March for Free Expression

The next phase

Friday, March 31, 2006

Blaxploitation

I am indebted to the blogger drinking from home for this post, which comes via the pub philosopher. It refers to a piece on the Black Information Link (BLINK) website, written by Shirin Aguiar-Holloway. Ms Aguiar-Holloway is a lot more significant than she knows in the history of the Free Expression Rally. But more on that later.

Here's how the piece starts:
A sea of white faces
by Shirin Aguiar-Holloway
30/3/2006

FREEDOM FOR WHO? That was the question being asked after an all-white 'Freedom March' took place in London.
Eh?

Ms Aguiar-Holloway telephoned me twice in the run up to the rally. So I thought I'd return the compliment, and telephone her. I was put through without any problem, but she was audibly taken aback by the fact that I'd called her. I explained that I thought her article was the most racist thing I'd seen since that drunken night when a series of know-thy-enemy links led me to the website of White Aryan Resistance. And I said I'd like to ask her a couple of questions.

She said that she normally asked, rather than answered. No kidding? But I wanted to ask anyway. She told me there was someone in her organisation who fielded press questions. But then, I'm not a member of the press, so I persisted.

Question One:
Are you aware that the rally in London was a lot more racially diverse than the counter rally in Birmingham?
Answer:
So, that's your first question?
True. Was she going to answer it?
There's someone here to answer questions. I can't speak for BLINK
I'm not asking you to. You wrote the piece.
[silence]
So you're not going to answer the question?
No. What's the next question?
Will you answer it?

She wouldn't. So I was put through to the person who does answer questions, Lester Holloway. Lester turns out to be the editor of BLINK. I asked him question one again, but he wouldn't answer. He did, though, offer me a right of reply. I am going to take that up, but will drag this out over two posts, so it can wait. There is even a reason for this.

Notwithstanding, I asked Lester my second question:
Does the validity of what someone has to say depend on the colour of their skin?
Lester did answer this:
No.
So why the emphasis on skin colour - to the exclusion of all else - in their article?

Lester wouldn't answer. OK, Last try:
Is "All white on the day" a racist caption? (It accompanies a photograph of the rally)
And Lester did answer:
No, because it reflects the racial composition of the march.
He added, apropos of the whole piece:
I deny it was racist.
You will, perhaps, have noticed how much, during this conversation, we discussed the issue of free speech and the statement of principle. Nor did the BLINK piece. It was ONLY concerned with the racial composition of the rally. Oddly, they were less concerned with the racial composition of the Birmingham Rally, one of the most racially homogenous assemblies ever seen in this country. Even the clothes of the attendees were the same colour.

Why does this matter? After all, we can dismiss black bigots as readily as white ones.

Because I don't think the Holloways are bigots. I know that seems like a bizarre piece of self-delusion, but I have actually talked with them. They seemed like very nice, courteous, educated people who care very much about issues of race and equality, and might also care about freedom of expression. That's why Shirin was more important than she knows. She was one of three journalists (the others were from the BBC's Asian Network and Sunrise Radio) who made me ask people not to bring the cartoons to the rally. It had bugger all to do with MAC, who have just been using what they have perceived as my weakness to dig themselves into the most astonishing crater, for no very obvious reason.

It was instead these clever, cosmopolitan, accomplished young women for whom it just didn't compute that the cartoons might not be a hideous racist, BNP attack on Muslims in particular, and every other person with a better than average suntan in general.

Shirin, when she wrote the second piece, knew that I had asked people not to bring cartoons solely to help include Muslims who might have otherwise felt intimidated, because I had told her this on the telephone during our second conversation, but this knowledge failed to penetrate the carapace of her paranoia and her racist assumptions about white people. She knew that of nine speakers, only five were white, yet she still called that Rally "all-white". She knew that there were lots of people there who were not white, yet she still called the rally "all-white". She knew that the Birmingham Rally was entirely racially homogenous, but she drew no attention to that fact because the race in question was not white.

There can be no more pure and complete an example of racism. But I remain convinced that these two people are decent.

They are the type of people we need to get on board, somehow, sometime. Because Freedom of Speech and Expression have nothing at all to do with race or culture. They are universal. And the people the Holloways are tacitly supporting would remove these freedoms from them, as well as from us.

It is going to be a long haul, though.

Kurdish Prisoner of Conscience

Sonic has pointed out the plight of Kurdish writer Dr Kamal Qadir, who has been jailed for defaming the Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani.

Amnesty are campaigning about this case, which is great. Because they have failed completely in their duty to campaign about similar repression in Europe, we have had to become active. However, we encourage everyone to support this Amnesty campaign.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Islamophobiaphobia

The following was the entirety of a tape-recorded interview I did with a journalist who was working for an Arabic media organisation:
Journalist: Do you think there is such a thing as Islamophobia?
Me: Yes.
Journalist (visibly disappointed): Oh.
(pause)
Journalist: Can you find me someone here who doesn't?
Me: I doubt it.
Journalist: Oh. OK. Thanks.
(Interview ends)

Little Atoms

The Little Atoms special about the Rally can be downloaded from here.

A Must-Resist

Jen sent an email last week, pointing out the horrible potential of The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. This isn't directly an issue that concerns freedom of expression, but it is potentially so far reaching that it transcends the subject. After all. What good is freedom of expression if the government can simply bypass Parliament?

Read more here.

Public Meeting & University Panels

We have a venue in central London, and a date will be announced as soon as the booking is confirmed. It will be a Saturday.

For those who cannot easily make central London, we will hold a series of Panels in Universities around the country. A lecturer has been good enough to email and offer to help get the ball rolling in his college, and we would very much welcome similar emails from others in similar positions.

New Blog

I notice an important new blog has come online, at http://toonophobia.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Blasphemy

Paul Emmerson has emailed in to suggest that instead of just exhibiting the Danish cartoons we should:
in the same physical space have a video showing ‘The Life Of Brian’ and whichever Woody Allen movie is most irreverent to Jews. If you can also find a movie that shows Hindu gods, even if it isn’t humorous, so much the better.
...
have the text of the Church’s judgment against Galileo prominently displayed.
Maybe call the exhibition "Blasphemy".

There was at one time a contractual issue that prevented the Life of Brian from being shown, and there would be licensing and performing rights issues. But what do you think, in principle?

Political Party

I thought this was very true, in an earlier post:
Whereas the enemies of free expression delight in actively striving to suppress freedoms, free expression's supporters wish simply to enjoy their freedoms and find it onerous to have to actively defend them.
I also noticed a lot of humour and high spirits on Saturday.

This made me think... Fascists aren't a lot of fun. Religious nuts are no fun at all. The indecent left are possibly the least fun thing on the planet. Watching the bullfighter, reading some of the placards and T-shirts and then chatting with people in the pub later, I thought: this is fun. These would be good people to invite to a party. A political party. Music, stand-up and (short) speeches. Broaden it out and try to involve some of the people who can't quite be bothered with politics at the moment.

I know there will be some groans at this idea, but the problem is that a lot of our most natural supporters are out enjoying themselves. Political participation and electoral turnouts are at an all time low. Into the void step the swivel-eyed loonies. How do we stop this happening?

I can think of worse answers than: hold a party.

Public Meeting

We plan to hold a public meeting to address some of the future plans. Please email us or use the comments to help us get an idea of numbers, so we can book the right size venue.

Stay Tuned

The Little Atoms one hour special about the rally will be broadcast tonight on Resonance 104.4fm at 7pm. You can listen on the radio at 104.4fm in London, or online at www.resonancefm.com.

Don't miss it.

Police Complaints Authority

We liaised at great length with the police over the question of the display of cartoons. They made it clear that they did NOT consider that to display the Danish cartoons would in itself be a problem.

