Why Islam Haters are a Problem

So this time, London is the European city in the news with a terrorist attack. Once again, a lone nutter, acting on his own by using very simple means, has caused a nasty blood bath. From what we know so far, the attacker claims to have acted in the name of Islam. ISIS, in their usual desperate attempt to be seen as the most cruel game in town, has already claimed responsibility for the massacre. It is however highly questionable that links between the attacker and the psychopathic proto-state in the middle east really do exist.

So far, none of the self proclaimed Islamic terrorists in Europe in the last few years could be shown to have lived a virtuous Muslim life. The vast majority lived as ordinary criminals until they discovered Islamic terrorism. This makes their Islamic motivation look questionable. And yet they are claiming to have acted in the holy name of Islam. Needless to say that the vast majority of Muslims strongly disagrees with their assessment. But surprisingly, these holy nutters get support from an unexpected group of people.

Hardcore Islam haters are a diverse coalition, ranging from fundamentalist atheists to white supremacist nationalists. These people take every opportunity to point out that it is ISIS who gets Islam right, and that all moderate Muslims are mistaken. I have never been fully able to figure out what drives these Islamophobes. I suspect, their motivations are diverse. Some are certainly driven by a strange desire to hate. Others seem to be truth fundamentalists, who believe the truth has to have priority over everything else. They therefore find it difficult to tolerate moderate, but inconsistent ideologies.

Nevertheless, whatever motivates them, they are a problem. They are a problem, not because they are necessarily completely wrong, but because they only get it half right. I am the first to agree that fundamentalist Islam is a nasty ideology. I would even go further than that. Every fundamentalist ideology, which claims to a have knowledge of the one and only objective truth is potentially very dangerous. That is because most people have the assumption that truth matters. From there it is only a small step to assume that not only does truth matter, it also should have priority over everything else. Once that conclusion is reached, and someone thinks he knows exactly what the truth is, it is only a small step to approve of violence in the name of that truth.

Islamists certainly follow this logic to the end, which is why they are dangerous. Where most Islam haters, particularly the ones that are most vocal about it, get it completely wrong however is that they assume you can kill a religion like Islam all together. Some even seem to think that you can defeat it with weapons. This is a terrible, and very dangerous mistake.

Religions like Islam cannot be abolished with the sword. In fact it is likely that they cannot be abolished full stop. Especially European history shows that trying to fight religions with physical force is a disastrous strategy. The best warning example of pursuing such a strategy is the thirty year war from 1618 to 1648, in which Protestants and Catholics fought over who had the correct faith. This war never saw a winner. It only ended because so many people had been killed that there were not many left to fight. An absolutely disastrous outcome.

Radical ideologies only get stronger in physical fights. That is because once human lives have been sacrificed for the truth, it becomes even harder to abandon it, as that means to acknowledge that all the sacrifices were for nothing. Another terrible effect of this strategy is that critiques are silenced. Most people will demand that you pick sides. Either you are with us or you are with them. Therefore, criticism becomes treason.

A much more fruitful approach to tame the dangers of religion was adopted after the 30 year war. It was simply agreed that there should be some tolerance towards other faiths. This allowed room for moderate positions to be hearer. It is precisely this support for moderate positions that in the end tamed Christianity. And no matter what people say, any Religion is up for interpretation, including Islam. It does not matter what the Quran or Bible says. Everything can be interpreted to mean something else. And we can indeed find a lot of interpretation of holy texts in every religion. Islam is no exception. A lot of moderate interpretations of the Quran already exist.

As a result of this strategy, Christianity in Europe has shrunk down to a fairly harmless and small fellowship. If it was not for recent immigrants from places like Africa, the numbers of true believers in a country like the UK would hardly be more than the numbers of a small cult. That is how it is done.

The Islam haters however are boycotting this strategy. They insist that Islam as a whole cannot be moderate and must therefore be fought all together. By doing that, they effectively become useful idiots for groups like ISIS and al Qaida who preach the exact same interpretation of Islam. And they sure appreciate the immense support they are getting from the Islamophobes. That is why Islam haters are part of the problem.

