The liberal democratic liberties that hesitantly grew and then finally flourished across the UK and Europe over the past couple of centuries are under assault as never before. The continent is run by an unelected, interfering and financially incompetent (or corrupt) Commission that, as Ireland has found out, is utterly cynical about the will of the electorate expressed through the ballot box; the clout of the UK’s ancient Mother of Parliaments – sunk in the quagmire of the expenses scandal – has arguably never been lower; and the yawning gap of mutual incomprehension between the governing classes and ordinary people is feeding the growth of hard-line extremism on all sides, as the May election of two BNP MEPs and the recent UAF-encouraged Muslim violence at Harrow mosque (here) demonstrate.
One by one – and despite the European Convention on Human Rights and associated national legislation – the lights of our liberties and freedoms are being extinguished in the name of our risk-avoiding, hurt-preventing, initiative-curtailing, target-worshipping, bureaucratic-meddling, money-mad, politically-correct, aggressively-atheist nanny state, which itself is only one stop away from a police state.
And the downhill slide towards this police state took a defining step forward two weeks ago when a Christian couple, Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang, were arrested following a heated argument about religion in front of guests in the restaurant of their nine-bedroom private hotel in Aintree, Liverpool. No violence took place, no mayhem ensued; but one Muslim participant reckoned her religious sensibilities had been insulted and went to the police. Plod knocked on the hotel door – and now the Vogelenzangs have been remanded on bail and await trial under the Public Order Act 1986, a measure designed to stop violence and disorder on the streets.
The details will come out during the court case in December, but it’s already clear that the robust but peaceful expression of religious beliefs and opinions in a semi-private place in England in 2009 is now subject to police intervention and arrest. Henry Porter in the Guardian called the decision to prosecute ‘daft’ (here). Others reckon the police action is ‘heavy-handed’. Actually it is much worse than that; it is deeply deeply ominous. The mind-set and management ethos of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has now become so Orwellian and Stasi-like that in my view we have crossed the anti-democratic Rubicon. The chilling effect of this prosecution – whether it succeeds or not – on free speech is momentous and we are now but a few steps from Gestapo knocks on the door in the dead of night for anyone who expresses peaceful but apparently contentious, odious, offensive or politically incorrect views especially, as in this case, about Islam.
Of course the normal courtesies of hospitality should have restrained the Vogelenzangs from arguing with one of their guests, and I am not surprised that the local hospital is no longer sending outpatients to stay at the hotel. I wouldn’t either. But that does not justify police arrest or the CPS decision to prosecute.
To paraphrase George Orwell, ‘Liberty, if it means anything, means the right to offend’. By being dragged into court the Volgelenzangs have already been penalised for exercising that right and by extension, as fellow citizens, so have we. And they may yet receive a substantial fine and a criminal record.
What is to be done? First, the Vogelenzangs’ fight is our fight so I’m sending £100 to their legal defence fund run by the Christian Institute (here).
Second, we must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them. I therefore intend to repeat their opinions – only more so – on this blogsite with a view to sharing a police cell and court appearance with them.
The exact nature of their offending views is open to dispute as the unnamed Muslim lady claims Ben Vogelenzang called the founder of Islam, Muhammad, a ‘warlord’ – but he denies this. However it seems agreed that Sharon described the hijab (Islamic headscarf) as a form of ‘bondage’ (here).
Now I certainly admire Muhammad as one of the great figures of history, up there with Napoleon, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great and King David (of Goliath fame, who established Jerusalem as Israel’s capital around 1,000 BC). And the modesty of much Islamic dress is to be applauded.
But it is also valid to see Muhammad – like other historical greats – as a very flawed figure. And the niqab (Islamic face-veil) is as controversial in the UK as in France (here).
So I hope my Muslim friends and acquaintances (that especially includes you Abdul, Asif, Mohammed, Humera, Tahire, Manish, Irfan and Yaqoob) will forgive me now as I write about both Muhammad’s flaws and Islamic dress in a way they may find offensive. But I need to do so (a) primarily in order to assert my right to freedom of speech, and (b) secondarily to get myself nicked so that I can stand alongside the Vogelenzangs.
“Muhammad was a warlord, a paedophile and a vindictive murderer, and the niqab is a hostile anti-social sign of female subjection which should be banned from public places.”
There, I’ve done it. Now if someone would kindly take a copy of this post to the police, please also tell them they can obtain my address via Newham town hall. I’ll await with anticipation the nocturnal knock on my door.
Ben and Sharon, wait for me. I’m on my way!