Monday, 4 January 2010

Free Speech

James Gray MP on CIF

I strongly support the great British respect for free speech and the right to protest – after all, that's one of the things our soldiers have fought and died for in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is essential that Anjem Choudary should be allowed to express his views – even if they seem to me and, I think, to most people, including much of the moderate Muslim community, almost as eccentric and obnoxious as those of Nick Griffin and the BNP at the opposite end of the spectrum. He must be allowed to speak if he wants to.

But he must not be allowed to do so in Wootton Bassett. Our repatriation ceremonies – and I have attended perhaps two thirds of them – are absolutely apolitical. No comment is made about the war, either in favour or against. We simply turn out in all weathers, and often twice a week, to pay our respects to soldiers who have fallen in service of Queen and country. That's why we are so opposed to the proposed Islam4UK's march – it would be hijacking our quiet, simple ceremonies for political purposes.
I do understand what James Gray is saying here, and to some extent, he's right: the ceremonies are simply a mark of respect to fallen men, not a mark of support for the war.

But it doesn't matter whether something is or isn't political. Free speech doesn't mean that a political response is only to a non-political message. Nor does it mean that people can't hijack something to offend others. Plenty of non-political events have been hijacked by politicians for their own ends.

And it certainly doesn't mean that Wootton Bassett gets a hallowed status that prevents protest.

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