#BrusselsAttacks Are Not an Excuse for Arresting an Idiot

As many of you will be aware earlier this week a group of crazed jihadists brought death and destruction to the streets of Brussels. They killed over 30, injured hundreds and damaged important infrastructure.

After incidents of this nature emotions often run high and some people react in stupid ways. One example is Matthew Doyle from South Croydon who supposedly confronted a Muslim women and asked her to explain the attacks. He allegedly posted to Twitter…

I confronted a Muslim women yesterday in Croydon. I asked her to explain Brussels. She said “Nothing to do with me”. A mealy mouthed reply.

As a result, according to the Daily Mail, he has been arrested, charged and held in custody…

A talent agency boss alleged to have posted a controversial tweet about confronting a Muslim woman over the Brussels terror attacks has been charged with inciting racial hatred.

The tweet, said to have been posted by Matthew Doyle, 46, from south Croydon, sparked social media outrage and countless parodies after it went viral in the wake of Tuesday’s atrocities in Belgium.

Doyle, who attended private Wellington College, was arrested on Wednesday, and police today said he had been charged with with publishing or distributing written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, likely or intended to stir up racial hatred, under the Public Order Act.

A spokesman said he was being held in custody, and was due to appear at Camberwell Green Magistrates Court tomorrow morning.

There is little doubt that My Doyle potentially posted something stupid, some may even find it deeply offensive — it’s certainly something I wouldn’t do. However it is an outrage that this man has been arrested and charged.

It seems that there is no actual evidence that he did what he said he did in his Tweet, which explains why he has only be charged with making “racist comments”. Quite how someone can be charged with “racist comments” when the target of his idiocy was a global religion is beyond me though. Remember there over 1 billion practicing Muslims worldwide and the country with the largest Muslim population is Indonesia. It is a non-racially defined religion just like Christianity.

But enough quibbling, the true outrage is that we have a law that can be used to lock people up for “publishing or distributing written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, likely or intended to stir up racial hatred”. The important point here, and I’ve stated this before, is none of these things are objective, they are all subjective and open to interpretation.

What someone finds threatening, abusive or insulting is entirely down to them. When a drunk man in a pub recently called me a “boring ginger bastard” it didn’t particularly bother me, I was more concerned that he was harassing my friend’s wife. I certainly wouldn’t want to see him locked up for a drunken remark. I just wanted him to F the F Off…

This sort of law places untold power in the hands of the prosecutor, AKA the state, as it could be applied to almost any scenario. For example, imagine I shouted at someone in the street, “F*** off you McDonalds eating pleb!”. Is that not insulting or abusive? Yes it is. Should I be locked up for it? In a free country, no. Under this law though I probably should be, because associating someone with McDonalds may be very distressing…

It seems a little pointless to me to claim that the ‘Free World’ is fighting the scourge of Barbaric, Anti-Freedom, Salafist Jihadism when the ‘Free World’ criminalises certain forms of Free Expression. Even if that Free Expression is completely idiotic. In a free society you allow society to deal with the idiotic, not the state.

As one Twitter user proved, social ridicule is often the best ointment for the idiotic…

Confronted a self-service machine in Tesco, Asked it to explain Brussels. It said “Please place items in bagging area”. Mealy mouthed reply.

Update 2016/03/26: It would seem the CPS have seen sense and forced the police to drop the charges. The fact that the police have the idea that they can arrest people for this sort of thing is very worrying though.

The big lie about terrorism

There are two notable quotes that “Honest Abe” has imparted on me lately:

The first:

“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”

And the second one:

“The problem with quotes on the internet is that you can never be certain that they’re authentic.”

The facts on the ground are that the terrorist cell linked to the Paris attack was being rounded up in Belgium. Members from that group detonated explosives at an American airlines desk and at a Brussels Metro Station. There were 30 people killed and hundreds injured.

The lies are these: Terrorists are an existential threat; immigrants from Muslim counties are responsible; liberalism is responsible; the security services could have stopped it; people should allow the government to do “things” to stop this from reoccurring. In my opinion the biggest lie about terrorism is that terrorism is novel and somehow an existential threat to the way of life we know.