Now we have a completely foreseeable situation in which one belligerent onlooker who, I have no doubt, came to Trafalgar Square on Saturday for no other reason than to look for the cartoons and complain if they were there, saw them and complained.

I believe that the police should either have warned of this when we were seeking guidance from them so that we could have informed everyone who was thinking of attending, or taken no action when this onlooker complained.

I am therefore drafting a complaint to the Police Complaints Authority. I believe this policy must have been discussed at the highest levels in the Metropolitan Police, because of its political sensitivity, so the complaint will be against the Commissioner, Ian Blair.

What next

The statement of principle at the start of this campaign calls twice on "our elected representatives". If we are going to get effective change, we need to bring the imperative of freedom of expression home to them. At the moment, the main organisations who are lobbying on this issue do so with a view to introducing new restrictions on freedom.

So we propose drawing up a detailed manifesto and sending it to every member of the House of Commons. We will create and maintain a public database that shows which MPs agree with the manifesto and which do not.

We can then lobby the ones who do not.

Going further, there will be some by-elections during the life of this Parliament. It seems realistic, based on the experience of this rally, to seek to raise funds and identify suitable candidates for any constituency in which the likely winner will not sign the manifesto. Let's continue to keep this free of party politics. If we have a Labour safe seat, our candidate will take the Labour whip on all issues except those that involve freedom of expression. If it's a Tory seat, they'll take the Tory whip, and so on. Electors will be able to support freedom of expression without compromising their party affiliations.

So, what might be in the manifesto?

We would seek a constitutional protection for freedom of expression in the UK, lobby against attempts to restrict freedoms by the EU and the UN. (We have to work with like-minded people overseas.)

Blasphemy (common) law is wrong in itself, reduces our freedom of expression and creates inequity that can be used to back calls for new restrictions on our freedoms, such as the Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill. So we need the abolition of the offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel. Other people are already doing this, so we need to work with them and add to rather than duplicate their campaigns.

The Lords Spiritual should be abolished. Again, these create inequity and the last thing we need is representatives of other religions in the Lords, legislating for restrictions of our freedoms.

In general, there should be no special privileges for religions of any kind. We would seek the disestablishment of the Church of England.

In fact, there should be no special privilges for any group. All legislation that bans forms of speech should be repealed. This includes incitement to racial hatred.

When the police told The Spectator that they couldn't guarantee the safety of its staff, after a cartoon was published on their website, they were not telling the truth. In fact, they wouldn't protect the Spectator's staff. They protect lots of people - government ministers, members of the Royal family, diplomats and civil servants and others. They choose not to protect law-abiding people whose lives have been threatened. The consequence was that the cartoon was withdrawn. Instead, the police should protect anyone who is threatened and they should pursue the aggressors remorselessly, using all means at their disposal.

If a bounty is put on someone's life by a person in another country, where extradition treaties exist, these should be used to bring the bounty-offerer to justice. Where extradition treaties do not exist, the incentivisation of murder should be treated as a crime against humanity, with an international court to try them, and diplomatic consequences for any country harbouring such people.

Labi Siffre

A lot of people have been asking for Labi Siffre's speech. We'll be making other speeches available too, but for the moment, here is Labi's:
Transcript of the “March for Free Expression” speech given by Labi Siffre (Trafalgar Square 25/03/06)

The texts for my speech are taken from my blog in poetry form: “Labi Siffre – Poetry Into The Light”


it matters little that something is true, or not
till someone says you must live a certain way
because they believe something is true, or not

The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw has said, "There is freedom of speech, we all respect that. But there is not any obligation to insult or to be gratuitously inflammatory. We have to be very careful about showing the proper respect.

Well, I say, not all beliefs are worthy of respect. Racist beliefs, homophobic beliefs, sexist beliefs, beliefs claiming the inferiority of the disabled, and claims to knowledge of the existence of a God, none of these are worthy of respect.

I reject the craven philosophies, “I am sincere ... so I must be right”
and “I am offended ... so you must stop”.

When someone says, “I know God exists and so, you must behave in a certain way: that is offensive, insulting, inflammatory and unworthy of respect. But I would not campaign to ban their right to proclaim their beliefs, no matter how offensive I judge those beliefs to be.

I stand here able to speak in this way because a lot of people, many of whom would not have approved of me, died, so that I could have the right of “freedom of expression”. I have a duty to defend that right they gave their lives for.

To begin with the lie, “I know god exists” makes you an extremist.

*

When anyone attacks, by insisting that their dishonest and offensive claims to knowledge of “god” be “precious and sacred” to me

i will oppose your vacuous regal prose,
and them, vigorously

*

Consider : it is impossible to blaspheme
without proof of god’s existence

Consider : if you apologise
when you have nothing
to apologise for

of what value are your apologies
when you do
have something to apologise for

Consider : Christianity, Islam, Sikhism,
Judaism, Hinduism, the worship of
the little green goblin from the planet absurdity
none of these is a country
none of these is an ethnicity

they are political philosophies
used to persuade or tell people
how they should live

to criticize, ridicule, lampoon
or insult them, or the belief in them,
is not racist

And finally, consider :
In an age when the most powerful man on the planet (armed with weapons of mass destruction) by his own admission believes he receives instruction directly from God

In an age when Christian believers in “Rapture” and Islamic believers in “the return of the hidden Imam” believe it right to speed us to salvation by promoting the chaos and destruction of the apocalypse

In such an age, not only do we have a right to challenge, criticize, caricature and satirize Muhammad, Jesus, Yahweh and other theistic concepts ... we have a duty to do so.



http://www.intothelight.info/

ozz@intothelight.info

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Reza Moradi

I know there is a lot of concern about Reza Moradi's summons. I have been in contact with the police and with Maryam Namazie. As soon as there is some news, I will post about it.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Contribution #2: Aeneas

This was posted as three separate comments.

Part One:
The very next thing that we should campaign on is immediate and it is urgent, namely, the dropping of all charges against Reza Moradi. Are the cartoons illegal? If not, then why has this man been summoned to court? Are there other reasons that we have not been told about? If it’s just because someone was offended then I’d go further than Polish Solidarity with Denmark went – the entire population of the world should appear in court. Everyone has caused some degree of offence at some point in his or her life.

The fact that the vast majority of people didn’t show up in cartoon t-shirts, yet I imagine most people felt that people should have been allowed to if they wanted to, showed a great deal of restraint on our part and a good degree of respect towards the sensitivities of the Muslim Community. Arresting someone for making a statement, following our collective restraint is, at least in my mind, a provocation that does nothing to dispel the atmosphere of fear and suspicion that exists in many minds.

Part Two:
After the events of 9/11 I think that many Muslims feared that there would be a backlash, and the continued activities of fanatics around the world is not improving the situation. These events have also increased fears in the West that Islam wants to rule the world. Displaying the cartoons became a symbol of resistance to this perceived threat on one side and on the other of a perceived backlash.

If for no other reason that to get them into the open and reduce the fear that surrounds them, I believe that the cartoons should be published in Britain, but not in a way that provokes fear as to the motives for showing them. We have enough to fear on both sides of this debate from our own Government that seems intent on taking more and more liberty from everybody. The Iraq war provoked fear on one side, and the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill had a similar effect on the other. ID cards probably will be feared by many in both “groups”. Is the fear that is being created a deliberate act in order to rob us of more and more of all our rights and freedoms, which has been suggested elsewhere?

Part Three:
The reaction to the cartoons and the apparent lack of response from the Government and the Police to do anything about it, is what forced me to become active in this cause. I felt fear that my culture was under threat, just like the Muslims did. I felt myself been drawn further and further to the right, and some of the anger might have come across in some of my posts. Provocative posts from the other side and the almost ubiquitous misuse of the word racist intensified this fear and with it my anger. The decision on the cartoons and the treatment of those who took them to the rally didn’t make me less fearful either. If I felt myself been dragged to the right because of these fears, then I would imagine a similar reaction from Muslims. This drift to both of these extremes must stop, and the damage that has already been done reversed. I don’t want to give up liberal principles and only have the choice between two different forms of totalitarianism.

