Over the last few weeks I've noticed an uncanny resemblance between the caricature flag-burning, blasphemer-threatening, riotous Muslims in the Middle-East, and some (perhaps equally intelligent) so-called 'liberal' tweeters, commentators and presenters in the UK. Many have been easily provoked into the latest frenzy, as though their limbic systems are as sensitive to hearing unsubstantiated echoes of "free speech curtailment" as those of murderous Middle-Easterners are to hearing of a cartoonist with bad taste.
A growing petition signed by over 22,000 Britons, taking up the goading challenge of Lib Dem hopeful, Maajid Nawaz, to complain to the party of his conduct on twitter, has been fantastically spun as a blasphemy of his free speech. Apparently without reading the actual petition - which says he has brought the party into disrepute due to a number of reasons - some of these gullible people have knee-jerked their way into automated sympathy and support for him. Had they read the petition, they may have noticed that it is not a matter of free speech at all.
Funnily enough, some of the usual suspects have, of course, sensationalised this into an extremist/Islamist/al-Qaeda campaign (delete as necessary). It does make sense, after all; if you want to drive wedges between different communities then what better fear-strings to pull on?
The unfortunate thing is the relative volume of any voice of reason. Had this petition called for Nawaz to be arrested or prosecuted, then yes, this could be an issue of curtailment of free speech. The seemingly too tedious task of actually reading past the title of the petition would clarify that this is nowhere near the case.
The petition does not cite the mere tweeting of a gratuitously insulting series containing cartoons of "Jesus and Mo" in homoerotic scenes, using foul language and watching pornographic material as well as a host of other examples of one cartoonist's attempt at a coherent rebuttal of religion. It explicitly mentions that Nawaz does indeed have the legal right to post whatever he wishes, however his overall attention-seeking, provocative attitude especially towards those he disagrees with (such as swearing at them, telling them to p*** off and get the f*** off his timeline) brings the party into disrepute, being a flagrant breach of its Federal Constitution.
At least Lib Dem Lord Tony Greaves also refreshingly pointed out that this has nothing to do with free speech. He agreed it was "absolutely not acceptable" behaviour and said that a "fulsome apology" was required, although the most Nawaz was able to muster was another condescending dismissal that didn't really impress many of his interlocutors.
Another inconvenient fact that also seems to be ignored is the utter hypocrisy of the mention of liberal values to defend the co-founder and still director of the Quilliam Foundation. Yes, the same organisation that made a fortune off a frightened post-7/7 Home Office, working tirelessly to clandestinely stifle the freedom of expression of--and ban--swathes of mainstream Muslim scholars, leaders, speakers and activists whose non-violent views Nawaz disagreed with, painting them as terrorists or al-Qaeda supporters. Yes, the same organisation whose secret compilation of a McCarthyite manual of Muslim bogeymen concerned many citizens, including the Labour MP Keith Vaz, chair of the home affairs select committee, who thought it was "very dangerous to be drawing up lists of this kind."
Yes, it's that same organisation that has collaborated with various right-wing, anti-Muslim neocons--including those extreme enough to be banned from entering the UK--parroting their anti-Muslim narratives for years. The only genuinely surprising fact for anyone vaguely familiar with Nawaz is that he is paradoxically running as a Lib Dem candidate.
Another contributory factor to the petition is the bubbling resentment and pariah status of the whole species of the "Reformed Extremist" that the Muslim community has seen its fair share of in recent years. It is a species unable to think except in superlatives, lacking the ability to see nuance, instead doomed to wander from one extreme view to another; all the while calling the mass of Muslims in the middle "extreme." First we were too peaceful for him, now we are too dangerous, but still equally subject to his saviour complex.
It's sad that Nick Clegg seems to have buckled under pressure to condemn something he knows nothing about yet; one gets the feeling it was presented to him that a Lib Dem prospective tweeted a harmless cartoon (ignoring everything else) and then (eventually) people started giving him death threats. If he read the whole story then I am curious as to whether the rhetoric we heard last month when four female party members were "offended" (to say the least) by Lord Rennard, applies to the tens of thousands of Muslim and non-Muslim citizens (and growing) that are insulted by Nawaz's behaviour and what he stands for. Or could we see action as drastic as when MP David Ward had the nerve to criticise Israelis for their "atrocities" towards the Palestinians?
Nawaz does deserve some kudos, however. In a bizarre test of the limits of his own irony, he managed to magnificently silence his opposition into an issue of 'free speech' for the ignorant and foolish to jump on without investigating further--using the same inflammatory talents that are used to whip up Muslims into a good ol' blasphemy-riot.