It is hard to debate in the face of real facts but for some reason debate comes never the less, just louder and with generous interspersing of ignorance and lies. The ignorance and lies don’t change the facts just as a bucket of shit doesn’t change the performance of a Rolls Royce. But that shit on the bonnet sure makes it harder to appreciate the fine craftsmanship that goes into making that beautiful piece of British engineering!

I’ll build my vehicle anyway.

Media Distortions

There have been studies which found that up to 45% to 71% of the press and radio news was about deviance and its control. While the news media shows an understandable interest in crime and violence, the image is distorted. The distortions are many. The media make it seem that all age groups get involved in murder. A toddler shoots his mother, an old lady burns her lover with chicken grease, a woman kills her children. Elderly people, women and children are disproportionately emphasized as victims of violent and egregious crime. Criminals are seen as masterminds, clever scheming conspirators, superhumans who occupy the time of entire security forces and still escape to plan their next attack. Conversely the police are also promoted as being capable, clever, competent and careful.

News items are not facts. Just because we haven’t heard any items about Donetsk doesn’t mean there aren’t regular battles between the belligerents. The country that is East of Europe and West of Russia is an item of news that greatly concerns geopolitics but is seen as something that does not concern the public right now. The UK will not be required to send troops or money because we are not at war with Russia. Whatever troops and/or money go to Ukrainian nationalists will continue to do so below the radar of the public. A more parochial example of the divergence of news and fact is that while actual crime in England continues to decline, fear of crime and reportage of crime correlate upwards. The news media curate truth and therefore helps to define the agenda.

News providers have a standard set of tools at their disposal: immediacy, drama, human interest, high status, simplification, novelty, risk and violence. Listen to any breaking news and you will identify at least half of these elements. People love this formula: crime thrillers, war movies, violent video games, happy endings to all of the above. All of these things sell well and the news is following a similar market force: “If it bleeds it leads”. It’s not a conspiracy to lie to us about the state of the world; it’s simply presenting only the facts that stimulate the most reaction. It’s informational sugar: stimulating but not healthy.

What’s the negative effect of all of this bloody news filled with explosions and smoke and people in distress? Again, research shows that heavy consumers of television and tabloids express greater fear of going out at night and more xenophobia. Heavy consumers of Facebook show higher levels of anxiety and depression. Children that are heavy consumers of both traditional and digital media show developmental difficulties. The internet is not a panacea of objectivity either. It lies more often and distorts the truth more often than traditional media. It’s filled with porn, trolls, chicken littles, liberal crusaders and the worst of human expression. It is filled with many good things as well, but on the internet there are few engineers crafting worthwhile stories….and buckets and buckets of waste.

The pith of this article is about the negative effects of media during a crisis, especially in a crisis caused by terrorist action. What would ISIS be without video websites and twitter? What would Al Qaeda be without two buildings falling down in the middle of the city most featured in movies? Obviously, to the Gulf, Asian, US, Russian and British governments these groups would be quite serious no matter the publicity, but the point is that these groups would be less fearful if they didn’t capitalise on the eagerly waiting camera lenses and publishing platforms of traditional and new media.

The terrorist playbook reads like this: violence, dramatic, human targets, high valued targets, randomness, simplified justifications, increased perception of risk in target audience. This aligns neatly with media’s own playbook. For a terrorist, the number of people don’t count for as much as evidence of the graphic nature of their death. High body counts are valued but high audiences and click-through rates are even more highly valued.

True Terror

War is terrifying. Reading the experiences of the common soldier, you understand what real terror is: Stout ships chewed to kindling by cannon fire; friends dying daily; the smell of human death palpable and constant for months on end; leaders showing a brave face and getting it blown away moments after; swarms of the enemy descending on weak positions. It’s worse when you’re a civilian trapped in a battleground.

When going to work, going to a gig or taking a trip on a plane, death remains a highly unlikely occurrence. In war, death is a near certainty. At the end of war, the question is not “why did that person die” but “how is that person still alive?”. Young people tend to forget that in the “heart of Europe”, this was the case for centuries. Starting from the original “la Terreur” and ending at the late part of the 20th Century, millions of Europeans experienced genuine terror. Generations were born, lived and died with death present in the streets and fields. Then machines rolled across those fields and planes flew overhead designed to kill and bearing enough firepower to wipe out several branches of the European population. There were few places to hide from this type of terror and fewer places to run to. The final war of the 20th century which did not happen would have been the final war. For decades we lived with the threat of nuclear annihilation and two world powers who, on many occasions, could have done it. Had one side or the other fallen prey to uncontrolled irrationality or the need to prove a point about the superiority of ideology, our last moments would have been the most terrifying collective experience history could have ever offered.