I have given the issues a great deal of thought, and have worried about them. I think Peter’s decision has ultimately, over time, made me pause and think, and move away from the precipice. For this Peter, I thank you. We must succeed to protect freedom of expression for the benefit of all, and to enable both “groups” or “sides” to become one and to live without fear. I believe that starting with the concept of Ijtihad as mentioned in my previous post (before the three-part one) is a good starting point because it seems to represent a liberal Islam that can be distinguished from the extreme variety and such a discussion in my opinion will encourage liberal Muslims to become involved in our campaign. It’s worth a try.

Contribution #1: And Rosta

This the first of a series of posts from people who have contributed ideas and analysis by email or in the comments section.
Dear Organizers,

You did an excellent job. Whereas the enemies of free expression delight in actively striving to suppress freedoms, free expression's supporters wish simply to enjoy their freedoms and find it onerous to have to actively defend them. (As a trade union rep I know how hard it is to mobilize members who would rather enjoy their protections without having to fight for them.) But we have to make a start and we need leaders to step forward as you have done.

The enemies of free speech have the backing of vast organizational infrastructures. The defenders of free speech don't -- yet. The rally showed that there are a few hundred people -- and a dozen principled organizations -- who in collaboration and coalition can work to build that organization.

I can't see the Voltaireans ever managing to hold bigger rallies than religious groups. Instead the defenders of freedom of expression need to build organized branches of support in key areas of society:

* in the universities
* in the press
* among elected politicians
* in the major political parties
* among religious groups

If the rally drew a line in the sand, this is what has to happen to defend that line.

While it is clear that the rally's organizers had a tricky job -- the need to galvanize support yet avoid press coverage presenting the rally as some anti-muslim BNP event, it will be important to avoid red-herrings: we must be able to defend the right to free expression without having to pass judgement on the beliefs of those whose rights we defend, and without having to pass judgement on the way some people choose to exercise their right.

Fraternally,

--And Rosta.

Pics and plans

Thanks to Polish Solidarity with Denmark for starting this list in a comment. If you know any more, please add them to the comments on this thread and I'll bring them into this list.


news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/4844634.stm

www.michaelfuchs.org/razorsedge/?story=2006-03-25
www.thatshot.org/march_for_free_expression_london.html
nordish.net/blog/london_25march/
www.pinknews.co.uk/news/articles/2005-922.html
http://schmoontherun.blogspot.com/

And a follow up from Pink News.



Full plans for the next stage, a tanks-on-lawns-orama, will be posted here on Wednesday. Those of us with day jobs need to get some work done first.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

How did that happen?

Patrick booked Trafalgar Square and the PA system, led the liaison with the police, arranged the insurance.

Nick brought a superb organising ability to the event, recruited and coordinated the stewards and designed and made all the signs - which lent the occasion the coherence and visual impact it needed. There was a round of applause for Nick, but it wasn't enough.

Dan worked tirelessly in the blogosphere and the comments section, as well as behind the scenes.

Gosia emailed and wrote to all the MPs who opposed the Incitement of Religious Hatred Bill. Replies are still coming in.

And the stewards were wonderful - calm, committed, professional and passionate about the principles behind this campaign.

Infidel Bloggers

I keep forgetting to thank the Infidel Bloggers for their contribution to the day. When people were getting tired, a lot of smiles broke out when their placards made it onto the steps.

publicansdecoy, nice to meet you. X - thanks so much for all your help and I hope we meet again.

Name checking is invidious... there were so many great people there yesterday. But let's all keep a special place in our hearts for the bullfighter.

And dfh - if I'm right and it was you - thanks for making such a long round trip and thanks for sticking to your guns.

An open letter to the Muslim Action Committee

Dear Ismaeel-Haneef,

First of all, I would like to thank you for the work you did last week to help ensure that the rallies in Birmingham and London were peaceful occasions. When we chatted last night on Radio Five Live, I said that the Muslim and non-Muslim parts of our community tend to stare at one another in suspicion and hostility from heavily fortified bunkers. I think we have helped reduce this problem, if only slightly.

As I have told you during our telephone conversations, I asked people not to bring the cartoons on placards because I wanted Muslims to feel able to participate in our campaign if they agreed with the principles behind it, and for no other reason. I also told you it was not a bargaining chip of any kind. As you know, I had hoped it might help you change your mind and send a speaker to put your viewpoint to the rally but, disappointingly, you did not feel able to do so. Nonetheless, we heard a number of views from within the Islamic world.

Some people did feel so strongly about the cartoon issue that they brought them on placards. In every case, they did so in a way that showed their support for Denmark and their anger that artists are living in hiding after death threats were made against them by homicidal fanatics. I hope you will join with me in acknowledging and respecting the strength of their opinions, and their commitment to peace and freedom, even if you do not agree with them. Certainly, everyone who attended made sure the rally was a place where none of the Muslims I spoke to, including representatives of the media from the Islamic world, felt uncomfortable. The only complaint came from someone who came along specifically to try to find a reason to complain.

As I have told you on the telephone, I am not a Muslim and I am not bound by Islamic laws or taboos. I do not think the "Danish cartoons" were offensive and point out that almost nobody was offended when they were published. There was, in fact, almost no reaction to the actual publication. The trouble came later, after a group of Danish Imams toured the Middle East with a "dodgy dossier" specifically trying to stir up trouble. We all need to denounce this sort of deliberate troublemaking, and this sort of deliberate creation of tension and rifts within our community.

But even if they had been offensive, threats of any description are wholly unacceptable, and the mealy-mouthed waffling of the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, when he failed to condemn the death threats but did condemn the cartoons, was the initial impetus for this campaign. Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani lists "unclean" things on his website. I am one of them (Kaffir). That is offensive. But I don't think he should be banned from saying this.

When I asked people not to bring the cartoons to the rally, I also said we would exhibit them subsequently. We are now going to arrange this. We propose to find a venue within which they can be shown and discussed. As I have told you, I support the right to offend, not because I advocate the giving of offense, but because without this there can be no freedom of speech or expression. But, even so, in this case nobody who might be offended by the sight of them need enter the venue.

The only grounds that any Muslim could object to this on would be that they sought to impose Sharia Law and Muslim taboos on non-Muslims, even when those non-Muslims are in private surroundings. This would be a nakedly fascistic line and, while I know there are some on the extreme fringes who might advocate this, I know this sort of view is as repugnant to moderate, mainstream Muslims as the terrorism these fringes resort to when they feel they have been thwarted, or when they seek to advance their agendas.

I know you would want to have this opportunity to make sure that no controversy ever gets started, and that good community relations are preserved, by stating now that you accept and support our right to hold this exhibition.

The next is more difficult, I know. We would very much welcome it if you were to attend the exhibition and debate the cartoons. I realise you might find this impossible, but dialogue is a two way street, as I think I have proved. Sometimes we have to take difficult and unpopular decisions in the interests of good community relations. You know I have received significant and frequently venomous criticism for having asked people to take into account Muslim sensibilities.

Now you have an opportunity to show similar courage in the name of reconciliation. This opportunity we both have to break down barriers is one of the best things to come out of the free expression campaign. I'm glad I had a chance to make a contribution first. I'm also very glad you now have a similar opportunity.

Kind Regards,

Peter Risdon.

Thanks All

Thanks for making it such a successful rally. It was great to be able to meet so many people in the pubs afterwards.

