The Irrelevant Mr Choudary
Wouldn’t it be nice if we were allowed to choose who we are to be angry at?
It seems like a strange thing to say, but the recent shebang about Anjem Choudray and his Islam4UK organisation proposing a march in Wootton Bassett, has got me wondering if the people of Britain can even be bothered to decide who they want to get angry at any more.
Some context. I don’t really like what Choudary stands for, he’s anti-freedom (explicitly) and seems to belong to a twattishly sexist, homophobic and intolerant branch of his faith (as exists in all). However in all the media storm I have yet to find any estimate of the size of his organisation beyond claims in the Telegraph that he said there would be “500” people taking part in his march. The general rule with marches which do go ahead is to take the number of people the organisers say are present, add it to the number the police say are present, and divide it by two. In other words, no one is capable of guessing the attendances of such things. If Choudary really did have 500 members at his disposal I would have been surprised.
Choudary indicates how many friends he has.
Or rather I would have been had this not been blown out of all proportion by the media. This isn’t a lesson in how to combat extremists, it’s a lesson in how the media is now explicitly telling us what to get hysterical about.
Islam4UK are a tiny bunch of nobodies.
This very pertinent fact appears to have been lost in the media’s willful creation of a storm out of nothing. Under legislation in place for twenty four years, all marches must be applied for a pre-approved before they can go ahead. This takes into account safety concerns, of which a march such as the one proposed would involve. Controversial marches do take place, the English Defence League have held several recently, but a smaller town like Wootton Bassett might be less likely to approve one than a larger, better equipped place like Birmingham. The march was very unlikely to have ever taken place. Choudary for one knew this and has practically admitted he did it for the attention, not hoping to actually hold the march.
And the result? Hysteria.
There are Facebook groups with thousands and thousands of members protesting this. There’s a selection of officials, from parliament down to Wootton Bassett’s council expressing their outrage. There’s a group who were ambitiously claiming to be able to round up 500 people, who have achieved immense publicity. And there’s the media who are responsible for all this.
A newspaper, being hysterical.
Unpopular marches happen all the time in the UK. In fact if you were a Northern Irish Catholic watching this you might wonder what all the fuss was about – the annual routine of Orange Order (and other) parades around NI has long enraged the Catholic population, but in recent years the furore has died down, partially through the efforts of the Parades Commission to prevent the marches going through contentious areas, like Drumcree, and partially because the situation has improved in NI. Improved, but not resolved. In the last week a PSNI officer was seriously hurt in a car bomb attack. Whilst this isn’t explicitly linked to the parades, it’s a symptom of the same underlying problem. In the worst times in Northern Ireland the funerals of those involved weren’t just subject to marches on the same streets, they were physically attacked with bombs and guns.
There are a lot of people in this country who hold views I find repellent. Some might even march for them. In the last decade I’ve turned my nose up at the pro-fox hunting banners of the Countryside Alliance, the borderline racism of the English Defence League, the antagonistic flashes of Orange in NI. But they went ahead. They went ahead because freedom of speech, as long as it doesn’t target people, is valued here. Choudary has done some nasty things which amount to violating this privilege (if the stories of sending letters to soldiers’ families are true), but at the same time he has a right to say stupid things. And so I don’t blame him for doing so. I blame the media for making a mountain out of a molehill. Choudary is a nasty little goblin, but that’s all he is. Getting worked up about him is playing into his hands.
We’d do a lot more damage to him if we simply ignored him.
Also, have a look at this widely unreported protest by the British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD). Surely the reason it wasn’t widely reported was the cold weather and not the fact that Muslims walking around saying “Free speech will dominate the world” and “Secular democracy for the United Kingdom” isn’t scary?