While I didn't think it was right to allow an al-Muhajiroun protest through Wootton Bassett, given the inflammatory nature of the march, the whole coverage of the event has been a spectacular own-goal for everyone except this one, small, extremist group, who have been given acres of publicity - well beyond their wildest dreams, well beyond the amount their tiny influence deserves, and well beyond what they should have been given.
That the protest would definitely go ahead was always in doubt - Anjem Choudhary and his chums have form for getting maximum publicity and then suddenly running away. Yet the media ploughed on with horror. These were not just a few nutters trying to rabble-rouse a tiny protest at the site of repatriations; they became the bogeyman.
That's why the media love Islam4UK - the catchier name of al-Muhajiroun, used so that readers don't have to try and wonder what those unfamiliar letter groupings sound like, and besides, it's better branding for the bogeyman. They represent fear. They are Islamists, militant, angry and aggressive. They are dhimmitude. They are Londonistan. They are the scary image that people who are scared of Muslims see. They would struggle to pack out a cub scout hut, let alone any bigger venue, but that's not the point; they punch well above their weight because they're what the media think we fear most. And in a lot of cases they're right.
They cause awkward questions about freedom of speech, and freedom in general. These are people who, after all, would almost certainly seek to deny the freedoms of others, in the extraordinarily unlikely event that they ever managed to get any kind of political power. But that said, I've always thought the best thing to do would be to let them have their deeply unpleasant say - not necessarily all over the media, which is where they've been delighted to be over the past couple of weeks, but in protests they organise themselves, so long as they're not set up to be taunting and aggressive, or located in particularly inflammatory places.
I've said it before about extreme right-wingers and racists - they shouldn't be banned from the country. They should be allowed in, with no fanfare, no hand-wringing, no worries, unless they pose a genuine threat to security, which these jokers don't - and which Islam4UK don't either, as far as I am aware. It's the deep intake of breath and the screaming that gives these people the publicity they crave for their vile views; and it's a lesson that this Government has failed to learn time and time again.
But the Government is wrong to ban this organisation, poisonous and awful though it is. That does nothing other than play into their hands as well. It's not as if this handful of extremists will do anything other than regroup somewhere else, as something else; they're not going to change their views or their intent overnight, just because they've been told they can't be Islam4UK any more.
Let these nutters have their say. Just don't give it any more credence than it deserves. Don't say they represent Muslims, because they don't. Don't say they're anything other than extremists, because they aren't. Don't give them so much airtime and column inches if they're a small group that shouts very loudly. Is that possible? Or is it the desire to tap into people's fears that means they're given immensely more coverage than they deserve?
"Proscription is a tough but necessary power to tackle terrorism and is not a course we take lightly.
"We are clear that an organisation should not be able to circumvent proscription by simply changing its name."
If these people have committed offences, then let them be tried in a court of law - yet there are no charges, despite the thought-crime offences brought in by this most illiberal of Governments. If they haven't committed any crimes even under those laws, then they are not terrorists. Yet banning them just makes terror exist where there was none: it creates a climate of fear and suspicion of a real and persistent threat, which is exactly what any terrorist wants.
Well done Alan Johnson. You're a greater threat to freedom than Islam4UK ever were.
See also: Septicisle - The impossibility of freedom of speech
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