The stewards were advised that a bylaw prohibits the display in Trafalgar Square of any foreign flags, so they had to cooperate with the wardens and the police in asking people to lower Danish and American flags. That's a shame, but thank you to the people concerned for complying with good grace (and sometimes managing to "wear" the flags in a way that was allowed to pass).

One person was taken aside by the police after a complaint was made that they were displaying one of the Danish cartoons. He was a member of an Iranian group that had come in support of Maryam Namazie, and she was naturally anxious about this and wanted to make a comment to the crowd. We went over to where he was being spoken to, and filmed, by the police and made sure there was no question that he would be arrested, then told the rally what had happened and Maryam said a few words. The "offending" placard was passed around, on the grounds that they couldn't arrest everyone. Evan Harris was good enough to intercede as well. The man was able to rejoin the rally, where he was made most welcome again. We will, however, be tracking the incident to make sure there are no after effects and will keep you informed.

Despite the rain, the speeches were well received, even when the speaker was expressing a position people didn't entirely share. There were two unscheduled speakers: Ali, an Iraqi who turned up to support the campaign and felt he wanted to share his experiences of living under a regime that denied basic freedoms of expression, and Labi Shiffre. Both spoke very well and several people have commented on the quality of Labi's words.

Maryam Namazie spoke cogently, urgently and with passion. Evan Harris was funny, wise and precise. Peter Tatchell followed up on, and elaborated on the themes outlined in his essay below. Mark Wallace was well received, after the occasional controversy here. Sean Gabb spoke without notes in a structured, reasoned argument for absolute freedom of expression. Rend Shakir made a nuanced and complex case for tolerance and freedom. Keith Porteous Wood spoke about principles, but also echoed Evan Harris on some points of practical action. We shall be doing what we can to help with these in the coming weeks.

Muslims, Christians and atheists, Britons, Americans, Danes, Iraqis and Iranians, socialists, liberals conservatives and libertarians all mixed, chatted, listened, applauded and supported the basic principle of freedom of expression. It was an extraordinary occasion. Estimates of numbers vary, but I'm told the square wardens put the figure at 600. The BBC estimates it at half this figure. More than this can be counted in partial photos of the crowd, but even this lower number would be almost double the next highest turnout at rallies held in the wake of the cartoons saga.

And by and large the extremists kept away. There was no visible BNP presence. A handful of Islamofascists turned up. The headbangers have been bashing away in the comments sections of this blog, but they weren't there at the rally.

We have started the process of reclaiming this debate for the middle ground. We are replacing a standoff between deport-all-Muslims fascists and Islamofascists with a calm, reasoned dialogue and an insistance on the primacy of freedom of expression that does not produce an instictive allegation of Islamophobia. The people who are not at heart fascists but feel beseiged can move away from the BNP and the religious supremacists, into the middle ground.

It was a victory for tolerance, reason and freedom. If you want to know how badly this hurts the extremists, read some of the comments on this blog. This was just the beginning, but it was a very good beginning.

Thank you to everyone who made it possible.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Big Day

It's here.

We've had our differences and sometimes these have been forcefully expressed. That's a sign of passion and commitment. There has been some of the best debate in the blogosphere here, and some of the ugliest. That's the sign of a powerful campaign.

Thank you, everyone who has helped bring us to this stage. There have been some controversial decisions. Thank you to everyone who has attacked, and defended, these. It takes commitment to argue your case rather than walk away.

We will all meet tomorrow, and we will be in full view of the world. At the start of this campaign, people feared we would not be covered by the media. In fact, satellite television trucks, film crews and reporters will be there. Media groups from all over the planet have been in touch and arranged interviews. That's happened because of your involvement.

Enjoy tomorrow. It's our day.

Endorsement from Elfyn Llwyd, MP

We are delighted to have received the following message of support:
Thank you very much for the opportunity to support the rally in support of freedom of expression in London on the 25th March. I'm delighted to endorse the statement of principle.

"Free speech is the jewel in the crown of a civilized society and we curtail the right to freedom of expression at our peril. The common denominator of every totalitarian state is the suppression of free speech."

Best wishes for a successful rally.
Yours truly,

Elfyn Llwyd MP
Plaid Cymru Parliamentary Leader

Slogans

The slogans selected for the official placards and banners are:

"Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth
having." -- Lord Justice Sedley

"Establishing liberty in England was a costly
business, the idol of despotic power was drowned in
seas of blood, but the English don't think the cost
was too high." - Voltaire: Lettres philosophiques

Truth is its own defence - No Censorship

Blasphemy is a victimless crime

There is nothing more sacred than freedom

"Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the
privilege to do so too." - Voltaire: Essay on
Tolerance

"I do not agree with what you say, but will defend to
the death your right to say it." - Attributed to
Voltaire

"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought,
conscience and religion; this right includes freedom
to change his religion or belief..." - Article 18:
Universal Declaration of Human Rights

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and
expression; this right includes freedom to hold
opinions without interference..." - Article 19:
Universal Declaration of Human Rights

"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought,
conscience and religion; this right includes freedom
to change his religion or belief..." - Article 9.1:
Human Rights Act (1998)

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and
expression; this right includes freedom to hold
opinions without interference..." Article 10.1: Human
Rights Act (1998)

"If there is a walnut in your hand and people say that
it is a pearl, their saying will not benefit you in
any way when you know that it is actually a walnut.
And if there is a pearl in your hand and people say
that it is a walnut, their saying will not harm you in
any way when you know that it is actually a pearl." -
Musa Al-Kadhim (AS), the 7th Imam

"My definition of a free society is a society where it
is safe to be unpopular." - Adlai E. Stevenson Jr.

"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences
attending too much liberty than to those attending too
small a degree of it." - Thomas Jefferson

World at One

There will probably be a piece about this on the BBC Radio 4 programme "The World At One".

Cartoons - The Last Post

When the cartoon row erupted, I revived an old blog and published all of the cartoons on it, under my own name. I am still publishing them there, under my own name. Not one of the pseudonymous or anonymous people accusing me of self-censorship or cowardice could say the same. Not only do I assert the right of the cartoonists to have drawn these or any other images, I have gone out of my way to make sure they are available in public.

To answer a couple of emails collectively, I don't care what MAC or anyone else says about this; I haven't even bothered to look. It became plain to me from talking with a couple of British Muslim journalists over the past few days that even the most secular, cosmopolitan British Muslim seems incapable, at the moment, of accepting that a display of the cartoons might not be a racist attack on them. That being the case, it had become clear that Muslims who agree with this campaign would have felt unable to attend the rally. That's why I have asked people not to display the cartoons and it is the only reason why.

Interestingly, while I have been the focus of a lot of anger from some Muslims over my stance on these cartoons, my first death threat came as a response to the post below, obviously from a non-Muslim.

To those who are annoyed, I ask what part of this did you not understand:
This will be a march in favour of free expression, not a march against Muslims

And so it is, and this is distorting the appearance of the campaign horribly, so we will move on.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Muslims are Welcome: No Danish cartoons, please

At the very start of this campaign, we said this is a march in support of freedom of expression, not a march against Muslims. We meant it. But there has been a lot of mistrust about this from Muslims, and some disappointment from those who would like to use it to attack all followers of Islam. The latter is of no consequence to us; the former is a great concern.

Comments here have been illuminating. Particularly striking has been the use of the "First they came for..." motif both by people who feel under attack by Muslims, and by Muslims who feel under attack in Britain and Europe. Let's ignore whether these sentiments have reflected reality. The fact is they do represent the way people feel. People feel under attack from each other, there is vast mistrust and misunderstanding.

At the outset, we said that displays of the Danish cartoons would be welcome on Saturday. No, let me rephrase that: At the outset, I, Peter Risdon, said the cartoons would be welcome. I am going to take full responsibility for this. I now think that was a mistake.

