Saturday, November 11, 2006

A sinister double standard

Two trials in Britain last week have exposed a sinister double standard over Muslims and "hate speech". Mizanur Rahman had spoken at a protest against the publication of the infamous Danish cartoons, saying that "we want to see [British troops'] blood running in the streets of Baghdad" and calling for further 9/11-style attacks in Europe. He had also carried a sign saying "Annihilate those who insult Islam". On Thursday, he was convicted of inciting racial hatred. British National Party leader Nick Griffin faced similar charges over speeches in which he called Muslims "cockroaches" and Islam a "wicked, vicious faith", and called for his followers to "show these ethnics the door in 2004". On Friday, he was acquitted, after arguing that his words were aimed at Muslims, who were not a racial group in terms of the law.

You don't need to be a genius to see that there is a tension between the two verdicts. In one case, Muslims are not a racial group, and therefore any speech, no matter how vicious, is allowed (a fact which has caused the government to try amending the law in the past). In the other, non-Muslims are considered a racial group. This is inconsistent and hypocritical, and sends a clear message to Muslims that, where freedom of speech is concerned, they are second-class citizens. They can be abused and vilified at will, but cannot respond in kind.

I oppose hate speech laws, but I particularly oppose inconsistent and hypocritical ones. Freedom of speech cuts both ways, and you cannot consistently demand it for yourself while denying it to others. Again, it will be interesting to see whether those local bloggers who opposed the UK's Racial and Religious Hatred Bill on freedom of speech grounds will be quite so vocal in condemning this verdict - or whether the "freedom of speech" they support is freedom only for themselves.


And just to deal with the obvious canard: Mizanur Rahman was not convicted of "incitement to murder". This is about the clear double-standard displayed in the application of racial hatred laws, not what he did or did not say or how much you disapprove of it.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/11/2006 12:41:00 PM

If British 'racial hatred/hostility' hate speech laws run similar to our own, Mizanur's case would not have demonstrated that 'Muslims' are an ethnic group, but rather the people he was found to be inciting hatred/violence against - in this case... British troops? Europeans in general? Non-Muslims? Which is equally odd.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/11/2006 12:48:00 PM

Not sure if you need to call the double standard sinister. But I have an easy fix for you.

Your problem would seem not to be the law but instead the usage of juries. Jury systems just don't do "consistency" which is what you are asking for. Instead juries take into account all sorts of irrelevant issues like "whether there was a death threat involved".

They also tend to be a little biased in the direction you are complaining about. But whatever the British do they can't solve that problem unless they abolish the jury system because no matter how much you indoctrinate the public they just wont be able to be totally unbiased by peripheral facts and their own beliefs.

Posted by Genius : 11/11/2006 02:09:00 PM

True, it is not easy to legislate for jury consistency. But if you're going to have a special "hate crime" exception to free speech, then you have to write the law in such a way as to allow equitable results across any group that may have violence incited against it. The problem in these two cases was the inconsistency of the definition of "race": that would disappear if the definition of "hate crime" did not depend on "race".


Posted by Anonymous : 11/11/2006 02:23:00 PM

Had Rahman called for Christian blood on the streets of Baghdad he might have been fine. But he called for British blood - this incites racial hatred.

Calling Muslims cockroached and Islam wicked does not incite racial hatred.

There is no double standard, merely a policy decision from the Parliament that inciting religious hatred is less insidious that inciting racial hatred (Rahman's statement, from your quote, appears to be directed against the British, not non-Muslims, presumably Rahman wants the blood of British soldiers of Islamic faith she in Baghdad too.

As for local bloggers - some might consider the difference between advocating death and advocating changes to immigration policy enough of a distinction to draw a distinction such that one doesn't want to defend the speech of the one found guilty (i.e. they might consider the speech - calling for death - indefensible, even if they consider the charge should have been incitement to murder)

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 11/11/2006 04:06:00 PM

I can't stand the BNP but there is no double standard.

Griffin did not encourage violence, he abused islam and that is all.

The other example you gave was of someone inciting violence, calling for more attacks and blood to run in the streets.

There is a clear difference in terms of the las, even if both are abhorrent.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/11/2006 05:24:00 PM

"las" should be "law"

Posted by Anonymous : 11/11/2006 05:26:00 PM

Well, it appears the inconsistency hasn't gone un-noticed, and may be closed...

The Independent has another article on the subject.

Incidentally, I share your sentiments I/S. If there is anyone attempting to stir up racial hate in the UK, Griffin is one.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/11/2006 06:23:00 PM

> That would disappear if the definition of "hate crime" did not depend on "race".

one usually explicitly protects groups otherwise one might be able to envoke hate speach in regard to people atacking you for "being fascist" or "being a criminal" or other such groupings.

Religion is of course a candidate for this sort of protection (the down side being this might protect satan worshipping and cults - since religion is an idea, it could be the most abhorent idea in the world theoretically...)

Still since it was a jury I expect the big difference is REALLY that the jury was more annoyed at (or scared of) Rahman than Griffin, regardless of any other excuses that might have been given.

Imagine yourself as a jury member faced with Rahman and the responsibility of dealing or more importantly NOT dealing with him.

Posted by Genius : 11/11/2006 07:06:00 PM

Again, if UK 'racial hostility' laws are comparable to ours, then 'British' does probably fall within its purvey. Not because 'the British' are an ethnic or 'racial' group, but because 'British' is a group defined by 'national origin' - one of string of terms generally used to describe specifically groups protected by *anti-racism* laws. It's a slightly ironic clash of historical meanings. So yes, still odd I think.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/11/2006 08:57:00 PM

Winston Churchill thought the British were a race...

