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Wed 20 November 2019
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The stones thrown by the likes of the Spectator hit people and freedom of expression cannot be used to justify this, says Brian Cathcart, Professor of Journalism at Kingston University.


Rod Liddle, the associate editor of the Spectator magazine, which is edited by Fraser Nelson and published by BBC political interviewer Andrew Neil, has this week published an article containing the following paragraph: 

“My own choice of election date would be a day when universities are closed and Muslims are forbidden to do anything on pain of hell, or something. There must be one day like that in the Muslim calendar, surely? That would deliver at least 40 seats to the Tories, I reckon.” 

What sort of person writes those words? For a start, obviously, someone who holds Muslims in contempt, who despises 4.4% of the UK population because of their religion and their ethnic heritage. For no other reason, he wishes to see them excluded from the franchise. 

It hardly needs to be said, because no effort is being made to conceal it: he is a racist, and those who collaborated in publishing these words are complicit in his racism. But there is more, for this is incitement to hatred. It encourages the idea that Muslims are contemptible, are pariahs and sub-human, and in doing so it feeds and legitimises racial hatred.

Those responsible for publishing Liddle’s words in the Spectator know all about rising hate crime in this country. They know that everyday in our streets, workplaces, trains and buses Muslims are subjected to racist abuse. They know they frequently suffer physical violence at the hands of the haters. 

Anyone with an ounce of humanity would hesitate before taking any action likely to contribute to that suffering, such as expressing a view that might legitimise or inflame the feelings of those who inflict it. Such hesitation, such reflection is a basic element of civilised behaviour.

In contrast, anyone who takes such an action casually and flippantly, and who does so more than once, is complicit in hate crime. And so are the people who facilitate their actions. That is where Liddle, Nelson and Neil now stand. 

We know their defences: “it was only a joke”. No it wasn’t. “Islam is a religion not a race, so this can’t be racism”. First, such a claim is so ludicrously disingenuous only a fool would give it credit. And second, on its own terms, the paragraph is explicitly abusive of Muslims, not of Islam, and it is also explicitly ignorant of Islam. 

And then there is the argument that it is Liddle’s opinion and he is entitled to express it. Any attempt to prevent his expressing it is an attack on freedom of expression and on the freedom of the press. This is a grotesque perversion of what freedom and rights are really about. It is like saying: “I have a sacred right to throw stones. Throwing stones is an expression of freedom, so nothing should stop me throwing stones. And I have no responsibility whatever for where the stones fall or for the damage they may cause”.  

Liddle, Nelson and Neil pervert freedom of expression to diminish the rights of others. As they know, Muslims suffer a loss of rights because of this kind of hate speech. They are less able to live fulfilled lives, their freedom to worship is inhibited, their employment opportunities are restricted, their freedom of movement is curtailed, their physical safety is impaired. 

In other words, the stones that Liddle throws hit people. He is a hate preacher, a radicaliser of youth, a siren voice calling out to bigots and thugs across the country and telling them it’s okay to despise and vilify Muslims because they don’t belong in our democracy and they should not enjoy the rights of white people. 

In invoking freedom of speech to defend such conduct, the Spectator appeals not to a reality in terms of human rights, but to a myth, and one that has been elegantly deconstructed by Nesrine Malik: “The purpose of the myth is not to secure freedom of speech – that is, the right to express one’s opinions without censorship, restraint or legal penalty. The purpose is to secure the licence to speak with impunity; not freedom of expression, but rather freedom from the consequences of that expression.’

They throw stones and they demand – in the name of press freedom – that we ignore the consequences of their stone-throwing. It goes without saying that they would never tolerate such treatment if it were meted out to them. 

It is flagrant racism, but it is by no means a first for the Spectator. Don’t look to the sham press ‘regulator’ IPSO to do anything about it because, by not taking group-based complaints, it is a facilitator of hate speech. And don’t expect the BBC to ask its star political presenter Andrew Neil to account for his complicity in racism because it just won’t.

Neil and company do this stuff because they know they will get away with it; that is the world they have engineered.  


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