In practice, Muslims who wholeheartedly endorse our statement of principle, as quoted below by Peter Tatchell in his superb essay, who abhor the threats made against Danish cartoonists and believe people should have the right to publish things they themselves find offensive or abhorrent would be UNABLE to come to our rally on Saturday, because to be surrounded by these cartoons, now, in the present context when the BNP are using them as a rallying point, would be intolerable.

So I now appeal to people not to bring the cartoons on T-shirts or placards.

Instead, because the principle of free expression must be upheld in this context as well, we will arrange a forum in which they can be seen and debated without this being, in context, intimidating to anyone.

The principle of freedom of expression is used, by some, as a trojan horse, as a proxy for racism and islamophobia. Not by me. Not by us. Not by this campaign.

Why I support freedom of expression

Peter Tatchell says free speech is under attack and needs defending

"The strength and survival of free society and the advance of human knowledge depend on the free exchange of ideas. All ideas are capable of giving offence, and some of the most powerful ideas in human history, such as those of Galileo and Darwin, have given profound religious offence in their time. The free exchange of ideas depends on freedom of expression and this includes the right to criticise and mock. We assert and uphold the right of freedom of expression and call on our elected representatives to do the same. We abhor the fact that people throughout the world live under mortal threat simply for expressing ideas and we call on our elected representatives to protect them from attack and not to give comfort to the forces of intolerance that besiege them."

This is the statement of principle that Saturday’s freedom of expression rally has been called to defend. How can anyone disagree with these progressive values? I can’t, and that is why I will be joining the thousands in Trafalgar Square.

The rally is backed mostly by secular, humanist and libertarian groups, but with support from some left-wingers and liberal Muslims.

Some of my friends on the left are refusing to take part. Preferring to remain marginal but pure, they object to the involvement of right-wing groups like the Libertarian Alliance and the Freedom Association. I share their distaste for these groups. But my participation on Saturday is based on supporting the statement of principle, not on who else is taking part. I will not let the dubious politics of others dissuade me from supporting what are important, progressive humanitarian values.

Sections of the left moan that the rally is being supported the right. Well, if these socialists object so strongly why don’t they organise their own demo in support of free speech?

The truth is that is that some of the left would rarely, if ever, rally to defend freedom of expression because they don’t wholeheartedly believe in it. Mired in the immoral morass of cultural relativism, they no longer endorse Enlightenment values and universal human rights. Their support for free speech is now qualified by so many ifs and buts. When push comes to shove, it is more or less worthless.

As a left-wing Green, committed to human rights and social justice, I do not share the politics of some other speakers and rallyists. But this is the whole point of Saturdays’ demo – to defend the free speech of those with whom we disagree.

While I support the right of newspapers to publish cartoons satirising any religious or atheist leader, there are bigger, more important free speech issues to fight.

When I speak in Trafalgar Square on Saturday, I will defend Muslim communities against prejudice and discrimination, attack the BNP and the war on terror, and condemn the government’s erosion of civil liberties and individual freedom.

My speech will also assert the right to condemn British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, urge less state secrecy and more freedom of information, and call for the disestablishment of the Church of England and the freedom to insult the Queen, Prime Minister and Archbishop of Canterbury.

When it comes to free speech, I am an equal opportunities free speecher. I even defend the right of others to mock and ridicule me. I may not like it. It might be unfair. But that’s democracy.

Some critics are mischievously portraying Saturday’s protest as an anti-Muslim rally. I condemn any attempt to demonise or scapegoat my Muslim brothers and sisters. I also reject the suggestion of a clash of civilisations.

Both fundamentalists and progressives can be found in all faiths, politics, ethnicities and cultures. No society has a monopoly of enlightenment and plurality. Muslim societies like Bangladesh have produced Enlightenment icons like the feminist writer Taslima Nasreen; while supposedly cultured nations like Britain and France have spawned the Dark Ages ignorance of the British National Party and the Front National.

When considering the vexed question of the limits to free speech, perhaps we should start with first principles:

Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”

By this standard, freedom of expression is a fundamental human right for every person on this planet. It is a right for all, not some. If we expect free speech for ourselves, then we are duty bound to ensure that it also exists for others.

Contrary to what the cultural relativists try to suggest, freedom of expression is not a western value; it is a universal humanitarian value that every member state of the United Nations has pledged to uphold. By demanding the right to free speech, we are not seeking to impose western values on non-western nations. We are merely asking the governments of the world to honour the human rights commitments they agreed when they signed up to the UN.

Free speech is one of the litmus tests of a free and democratic society. Alas, not everyone shares a commitment to democracy. To maintain their power, political and religious tyrants have always censored ideas and opinions. Some liberals and left-wingers, often with the honourable motive of tackling prejudice, have also attempted to place constraints on what can be publicly said on issues such as race and sexuality. This authoritarianism lite has its downside too. Suppressing intolerant ideas doesn’t make them go away. They just go underground and fester. This is not a solution.

While many people of faith have been recently up-in-arms over cartoons, plays and operas they find offensive, ironically it is the free expression they oppose that is the precondition for genuine political and religious freedom. It is in the interests of people of all political and religious beliefs - and of none - to defend freedom of expression. By defending the freedom of others we are also defending our own freedom.

The right to free speech is the surest guarantor of religious freedom. Without freedom of expression, religious minorities tend to be persecuted by religious majorities. Witness, in theocratic Iran, the victimisation of Sunni Muslims by Shia Muslims.

A democratic secular state is the true protector of all religions. It guarantees religious freedom and equality, ensuring that no one faith lords it over others. That is why, among other things, I favour the disestablishment of the Church of England, to end the privileged constitutional and legal status of this increasingly diminished protestant sect.

Freedom of expression should not, of course, be abused. A harmonious, good natured society is one where people are civil and courteous to each other. Prejudice and discrimination have no place in civilised discourse. Offensive language - whether sexist, anti-gay or racist – is rude and divisive and should always be challenged.

Those who justify legal limits to free speech need to answer a number of questions:

When it comes to censorship and bans, where do you start and where do you stop? Who decides what is sufficiently offensive to merit restriction? At what point do you draw the line? Isn’t this an inevitably subjective judgement? When does a well-meaning desire to protect vulnerable communities spill over into the dangerous territory of giving some communities privileged protection and immunity from criticism?

All human brings are worthy of respect, but not all ideas deserve respect. There is, for example, no obligation to respect Nazism, misogyny, white supremacism, homophobia or creationism.

I grew up in Australia in the 1960s, during a period of McCarthyite-style red-baiting. Because I opposed the US and Australian war against Vietnam, I was denounced as a communist and nearly lost my job. From firsthand experience, I know freedom of expression is a precious freedom that must be safeguarded.

That is why I argue the right to free speech can be legitimately restricted only when it involves incitement to violence or libel/defamation. The threat of violence and the spreading of untruths diminish free, honest and open debate. Otherwise, speech must remain free. The rare exceptions are instances like not being free to publish terrorist bomb-making instructions.

The price of living in a free society is that we are sometimes confronted with views we find offensive and insulting. Faced with bigoted, intolerant opinions, the most effective way to challenge them is by calm, reasoned debate to dispel ignorance and prejudice – not by bans and censorship. Physical threats and violence are unacceptable.

In January, I challenged Sir Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain when he denounced homosexuality as immoral, harmful and diseased. But I did not seek to ban him, nor did I support calls for his prosecution. I defended Sir Iqbal’s right to free speech. Will he and his fellow MCB leaders now defend my right to freedom of expression? Or is Sir Iqbal another of those selective free speech proponents? Freedom of expression for me, but not for you?

www.petertatchell.net

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Withdrawal of Endorsement

It has been brought to our attention that the organisers of the Copenhagen rally are members of an organisation that recommends the mass deportation of Muslims from Europe.