The Unholy Trinity

Terrorism on the other hand is more accurately aligned with reality television and the Trump candidacy than the actual horrors of war. Flying a civilian jet into a building of civilians isn’t war, walking into an airport departure lounge with a suitcase full of homemade explosives isn’t war either. Just as how “Pop Idol” isn’t singing auditions or talent, “Big Brother” isn’t living with housemates and voting for Donald Trump isn’t about electing politicians, terrorism is not war. Terrorists, like other media actors, are playing at war for the camera. Their performance is deadly but it is a performance none the less. Terrorism is common criminality but for an audience.

The final actor I’d like to remind you about is the state. In many cases the state pays for, regulates and informs the media. The state also purportedly fights terrorists on our behalf. Less than 100 years ago in the “heart of Europe”, governments were killing each other’s citizens on their citizens’ behalf. The horrors of the last century weren’t carried out by a terrorist cell or by hackers, online drug markets, bankers, pedophiles or any of the other media bogey men of the modern age. So why are we so afraid of them? Are any of these things worthy of declaring a war or crisis?

Not the crisis you’re looking for

Terrorism unfortunately isn’t the national crisis that we’re looking for. While a plane or some Kalashnikovs or a bag full of explosives or the presence of people fleeing war might seem like we’re under existential threat, this is just the media doing its thing again. Traditional media is definitely under existential threat (a crisis even) from falling ad revenue and new and social media channels. The Government is under existential threat and crisis from the cost of living, national debt, lack of trust and digital alternatives to all of its usual bribes towards the populace. Fundamental religion and the ignorance surrounding it is also under existential threat from liberalism, truth and reality. There is one area where the nation is under existential threat. We are still under threat from submarines patrolling the Baltic and Atlantic. If the government decides this, Armageddon would be upon us in less time than it takes to seduce a reality starlet in the back of a Rolls Royce.

The media, the government and fundamentalists share a common cause in that they defend themselves against their existential crises by pretending that we the people are under the same threat that they are. If we are helpless, afraid, angry and irrational then it justifies their existence. The truth is, we’re not under the same threat that they are. These actors do not believe in truth or presenting us with real facts. Unfortunately for them, people are finding out the truth for themselves and with the certainty of death, these actors (along with taxes) will be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Stop giving in to terrorism, stand up to it!

It is little wonder that over a decade after the “war on terror” was declared terrorism is still going strong. Indeed, it is having rather a successful recruitment drive. It is not just that it provides a fulfilling ideology for young men and women to cling to, it is just so damnably effective! I do not refer to the people they have murdered, or the acts of terror they have committed, because actually these are few and far between and most attempts are thwarted. Yes, I know it is easy to forget that isn’t it? Statistically you have more chance of dying of food poisoning, or in a train crash or being drowned in the bath than of being killed in an act of terrorism. It is extremely unlikely to happen, you may as well worry about debris from space landing on your head. Yet something as statistically insignificant as death by terrorism can spread fear and hysteria through a populace, and allow a government to get away with investing vast amounts of money, enacting laws, removing liberties and declaring wars just to supposedly protect us from it.

The “war on terror” was declared in response to the attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11th 2001, could the terrorists have hoped for a better response from the leading nations of the west? Trillions were spent, and thousands of lives lost, in fighting (and losing) disastrous wars. To defend “our values” against terrorists our governments have systematically betrayed them with paranoid authoritarianism. We fight the “war on terror” with vast increases in state power that destroys the liberty of our law abiding citizens. We are losing the war because our response to terrorism is to be afraid, to turn on each other and to betray the virtues that set us apart.

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Will our apparent defiance last?