"This, therefore, is one of those moments when the British race and nation can show their quality and their genius. This is one of those moments when they can draw from the heart of misfortune the vital impulses of victory."

"But all depends now upon the whole life-strength of the British race in every part of the world and of all our associated peoples and of all our well-wishers in every land, doing their utmost night and day, giving all, daring all, enduring all-to the utmost-to the end. This is no war of chieftains or of princes, of dynasties or national ambition; it is a war of peoples and of causes."

"n the quality of the fighter aircraft there was little to choose. The Germans' were faster, with a better rate of climb; ours more maneuverable, better armed. Their airmen, well aware of their greater numbers, were also the proud victors of Poland, Norway, the Low Countries, France; ours had supreme confidence in themselves as individuals and that determination which the British race displays in fullest measure when in supreme adversity."

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 11/11/2006 09:10:00 PM

Ah yes, Winston Churchill, that famed expert on 21st century British multiculturalism and ethnic theory... I'd use an emoticon here to indicate the lightheartedness here, but I'm against them. Interestingly, non-English, non-Irish, non-Scottish and non-Welsh people in the UK are the people most likely to be happy to describe their identity as 'British' - ie these are the people whose actual ethnicities are the furthest from Winston Churchill's original conception of a 'British race'.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/11/2006 09:37:00 PM

Hate speech laws are by definition stupid and bound to result in stupid jury decisions. But I don't see a case like that here - in one case, there's a clear incitement to violence, and in the other, there's somebody who doesn't like a particular group and says so. The first one's covered by previously existing law (it was illegal to incite violence before hate speech laws), and the second one is something that it's pretty stupid to try and make illegal.

Posted by Psycho Milt : 11/12/2006 08:59:00 AM

Griffin’s beef is not about the religion of Islam; it’s about fears of “racial” dilution of white British stock. He sees Muslims as a racial/ethnic group. He wants to rid Britain of Muslim people, not convert them to Christianity. The hate-speech legislation should have applied.

His second trial centred on excerpts from a speech he made in Keighley in 2004. For example:

"If they get a non-Muslim girl and they get her pregnant, then her community doesn't want her, and the child generally grows up a Muslim and that's the way this wicked, vicious faith has expanded from a handful of cranky lunatics about 1,300 years ago...."

"What's happening in going to be happening in all the rest of Yorkshire in 10 years' time and what happens in Yorkshire in 10 years' time is going to be happening in Northumberland and in 15 or 20 years' time and in Cornwall as the last whites basically try and find their way to the sea."

Compare with this:

“With satanic joy in his face, the black-haired Jewish youth lurks in wait for the unsuspecting girl whom he defiles with his blood, thus stealing her from her people. With every means he tries to destroy the racial foundations of the people he has set out to subjugate. Just as he himself systematically ruins women and girls, he does not shrink back from pulling down the blood barriers for others, even on a large scale. It was and it is Jews who bring the Negroes into the Rhineland, always with the same secret thought and clear aim of ruining the hated white race by the necessarily resulting bastardization, throwing it down from its cultural and political height, and himself rising to be its master.”
Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

Had Griffin said what he said about Jews, he may not have been acquitted because the history of the persecution of Jews is well-known. The outcome shows how little the lessons of history are applied in new situations, and that the fight against vilification of groups is never won.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/12/2006 11:31:00 AM

Griffin's perspective doesn’t make any sense from that angle either. (not that I expect it to make a huge amount of sense – but at least a bit)

a group of cranks from 1300 years ago cant STILL be polluting out genes (to any significant degree) 1300 years on (even if they WERE gene polluters).

maybe he is saying the polluting strategy is a way of spreading Islam but that Islam is not a race in itself (because obviously it wouldn't stay the same) and at present it threatens the British race which IS a race (as he defines British - probably something like 'Anglo-Saxon').

Posted by Genius : 11/12/2006 11:58:00 AM

Couldn't a standard defence to any charge under this law be that there is no such thing as 'race', that the idea has been thoroughly debunked by serious research, and that the only 'race' is the 'human race' (i.e., the species), and that differences which do exist within the species do not constitute 'racial' difference?

This would be, roughly, the standard argument of biologists and biological anthropologists, etc. who have considered this issue?

In this sense, 'the British' are no more or less of a 'race' than 'the English' or 'the Muslims'.

Quite apart from any research, all of the above are so patently 'hybrid' cultures, with multiple origins, that it makes little or no sense to use the term 'race' to describe them, even in a casual (non-legal) way.

Posted by dc_red : 11/13/2006 08:33:00 AM

dcred: Actual wording of 'inciting/exciting racial hostility' laws in New Zealand for example, (undoubtedly very similar wording in UK law) refers to speech that excites hostility against a group of people for reason of their "colour, race, or ethnic or national origins." It is a broad and multi-pronged description precisely because: no-one can agree if 'race' exists; some people agree that 'ethnicity' exists although no-one can agree on its definition; but *everyone* agrees that 'racism' exists. The broadness of hate crime wording indicates that locating racism is often a matter of 'I know it when I see it'.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/13/2006 01:18:00 PM

tzeming - right, thanks.

presumably the not guilty decision I/S refers to depended in part on muslims being a religious group (not one defined by colour, ethnic or national origins, race, or any other grab-bag term along those lines). if the bnp-er had said "arabs" instead the result might have been different?

Posted by dc_red : 11/13/2006 01:34:00 PM