We therefore disassociate ourselves from this group and state for the record that we completely and unreservedly oppose any such policy.

[addendum: The first comment on this thread shows we can't take anything as read, so for the record we in no way seek to limit the freedom of speech of any group. We do, however, reserve the right to choose who we associate our campaign with.]

Kentish Folk

BBC Radio Kent would like to speak to groups from Kent who are planning to attend the rally on Saturday.

If that's you, please email Bob Dale.

Support from Baroness Cox of Queensbury

We are delighted to be able to announce that we have received an endorsement from Baroness Cox of Queensbury, who played a prominent role in the debates in the House of Lords on the Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill, and is a well known humanitarian and human rights campaigner.

Dialogue, Debate and Free Speech

The fact that we all agree about the principle of freedom of expression does not mean we agree about anything else. In fact, the whole point is that we advocate an environment within which we can debate, disagree, annoy and even offend each other without anyone being threatened, hurt, killed or imprisoned.

Rend Shakir has a deep and courageous commitment to the principle of free expression. But she does not agree with every aspect of the way this campaign has progressed so far. Tomorrow, we shall post the first of a short series of debated points. As well as giving us the opportunity to address some issues of importance, we will be able to demonstrate by example as well as by words that this campaign is one within which everybody who is committed to freedom of expression, be they secular, Christian, Muslim, or anything else, is included and can debate in an atmosphere of peaceful, mutual respect.

Debate is a two way street. Unlike some organisations I am by now too bored to mention, we actually mean "debate" when we use the word.

Sayyida Rend Shakir Al-Hadithi

Just a quick correction: to avoid confusion with a different family, it is more correct to style Rend as Sayyida Rend Shakir Al-Hadithi.

Donations

Thank you very much indeed. We have now exceeded our target and have all the money we need for this rally.

If any further donations are made, they will be used for the following, in this order:

1. Setting up a new website for the longer term campaign for freedom of expression.

2. Compiling a database of every MP in Britain (it will be open for people from other countries to add in their elected representatives) and their stance on freedom of expression. We will make sure their electorates know about this when they choose who to vote for.




Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Freedom of Expression: The secular alternative

Attacks on free expression do not just come from the religious fringes, as Orwell understood. Belarus descends into tyranny, from The Times:
Lukashenko, who has ruled his impoverished country of 10m since 1994, issued a decree last year giving himself the power to order troops to fire on unarmed civilians. He looks unlikely to give up without a fight.

In what many saw as a dress rehearsal for today's demonstration, snipers were positioned around the square for the first time last month during a mass gathering of regional politicians loyal to his regime.

The election campaign has been anything but fair. Dozens of opposition leaders and youth activists critical of the president — a mustachioed former prison guard and communist collective farm boss — have been harassed, badly beaten and arrested by police.

At an opposition rally last week on Minsk's outskirts, the two front rows were filled by burly security services men with shaved heads and leather jackets. They were the only ones not to clap the speakers.

To prevent people joining the protests, services to train stations and bus stops around October Square will be suspended from this morning. Tens of thousands of police officers are expected to seal off streets leading to the square.

Including Muslims

There have been a couple of articulate and reasonable comments, and private emails to our free speech address, from Muslims saying they do not support the MAC and the other extremists, but cannot support us either because there has been so much anti-Muslim (as opposed to pro-free expression) comment on this site.

That's very understandable.

There has been some fantastic debate here, and there have been some hateful remarks, from people both for and against this campaign. With one or two exceptions, we don't remove comments once they have been made. The exceptions have been a post that advocated violence against Muslims and what was basically the manifesto of another organisation.

So we are asking for help - help from everybody interested in the success of this campaign. The main victims of extremist Islam are, of course, Muslims. For them to then find themselves denounced because of the actions of their oppressors is insupportable.

If you are a Muslim and would like to be able to support this campaign, please tell us how we can draw you in. If you are not a Muslim, please think about how we can draw in our Muslim neighbours.

All constructive criticism and advice welcomed. For the rest, there will doubtless be further examples in the comments of this thread of the reasons why we have to undertake this campaign. The hate of the left-, right- and Islamo-fascists is disturbing to witness. But if we don't stand up to it, how will our children be free?

UKIP Chingford and Woodford Green Branch

Have mailed to express their support for this campaign, and so join other UKIP branches in standing up for freedom for expression of everybody, of all political, religious and social opinions.

Jerry Springer the Opera (JStO)

Producers of a forthcoming TV documentary about the controversy over JStO will be filming in Trafalgar Square on Saturday.

Still undecided about what to put on a banner? Perhaps consider something about JStO and your rejection of Christian censorship.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Blasphemy

We have asked for suggestions about what concrete proposals we might campaign for in the aftermath of the rally on Saturday. The repeal of the blasphemy laws has been suggested several times.

This might be a simple, easily understood and communicated campaign target. It would also remove a bone of contention. Followers of other religions point to the blasphemy laws as an example of unfair treatment. This is perfectly reasonable; they are an example of unfair treatment. The only equitable alternatives would be to extend the same protection to all other religions, including Satanism and Scientology, or remove it completely. The latter is of course the only workable arrangement, and has the merit of being ethically right.

We invite comments. Should we campaign for the removal of blasphemy laws?

Teaser: suprise announcement

You might recall the fuss about the play Behzti, that was closed after demonstrations by Sikh extremists in Birmingham.

And you might recall the fuss about Jerry Springer The Opera, when campaigners from Christian Voice, an organisation that seeks to establish a Christian theocracy in Britain, picketed the BBC.

These were examples of serious attacks against freedom of expression in this country. And we have a surprise announcement, hopefully for Wednesday, about these two issues.

Watch this space.

Onwards and upwards

The attacks on our campaign by the Muslim Action Committee and the various other movements allied to it have been helpful in raising the profile of this campaign, and have nudged our blog ever upwards in the Technorati ratings, all of which is to the good.

What is not so good is that they have served to distort the appearance of the campaign. This is, after all, a movement in support of free expression and not against Muslims. The growing support we enjoy from Muslims and the Muslim world should not obscure the fact that we are also supported by secularists, rationalists, Christians and human rights organisations of many complexions.

As Saturday approaches, we'd like to restore some balance. Trolls need not be fed in the comments sections - though they have elicited some wonderfully apposite and articulate ripostes.

So far, we have greatly exceeded all our expectations. We have an extraordinary roster of speakers; a rainbow of supporting organisations and individuals; sister rallies in other cities; our financial needs have been met through the amazing generosity of donors.

These next few days we need to get our message out as widely as possible. Please download posters and put them up wherever you can.

Please sign the petition if you haven't already, and mail as many of your contacts as you feel is appropriate, asking them to do the same, and to pass it on.

If you haven't yet donated anything, perhaps consider doing so. If we get enough extra, we will be able to take out newspaper adverts.

And most of all, if you've been with us for a while, pat yourself on the back. Buy yourself a drink. It's thanks to you that we've got this far.

So, from all the organisers, thank you very much.

Donations - a final push

We are just £750 short of our target. Thank you very much indeed for your generosity so far. Just one last push...




The Seventh Imam

It is extraordinarily appropriate that Sayyida Rend Shakir, our latest speaker, is a descendant of the seventh Imam. In a recent email, Rend explained why:
Musa Al- Kadhim (AS) the 7th Imam: “If there is a walnut in your hand and people say that it is a pearl, their saying will not benefit you in any way when you know that it is actually a walnut. And if there is a pearl in your hand and people say that it is a walnut, their saying will not harm you in any way when you know that it is actually a pearl.”