Terrorism only works when we allow it to. The Islamists who murdered the Charlie Hebdo staff claim another victory every time the media censor themselves by refusing to show the images that inspired the attack. How can the media properly report on this topic without printing the cartoons? They are conspicuous by their absence and self-censorship makes a bold political statement that read: you win terrorists and what is more, you were right. These double standards concede to the Islamist murderer’s demand that their deity be given special treatment, this must end now.

Charlie Hebdo was an easy target, why? Because they were isolated and stuck out like a sore thumb. They were making a stand and barely any other members of the so-called “free press” stood with them. If they had done so, and collectively, they could have spread the risk and faced the enemy down. Unfortunately, cowardice is part of a long term pattern and every time a great shock to the system occurs there is talk of it being a line in the sand that will change things fundamentally. I would dearly like to believe that liberal western countries, and their media and artistic industries, are going to wake up and stand up for their supposed values that they allegedly hold dear but their track record is poor.

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Rushdie has responded to the campaign against him with bravery and quiet dignity

If the hysterical response of Islamists to the publication of Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses, and the subsequent terror campaign against him and anyone affiliated with the book, didn’t inspire liberal countries to stand up for what they believe in, what will? So much for “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”, the author was instead criticised by many cultural and political figures at the time for his ‘insensitivity’. Rusdie has lived in some degree of fear for his life ever since but (thankfully) has been successfully protected, others have not been so lucky. The Italian translator of The Satanic Verses, Ettore Capriolo, was stabbed and seriously wounded, the Japanese translator Hitoshi Igarashi was murdered. The books Norwegian publisher Willian Bygaar survived an attempted murder in Oslo. In 1993 a Turkish cultural festival was set upon by a mob of Salafists aiming to murder Azin Nesin who had tried to get the novel published in Turkey. 37 people died, mostly intellectuals, artists and musicians but also several of the hotel staff.

That was a real test for of our resolve, a test that so many people sadly failed. Instead of defending freedom of expression and seeing through the Islamic world’s reaction as the ludicrous hysteria it was, some chose to criticise the quality of the book (as if that was even the point), some criticised the author for being offensive, some criticised the fact that the taxpayer would be funding the author’s security. Book burnings on the streets of Bradford, death threats for the writing of a novel, an author having to go into hiding, and people were still saying that perhaps he had it coming for being provocative and perhaps he should have known better. How sad. You can trace our cultural malaise back to 1989, that was when the era of the intolerant offence culture began, it has yet to come to an end.

18 years later, when Rushdie was up for a knighthood in 2007, there was predictable outrage in the Islamic world and amongst a minority of British Islamist lunatics who took to the streets to burn books, effigies of the author and the union flag. Even more predictable, and regrettable, was the cowardice and hand wringing evident in the prominent protests of some British politicians and intellectuals. Of course Rushdie had many staunch defenders,but the very fact that the question of “is this an insult to Muslims? was raised in response to the knighthood was a sign of severe timidity, and a complete misunderstanding of what was at stake. It was a potent reminder of the sad fact that a novel like The Satanic Verses simply would not get published now.

For decades now our artistic and journalistic culture has been constrained. How many other novels have been rejected because the publisher didn’t want to provoke the rage of terrorists? How many novelists have censored themselves? How many film makers have opted to play it safe? I don’t ask that we collectively and deliberately do what we can to provoke the Islamic world, I simply ask that we stop being afraid. That we stop making that possible offence our primary concern, that we stop censoring ourselves and that when another test of our resolve comes, we refuse to be intimidated. When Charlie Hebdo’s offices were bombed in 2011, they reprinted the cartoons to show that they would not back down in the face of terrorism; that takes courage. Because so few other people showed that courage the magazine and its staff was left to make a lonely stand.

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All that madness, for these silly cartoons…

After the uproar over the crude, but pretty innocuous, 2005 Danish cartoons no other major newspaper or magazine in Europe reprinted them. After the bombing of the Charlie Hebdo offices in 2011 the same whimpering cowardice prevailed. After the Paris shootings last week many failed the test once again. There were a few notable examples but at this stage it is difficult to believe that the tragedy will trigger the cultural shift that is so necessary.

