know what will get them locked up.  “Offensive to Islam” could mean a lot of things, and no one should have to guess what’s considered actionably offensive.  One report (cited at the Frontpage link, previous paragraph) indicated that one of the posters depicted a rally of the English Defence League, but it offered no particulars about any of the other posters and how they were offensive to Islam.

So Edgar Davidson, a British blogger, made a Freedom of Information request to the crown prosecutor for details about the offensive posters displayed by Conway.  The prosecutor declined his request last week, offering this explanation:

There is a substantial public interest in many circumstances in protecting from disclosure information gathered for the purposes of a criminal case. The defendant in this case was prosecuted as he publically displayed the offensive posters referred to in your request. As displaying this material was proven to be a criminal offence in a criminal court, and the graphic and violent images depicted in these posters caused offence in the neighbourhood in which they were displayed, there is a very strong public interest in these articles not being distributed any further.

Davidson invokes the adjective “Kafkaesque” in describing this interaction.  Bruce Bawer cites a public statement by Ms. Judith Walker of the crown prosecutor’s organization, and parses it as follows:

We all owe Walker a debt of gratitude, for in this statement she takes us right to the heart of the matter, giving us a crystal-clear picture of how these people think. To place in the window of your home slogans and pictures that add up to a criticism of Islamic ideology is not to exercise your freedom of speech; it is to commit an act of “harassment” that has no place “in a tolerant society” and that must therefore be punished.

About the Author: J.E. Dyer is a retired US Naval intelligence officer who served around the world, afloat and ashore, from 1983 to 2004.


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