Danish Rally

There will be a sister rally in Copenhagen City Square on the 25th March between 2:00pm and 4:00pm. One of the organisers, Harry Vinter, mailed us to say:
We are going to have a big banner with the text "FREE EXPRESSION" and smaller signs with your poster concerning the rally at Trafalger Square - to show that the rally is part of an international campaign.

The participants will hand out pamphlets with the paragraphs on free expression of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the Danish Constitution.

In accordance with your guidelines there will be no expression against any group of people. Only for free expression.

I will keep you informed about our manifestation.

Thank you for your initiative for free expression in general and for Denmark in particular.
Thank you for this initiative, Harry. London, Berlin and Copenhagen will stand together on the 25th.

New Endorsement - Sayyida Rend Shakir al-Hadithi

Rend Shakir is a Muslim, a feminist, a technologist and a human rights activist. She mailed us, saying:
You are demonstrating about a subject close to my heart due to my witnessing of human rights abuses of Iraqis and experience of the dangers of losing freedom of expression.
Her title, Sayyida, means she is a direct descendant of the Prophet.

Clearly, people like Rend are the future of Islam, so we should listen carefully when she speaks. And we will be fortunate enough to have an opportunity to do just that on the 25th, because she has agreed to be a speaker at the rally.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Lazy Sunday Afternoon

There won't be any more posts today, Sunday. Even an eighteenth century French philosopher needs some downtime.

An alternative source of reading might be Nick Cohen's column in The Observer.

Have a peaceful day.

Peter Tatchell to Speak

We are delighted to announce that Peter Tatchell has confirmed that he will be one of the speakers on March 25th

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Not the end, but the beginning

As we have noted elsewhere, the purpose of this campaign is not to hold a rally, shout for a couple of hours, then go home and get back to grumbling in front of the TV news.

We want to bring about genuine change, so we no longer face the grotesque spectacle of European MPs needing police protection, murdered film makers, novellists living in hiding and artists moving between safe houses while existing law is not applied and new laws are brought in to suppress the ancient freedoms of us all without actually protecting anyone in practice.

And we want to stand beside writers, artists, human and women's rights activists in other continents in their struggles for the sorts of basic freedoms our ancestors won, only for our generation to start whittling them away.

In our statement of principle, we said:
We assert and uphold the right of freedom of expression and call on our elected representatives to do the same. We abhor the fact that people throughout the world live under mortal threat simply for expressing ideas and we call on our elected representatives to protect them from attack and not to give comfort to the forces of intolerance that besiege them.
We meant it then and we mean it now.

By the time of the rally next weekend, there will be a new, permanent website in place for a campaign that will not stop until we have brought about this change. We will be determined, calm and impossible to ignore.

So again, we invite your suggestions. We will need a programme of specific measures that we advocate, in both the domestic and the international arenas. We do, of course, have a very clear idea of what we want and of how we intend to achieve it. But before we say what we have in mind, we would like to give the opportunity to all the people who have supported this campaign so far to contribute to the debate.

Please use the comments function on this post.

Donations - Milestone 2

Thanks to your extraordinary generosity, we now have a donations total of more than £1,600 and so have enough money to pay for the PA and radio hire. We are also less than £900 from our target, so please keep the donations coming in.




New Speaker

Sean Gabb, Director of the Libertarian Alliance, will be speaking at the Rally next week.

Dr Gabb is an experienced speaker and debater, and we can expect a powerful exposition of the Libertarian Alliance's position that there should be no restrictions whatsoever on speech, regardless of any offence that might be caused.

March in Denmark

We understand there will be a march in support of free speech in Denmark on the 25th. More details next week.

Nick Cohen

I understand that Nick Cohen will be writing about this campaign in tomorrow's Observer.

Support from UKIP Bournemouth

We are grateful to UKIP Bournemouth for the following expression of support:
UKIP in Bournemouth supports your efforts and hope that this is probably the best march in the world.

http://www.westbournemouthukip.com/

Challenge: Public Debate

As reported yesterday, we asked the Global Civility campaign to send a speaker to our rally, so we can have a civilised debate instead of a stand off, with rally and counter demonstrations.

Their first response was to avoid giving a direct answer, and instead to ask me to respond to the following list of questions:
Do you believe that the right of freedom of expression should include the following:

1) The right to insult the Queen?
2) The right to divulge state secrets?
3) The right to incite racial hatred?
4) The right to incite murder?
5) The right to incite religious hatred?
6) The right to glorify terror?
7) The right to slander people?
I stuck to the point, though, and asked them to answer my question before we moved on. After a couple more emails, they gave this final reply:
I doubt very much that the demonstrators who will be coming to your march will be inclined to listen to our views, i believe that by coming out in support of your demo they are pretty much nailing their colours to the mast. I therefore think little will be accomplished by us sending you a speaker when we have 30 other odd locations on which to express our views that day.

If however you are interested in engaging us in a debate in any other forum, for example a university, radio programme etc we would be more than willing to oblige in sending someone to challenge your views.

Which of course comes back to what your views actually are, would you mind kindly answering our questions and a number 8 which was suggested to be today

8) Do you belive in the right to question the official record of the Holocaust?

Ismaeel-Haneef Hijazi
Muslim Action Committee
I answered:
OK, to summarise:

I have offered you an opportunity to put your case to the free expression campaign, and you have refused.

Instead, you have challenged me to a public debate, in a university debating chamber or on a radio programme.

I accept. I will make the arrangements. The rest of this discussion can wait until then.
I will of course approach the BBC and several university debating societies to see whether any are willing to offer a forum. As an aside, I can tell you that the list of seven questions above have been put to all the organisations listed in our sidebar. I have been copied into a couple of responses.

The danger of becoming too involved with this group is that it can distort the appearance of this campaign. As noted last month:
This will be a march in favour of free expression, not a march against Muslims.
So I'd just like to thank the Muslim Action Committee for helping to raise the profile of our campaign and making sure that people in 31 towns and cities we do not yet have the resources to reach will be aware of what we are doing on the 25th March. And now we will return to the main agenda.

Friday, March 17, 2006

islamophobiawatchwatch

I can't really be bothered to fisk this post from Islamophobia Watch, but I link to it in case anyone has missed it. It's no fun if every sentence is ridiculous; the pleasure of fisking comes from spotting the missing teeth on the gear wheels.

Quick summary instead: because a BNP spin-off has expressed support for us, it is reasonable to imply that we support the BNP spin-off. In other words, because Kevin Smith supports Manchester United, we can say that Manchester United supports Kevin Smith.

Read it all.

Donations - Milestone 1

We needed £1,050 to pay for public liability insurance and by yesterday lunchtime this sum had been raised from donations. It took about 48 hours to hit this figure. We are very grateful indeed. We do still need to cover the cost of the PA system hire and other incidentals, so please continue to be generous. In total, we need £2,500 so we are not yet halfway there.




Global Civility

Counter demonstrations have been arranged for the 25th March by a group called the Muslim Action Committee. This seems to hover beneath the umbrella of the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), which has issued a press release:
31 towns and cities nationwide to demonstrate for Global Civility on the 25th March

The Muslim Action Committee (MAC) have today condemned the Freedom of Expression March due to be held on the 25th March in Trafalgar Square whose organisers have said that they welcome bringing placards and wearing t-shirts depicting the abusive cartoons. Shaykh Faiz Siddiqi said “This is an offence against Global Civility and a provocation to 1.6 billion Muslims. The continued irresponsible actions of the BNP in distributing leaflets with the cartoons on across the country are also provoking anger throughout the Muslim community”

MAC is calling it’s supporters to carry on the Campaign for Global Civility in the face of these continued attacks on the Muslim community. 31 towns and cities are preparing to demonstrate on the 25th March in their local town and city centres and the MAC others will join.