This is not a “clash of civilisations”, that phrase is overblown, a tired neo-con relic from the build up to our foolish military campaigns. This battle is ideological, this war is cultural. We have to stand up for ourselves and flex our cultural muscles. Our response to terrorism should be proportionate and unyielding. We must refuse to be panicked into a knee jerk overreaction in which we enact further illiberal laws. This generational struggle is temporary, but the virtues of our culture can last forever if we refuse to surrender them. If anything, we should be repealing laws; defending our freedom by increasing it. The media should reach a consensus in which it refuses to be gagged and stops censoring itself, if a picture of Muhammed is central to the news report, print or show the damn thing!

Above all else I pray for an unrestrained artistic renaissance. This is a time when people are being murdered because of cartoons, when a few loons can gag the mass media. When small terrorist groups can send the whole western world into a spasm of war and paranoid delusion. When disillusioned young people are being indoctrinated with a radical ideology and turning to murder and terror, when a stagnant religion shackles the mind of vast swathes of British Muslims and hinders their integration. When the hypocritical governments of the west are ever expanding and using a climate of fear to increase and consolidate their power. Now is the time for untrammelled plain speaking, criticism, analysis and satire. Come authors, poets, film makers, artists and writers, all, please heed the call!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#JeSuisCharlie? Let’s not get distracted from the real fight for freedom

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The attack inspired a mass of sanctimony

The first I heard of the Paris shootings was in a text message from a friend. I promptly went online and came across the horrifying video of the police officer being murdered as he lay wounded in the street. So my first impression was not of any wider implications but simply the empathy I felt for the helpless creature lying on the pavement. Later my mood began to shift towards outrage.

What did I do then? Well, the only thing I could do to offer a token gesture of solidarity; I took to social media. I tweeted cartoons of Muhammed and expressed my defiance. After a while it all got a bit tiring and I realised how futile and vacuous it was. For me to tweet the offending pictures is not brave and it achieves very little. I began to feel a little embarrassed by my own misplaced reactionary enthusiasm. My total obscurity provides an anonymity that means that I am not placing myself in even the tiniest bit of danger by my actions. It is not pleasant feeling useless and insignificant at such a seemingly pivotal time as this.

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After a few days of calm reflection I began to feel trepidatious. The mass outpouring of grief and supposed “solidarity” has led to a collective convulsion in France that has spread across Europe, creating a conformity of thought and lulling us into a false sense of security. There has been too much back slapping as we congratulate ourselves on being beacons of free expression and liberty, it is easy to claim this in comparison with Islamic countries, but in the aftermath we have to calmly check our hypocrisy and our priorities.

Our cherished rights have been steadily eroded for some time now and are under serious and immediate threat. This threat comes from our own governments and as we wonder fearfully where the terrorists will strike next it is they who will come to attack liberty, exploiting our fear and striking when we are at our most vulnerable. Despite the sheer horror of the Paris shootings this must be where our scrutiny and scepticism is mainly focussed, not on Islamists.

Wounded patriotism have inspired a show of unity and much self-congratulatory rhetoric about France being a beacon of liberty. We should not let the rush of emotion accept this without scepticism. Does a free country ban the wearing of certain items of clothing? Does a free country ban you from praying in the street, a serious curb on religious expression? I think it perfectly fair and reasonable that private companies can make their own decisions on such rules, and the face should not be concealed in court, but it a serious violation of individual freedom for the state to dictate that you cannot wear signs of religious affiliation (be it a crucifix necklace or a turban) in schools or face veils in the street. I personally do not like the sight of a niqab but banning something just because we don’t like it is not a liberal thing to do.

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It is heartening to see millions marching in the streets in an act of defiance, but it shouldn’t take a massacre to inspire people to fight for their rights. France, it should not be forgotten, restricts freedom of expression with some of the strictest hate speech, defamation, privacy and libel laws in the western world.

The privacy law in France encourages self-censorship because the publication of private details of an individual’s life without consent is a punishable offence. Unlike in Britain there are few public interest clauses. Combine this with French libel laws, which heavily favour those in positions of power (losing a libel case against a public official brings a punitive fine of €45,000 as opposed to €12,000 when a case is lost against a member of the public), and it is easy to see why an unhealthy respect for the privacy of public figures is instilled in French media culture. This too often leaves the powerful beyond media scrutiny and discourages public interest journalism that investigates corruption and impropriety in the lives of politicians.

