In light of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Muslims are facing fiercely racist and Islamaphobic backlash in public and online. A 43 year old beautician was arrested under Section 19 of the POA by Thames Valley Police after people complained about the following post; “Blinks of Bicester are no longer taking bookings from anyone from the Islamic faith whether you are UK granted with passport or not…Sorry but time to put my country first”; on her salon’s Facebook page which has since been taken down.
This is by no means an isolated incidence of hate speech in the UK, or the intervention of authorities in such incidences. Last summer in the wake of ‘Operation Protective Edge’; an Israeli military operation against Hamas in the Gaza strip, people took to social media, particularly twitter and Facebook, to vocalise their Xenophobia towards the Jewish community. An ‘All-Part Parlimentary Inquiry into Anti–Semitism’ in the UK was conducted by a group of MPs who called for the Crown Prosecution Service to review whether or not prevention orders which ban offenders from using certain sites online could be extended to include hate speech.
“Blinks of Bicester are no longer taking bookings from anyone from the Islamic faith … Sorry but time to put my country first”
Instinctively this response feels justified. When proponents of hate speech fail to recognise that isolated examples of extremism are not representative of the entire demographic of any racial and/or religious group, their words are malicious and hurtful. Moreover, if you fall within the victimised group, there is the risk of feeling pressured to apologise for the actions that aren’t your fault, which is ridiculously moronic, not to mention grossly unfair!
It was heart-breaking to see Muslims condemning the actions of ISIL because they felt obligated to make their stance explicit, when it should have gone without saying. Expressing racially abusive sentiments has ramifications that reach far beyond the forums on which they are expressed. Since the attacks in Paris deputy chief constable of Police Scotland Iain Livingstone said there had been 64 reports of racially or religiously motivated crimes across Scotland, including online and offline abuse. Among which were death threats made to the Strathclyde University Muslim Students’ Association; a gang attack on the owner of a takeaway in Fife which resulted in the victim being hospitalized for a serious eye injury; and a suspected arson attack in a mosque in Bishopsbriggs.
“It was heart-breaking to see Muslims condemning the actions because they felt obliged to make their stance explicit”
The spike in hate crimes in Scotland can be attributed to the fact that the charter flight carrying the first 100 Syrian refugees David Cameron promised to accept into the UK, landed in Scotland on the 17th of November. YouGov conducted a poll, asking the public whether they thought Britain should accept “fewer or no Syrian refugees”. 49% of respondents were in favour of this, which is a 22% increase from September’s results to the same poll.
It is hard to ignore the role that social media has come to play within our lives, in validating our personal and political beliefs, and in mobilising people to act in the name of any cause. Thus the danger of articulating racial hatred on social media platforms lies in its potential to incite further acts of violence.
“There should be less emphasis on criminalisation and more emphasis on educating people who act out of ignorance”
Now of course we can’t forget the stoic argument of free speech. Article 19 of both the UN Declaration of Human Rights and International Convention of Civil and Political Rights, support free speech under the premise that “people can gain an understanding of their surroundings and the wider world by exchanging ideas and information freely with others”. Arguably, then, the beautician’s post was merely her exchanging an idea, and therefore being arrested for that was an obstruction to her right to free speech. The fact of the matter is that arresting this woman achieved nothing as her views remained unchanged. I am fully supportive of free speech; in an ideal world it enables an individual to exist safely with dignity and respect. However, by exercising your right to free speech you also have the power to deprive someone else of those same privileges that you uphold with such reverence. Advocates of free speech who also justify hate speech should be aware that it is only valid to do so in a level sociological playing field, in the absence of the current structural privileges of race that exist in the ‘West’.
There should be less emphasis on criminalisation and more emphasis on educating people who act out of ignorance. Legislation has its limitations, and whilst it might be well intentioned for the government to introduce new legislation to criminalise hate speech on social media, they should be aware of legislation that is already in place that is failing to protect victims of hate crime in public which takes the form of verbal and physical abuse. Hate speech on social media is something that definitely warrants a response, so long as it is a productive one that treats the cause of ignorance, rather than its symptoms.
Image: SimonQ on Flickr
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