The sobering reports of the threats made against Mike Freer, MP for Golders Green and Finchley, during his surgery at a local Mosque come as concerning and yet for many of us unsurprising news. We would do well to reflect seriously about the wider implications of this incident, particularly in light of the fact that some of those responsible for carrying out this campaign of intimidation against Mr Freer had posted comments online referencing the stabbing of MP Stephen Timms by an extremist constituent during his surgery in East London. Inevitably, events such as these force us to ask ourselves difficult questions about where we place the parameters between freedom of expression and the kind of incitement that poses a genuine threat to the democratic process.
Despite the presence of demonstrators outside of the North London Mosque where he was meeting with constituents, Mike Freer nevertheless decided to continue with his constituency duties regardless. As it was, around twelve people did manage to force their way into the meeting which resulted in Mr Freer being escorted to a secure part of the building until police arrived.
Those responsible for the intrusion are believed to be associated with the radical Islamist group Muslims Against Crusades who, as well as stating that as a Conservative MP Mike Freer had "the blood of thousands of Muslims on his hands", have a website carrying the message that the stabbing of MP Stephen Timms by Roshonara Choudhry should serve as a reminder to politicians that "their presence is no longer welcome in any Muslim area." Although, judging by the warm reception received by individuals such as George Galloway when visiting Hackney, it would seem there are some exceptions to this.
Another disturbing aspect of these events concerns the kind of abuse that Mike Freer was subjected to by the demonstrators. Among other things it has been reported that Mr Freer was called a"Jewish homosexual pig" by one of the intruders, reminding us of the troubling trend of homophobia now prevalent among certain sections of Britain's Islamic community, as recently highlighted in a report by the Hudson Institute. The fact that Mr Freer is not Jewish but simply a friend of Israel is just one more example of how Islamic radicals have often labelled as Jewish anyone who dares to associate themselves with Israel, an experience that no doubt Lorna Fitzsimons will be familiar with. As an All-Party Parliamentary Enquiry revealed, the former Rochdale MP lost her seat in 2005 following a campaign by the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK in which it was falsely claimed that Fitzsimons was Jewish.
Like Lorna Fitzsimons, Mike Freer has been involved publicly in speaking out against anti-Semitism as well as attacks on Israel. However it also seems that the Muslims Against Crusades group was particularly hostile to Freer on account of his involvement with the campaign to keep the hate preacher Sheikh Raed Salah from visiting the UK. Despite Salah having been presented by supporters as a peaceful spiritual leader, a kind of Palestinian Gandhi, the truth is that Salah has raised funds for the terror group Hamas, preached religious intolerance against homosexuals and is part of that unique circle of people who claim there were no Jews in the twin towers on 9/11 on account of the attacks being a Mossad conspiracy.
Those who campaigned against the Home Office decision to ban Salah from the UK appealed to arguments about the Salah's rights to free speech in an attempt to make the case for allowing the cleric to remain in the country. For many this will be the point at which to ask ourselves how far we are willing to extend our societies hard-fought for freedoms and tradition of tolerance to those who themselves only use this as an opportunity to work all the more tirelessly against our most basic principles of freedom and tolerance of others.
Indeed, perhaps we should be asking if there is any moral justification at all for extending the full benefits of unlimited free speech to those who only wish to use this platform as a means by which to advocate the silencing of those who hold alternative views to their own, as well as an opportunity by which to incite further hatred against others? More importantly still, would we allow those to take part in the democratic process whose only reason for doing so is to try and end it? To my mind, a society that is serious about wanting to protect the rights of its minority groups and uphold values of tolerance will not stand by and tolerate the proliferation of hate speech and intimidation.
Mike Freer has called on Teresa May to subject Muslims Against Crusades to the full force of the law. Moves such as this may indeed come to be necessary if our MPs are to be able to serve voters without our democracy being at the risk of subversion by extremist groups.