France has some of the strictest hate speech laws in the EU which go far beyond preventing incitement to violence. Once you start arresting people for simply saying things, or tweeting things you create a censorial instinct that will inevitably stretch beyond the fringes and into the mainstream, making curbs (or attempts to curb) on free speech habitual and seemingly acceptable. It has been little discussed since the Paris shootings but hate speech laws were used to harass Charlie Hebdo for years. Charges were lodged against the magazine in 2006-07 in response to the reprinting of the notorious Danish cartoons, in that instance the court ruled in the magazines favour but notably Jacques Chirac was a cheerleader for the case: “the convictions of someone else, in particular religious convictions, should be avoided”, he said. The magazine would again come under government pressure in 2012 when it reprinted Muhammed cartoons in response to the protests against the film The Innocence of Muslims with Prime Minister Jean-Mar Ayarault stating that freedom of speech is “under control of the courts”. The unity marches are uncomfortably close to being a rally behind the French state, rather than millions of people making a stand for liberty and free expression.

Britain will “never give up freedom of speech”, said David Cameron in his defiant response. But in Britain we are breathtakingly complacent about our wpid-dsc_0395.jpgrights and it is a bit rich for our politicians to suddenly talk like staunch defenders of liberty. It is fantastic to see people gather in Trafalgar square to hold a vigil for the murdered staff, and attend rallies in the name of free speech. Still, I can’t help that think, again, that no one should have to be murdered for people to start paying attention and celebrating and fighting for our freedoms. If the people rallied together in great numbers against anti-terror legislation, secret courts and RIPA (to name just a few of many illiberal measures) I might have faith in the sincerity and staying power of the current enthusiasm. Instead I fear it is temporary hysteria and back slapping that will ultimately achieve very little before we return to a “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” consensus.

Let us not forget that this “free” country of ours is the land of secret courts, mass surveillance and detention without charge where we have in recent years flirted with the introduction of ID cards and state regulation of the press. The state routinely bans people with “controversial” things to say from entering the country and arrests people for silly tweets (or “malicious communications“).   It is not just the state that disgraces liberty, our university campuses are now a hotbed for the authoritarian left which seeks to shut down debate and ban anything it deems unacceptable. It is quite clear that Charlie Hebdo could not operate in Britain, in no time at all it would be banned from all student unions and be subject to the NUS “no platform” policy, its offices would host protests by Unite Against Facism and Hope Not Hate when it wasn’t being picketed by Islamists. Before long the magazine’s staff would be visited by the police and roundly criticised by hand wringing politicians. Je Suis Charlie? Get real.

Now is the time for a wake up call. Stop looking for Islamists under the bed and start defending freedom from the those pretending they are defending it. The PM and Home Secretary didn’t miss and opportunity for political point scoring and phoney outrage when Nigel Farage made some rather innocuous comments about the “very, very small” number of Islamists that represent a “fifth column” in British society (isn’t this a good week for the truth and free expression?). This was a distraction from the deeply cynical comments from Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, who leapt on the chance to fear monger and lobby for greater powers for our security services. Cameron accused Farage of using the tragedy for political ends before announcing plans to resurrect the “snoopers charter” while the shock is still raw.

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A far more potent threat to liberty

I’ve no doubt that this will put wind in Theresa May’s sails. Will the Paris shootings soften us up for Extremism Orders? Astonishing measures that would remove the right to freedom of expression (without presenting evidence to justify such an action) when the state has a “reasonable belief” that the accused individual may “disrupt democracy” or incite racial or religious hatred, or cause public disorder? When the Home Secretary proposes a plan to legislate for thought crime, I do not think I am being unreasonable when I say she is a far graver threat to liberty than an Islamist lunatic.

As the collective trauma dies down I hope that, like me, people are jolted out of their initial reaction and re-focus on the real fight for freedom which is not against Islamist terror, but authoritative government and our flourishing intolerant offence culture . The staff of Charlie Hebdo died because they defiantly exercised their right to freedom of expression, but it is not a crazed gunman taking our rights that we should be worried about, it is us a nation giving those right away as we slip back into complacency that should concern us all.