The cities and towns already signed up are: Birmingham, Manchester, East London, Bradford, Liverpool, Glasgow, Worcester, Woking, Rochdale, Bedford, Nottingham, High Wycombe, Huddersfield, Stoke, Oldham, Coventry, Peterborough, Keighley, Preston, Dundee, Bristol, Halifax, Bolton, Nelson, Wolverhampton, Middlesborough, Luton, Derby, Banbury, Oxford, Watford, Hounslow and Slough
We think the inclusion of a reference to the BNP in this press release is an attempt to associate this campaign with that political party which, as anyone who has looked at this site will know, is deeply dishonest.

Mr Siddiqi's reference to global civility is capitalised because this is the name of a campaign that sets out the following aims:

  • Protest and condemn all insults that have been directed against the honour and dignity of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him);

  • Convey cohesive debate and uniformity of response against the perpetrators of the offensive material;

  • Expose the hypocrisy and double standards applied to the administering of the right of ‘Freedom of Speech’;

  • Mobilise a movement to prevent and dissuade the demonising of Muslims and vilifying of Islam;

  • Demand a dialogue with the appropriate authorities for setting a minimum benchmark of civility.

There was a discussion about Global Civility at Harry's Place recently.

Global Civility place their own campaign in perspective by including an article on their site headed:
The Obligation to believe in the Prophet, obey Him and follow His Sunnah
In their statement they demand restrictions on speech that would effectively prohibit any and all discussion of religion, unless it is flattering. They also demand that copyright of the Danish cartoons be handed over to "Muslims" and that Jyllands-Posten perform a monthly penance (there's a distinctly sadistic undertone to these demands for ever more baroque forms of apology and self-abasement).

I have asked them, in the interests of free speech and peaceful dialogue, whether they would like to supply a speaker to put their case to the rally on the 25th. They did reply but didn't answer this question, instead asking me about my views on freedom of expression. I have asked them to let me know whether they will supply a speaker, before we move on to their questions. After all, it's unlikely that we'll agree about free speech. When they reply, I'll update you.

We should be flattered, though. They would not be getting in such a flap about us if they did not see the makings of a powerful movement. Indeed, Global Civility, the Muslim Action Committee and the IHRC are more concerned about us than we are about them. This campaign is not specifically directed at Islam and that fact that they feel under examination by us just reflects their own view of their own beliefs.

There has been a pattern of attempts to restrict freedom of speech and expression from a number of religions and from secular sources as well. In some ways, the secular threats to our freedoms are the most sinister, something the volubility of Mr Siddiqi and his associates can blind us to. Orwell understood the value, to an authoritarian regime, of a perpetual state of emergency and a "War Against Terror" provides exactly that.

For the organisers of this campaign, the Danish cartoons affair was merely the straw that broke the camel's back. That feeling seems to be more widespread than we had realised. I have a feeling that, to paraphrase Hunter S Thompson, when you stand in Trafalgar Square on the 25th March and look out at the crowd, if you have the right kind of eyes you will be able to see where the wave broke and started to roll back.

Support from GALHA

We were delighted to receive the following mail from the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association:
I'm the chairperson of the Gay & Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA), and I thought you should know that GALHA wholeheartedly supports your March for Free Expression. As such we would be grateful and honoured if you would list GALHA as a group supporter.
The honour is ours.

Support from Backlash

Demolition Red mails us from the Backlash campaign:
Backlash whole-heartedly support the concept of individual freedom in matters of peech, expression, thought and privacy. We oppose any governmental attempts to abrogate or compromise these fundamental ideals, which are essential for an enlightened and democratic society.

Support from Michael Stephen Fuchs

Writer Michael Stephen Fuchs (whose novel THE MANUSCRIPT tells of a document that manages to threaten ALL the world's religions) blogs his support:

Scarcely two weeks ago, inspired by a quiet plea from Christopher Hitchens, free speech partisans gathered outside the Danish Embassy in Washington DC to show their support and 'to affirm some elementary friendship'. This was followed, with enlivening speed and energy, by copycat rallies in New York, Toronto, Chicago, and San Francisco. Now it is our turn: an opportunity to stand up in proud and public support of that most indispensable of liberal values - the right to speak freely, without fear of physical violence - and the bedrock upon which a free, pluralistic, consensual society stands. I, for one, intend to take my stand here and now - hopefully, before I get Rushdied. ;^) And I am asking every Londoner I know to stand with me.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Chants

We are inviting suggestions for chants and slogans. As ever, wit is encouraged. Please use the comments function.

Banner Making Workshop

Please come to the banner-making workshop on Saturday 18 March 2006 from 14:00 in the basement at Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1 (closest Tube: Holborn).

We will supply cardboard, staplers, glue, paint, brushes and sticks. We will also be able to store your banners until the day of the March.

You supply ideas, enthusiasim, humour and great slogans!

If you want to print out your own banner, please feel free, we will have cardboard up to A2 size.

This will be a good way to meet your fellow idealists before the big day, and to invent and practise some chants and songs!

If you would like to make a donation to cover our costs of the above, please click on the PayPal button to the right! For security and accountability reasons we will not be able to accept donations at the Workshop, although we will be happy to receive donations in kind. If you would like to bring something to donate, please contact Nick Pullar to co-ordinate so we have the right amount of everything.

See you on Saturday!

Donations

Did I mention we are asking for donations?




Berlin-based discussion forum

ADF Berlin (Anti-Defamation Forum - Against Anti-SEmitism, Anti-Zionism, Anti-Americanism, Racism and Fascism) has set up a forum for discussing this march. Thay quote from an earlier posting here:
The purpose of this campaign is not just to make a public show of our feelings, but also to make a difference, to bring about real change. In our statement of principle, we said:
We assert and uphold the right of freedom of expression and call on our elected representatives to do the same. We abhor the fact that people throughout the world live under mortal threat simply for expressing ideas and we call on our elected representatives to protect them from attack and not to give comfort to the forces of intolerance that besiege them.
This will need to be fleshed out and a concrete set of proposals produced.
We are thrilled that this campaign is acquiring an international dimension, and are happy to recommend this forum as a discussion place for policy ideas.

Support: British Humanist Association

We have received a message of support from the British Humanist Association:
Free speech is the touchstone of a free society – with it comes a society that is open to change, can debate differences, and in which everyone can learn and grow. Without it we become closed off, segregated and mistrustful of others. At a time when the need to understand difference and accommodate dissent is so great, we cannot do without the liberty of uncensored speech. The best way to nurture hate is in the dark and free speech shines a light on our society that is needed now more than ever.
They will be advertising the rally to their members, so we look forward to meeting as many as possible on the day.

Freedom For Egyptians

Support and publicity from the Freedom for Egyptians blog.
Freedom and Democracy are the only guarantees for human dignity, self-respect and human rights.

Support from Religious Policeman

We have been mailed by "Alhamedi Alanezi", a London-based Saudi blogger, whose The Religious Policeman blog is dedicated:
In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.
"Alanezi" is a pseudonym, for reasons that will become clear:
I will be there on the day, but, I regret, anonymously, as sadly there are some of my fellow-Muslims who see violence as a solution to their own problems, and may choose to turn their email threats into reality. However I fully endorse this demonstration from people of all faiths. Wherever there is full freedom of expression, truth thrives, but tyranny and bigotry try to find a dark corner to hide in.
Alanezi maintains a MOL (Muslim Offense Level) meter on his blog. At the moment, it is "Condition Yellow: Elevated: Quite Offended".

The Religious Policeman is read widely by Muslim moderates, and we are very glad to have been receiving messages of support from the Muslim world since we were mentioned there.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The biggest compliment

As students of some of the comments sections here will have noted, we've managed to annoy a number of BNP members and other white nationalists.

I'm going to post about this at greater length later, but now we have rattled the Islamists.

We must be doing something right.