“I cannot understand why I was detained, my flat trashed, my passport seized and two PCs, two tablets, and my phone taken. I was denied a shave, a shower, food. I was stripped of my dignity to appear in court without looking like a dishevelled hobo which I am not.”
These are obviously the words of someone being arrested. You’re probably wondering what he got arrested for. There must have been such a threat to the life liberty and property of the public that such an approach was taken. Murder? Rape? Theft? Fraud?
No, it was because of a tweet by a man named Matthew Doyle, 46 from Croydon in London.
Last week we all witnessed the horror of two bombings in Belgian capital Brussels in which 30 were killed and over 100 were injured. Reports later began to emerge indicating that ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks. Matthew Doyle was tweeting about his experience soon afterwards in which he asked a Muslim woman in Croydon about the attacks. He tweeted “I confronted a Muslim woman yesterday in Croydon. I asked her to explain the Brussels. She replied “Nothing to do with me”. A mealy mouthed reply”. If this represented a problem: the online response seemed to deal with it: people ridiculed him, responded with parodies and made light out of what he did. It seemed like something which could have been a joke on Friday night comedy shows.
However events seemed to take a somewhat sinister turn. Matthew was then arrested on Wednesday under section 19 of the Public Order Act 1986 for “publishing or distributing written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, likely or intended to stir up racial hatred” and had his private property searched rather over-zealously. On Friday however, it seemed that the police came to their senses and dropped the charges (although the Daily Mail reported that this was more because of pressure from the Crown Prosecution Service who later said the police didn’t have the legal powers to decide whether he should be charged or not).
Although the right thing happened in the end his arrest was wholly unjustified, heavy handed and demonstrates a chilling increase in the intrusion of State power in the regulation of speech and opinions. A move that everyone should be concerned about. Firstly Matthew wasn’t stirring up racial hatred, nor did he intend to do so, and it is doubtful that what he did was likely to. All he did was ask a question to which the woman gave a response. Islamist terrorist attacks can lead to aggression and violence inflicted against innocent Muslims but that didn’t happen this time (or if it did it was minute) we should celebrate that.
Secondly, the approach of the police was totally out of proportion. Not only did they arrest him they seized his passport, entered his home and confiscated his property. All of this intrusion, all of this force and coercion over a tweet. I have personally witnessed police responding to assaults and attacks by dogs with less concern than this. It certainly casts into doubt the idea that “need more resources” to keep us safe.
And what is most concerning of all is the effect this has on freedom of speech and State’s ability to intrude itself upon our lives. These days so many things are labelled as ‘racist’, ‘Islamaphobic’, ‘sexist’, ‘homophobic’ in order to stop people from expressing their opinions. When people spray these labels around it is as if it is a deliberate tactic to stop people saying what they were going to say. We’ve seen people from Germaine Greer, Maryam Nymaze and even human rights campaigners such as Peter Tatchell being ‘no-platformed’ at various universities because of their opinions, the idea of police officers stopping people from asking questions and using the powers of arrest if they don’t comply is on par with Saudi Arabia and North Korea.
However I suspect many people will agree with his arrest. I spoke to someone I used to go to university with. She said he should be arrested. I wonder if she thinks the string of Islamist hate preachers who have preached ‘hate’ should be arrested too? Other people may not agree with the arrest but simply just don’t care. They should care, because it could happen to them. Perhaps only then will they care when they are being carted off in a police car, their house searched and their property seized will they realise that no one is immune from such political correctness, such ‘police activism’, such assaults on their liberties.
For those of us who love liberty, specifically freedom of speech, we know that every restriction on our right to say what we want, every new law, every new regulation is one more restriction of our freedom.
We’re told so much by the politicians and the media and the defence and intelligence services that ISIS and various other terrorist groups want to destroy our freedoms and way of life. Many members of our society are doing a good job of it themselves.