Should we support Lionheart?
I wasn't really going to pay much attention to the latest bit of Islamophobic wingnuttery pervading a considerable part of the blogosphere but considering how many lies are being peddled in the world's largest echo chamber and rumour mill regarding this "case", I now feel obliged to step in and dot some is, cross some ts and provide a little context to this recent brouhaha. The case involves a British blogger, going by the Blogger handle Lionheart, soon to be arrested by British police in relation to his blogging activities. On the face of it one could easily, but wrongly in my view, conclude that Lionheart's case is one about freedom of speech in the blogosphere and that that should concern all of us.
The alleged offence
Right now it isn't clear what said blogger's offence actually is supposed to be because he (Lionheart (LH) - real name Paul) hasn't been arrested yet, let alone charged. This in reality leaves the very genuine possibility that Paul will be interviewed and released without charge. But arrested (scheduled for 19/02/08) he will be and this is what who is presumably the Arresting Officer had to say about it in an email to Paul (LH) (as reported by Paul's legal council, Anthony Bennett):
For the public record, here is a full copy of the e-mail sent by Ian Holden of Bedfordshire Police to ‘Llionheart’ yesterday, Thursday 3 January 2008:
QUOTE FROM IAN HOLDEN, BEDFORDSHIRE POLICE
The offence that I need to arrest you for is “Stir up Racial Hatred by displaying written material” contrary to sections 18(1) and 27(3) of the Public Order Act 1986.
You will be arrested on SUSPICION [my emphasis] of the offence. You would only be charged following a full investigation based on all the relevant facts and CPS [Crown Prosecution Service - my blurb] consent.
Paul I will see you on the 19/02/08 when I will tell you everything that you need to know. Due to being out of the office for six weeks I will not have access to my email as of tomorrow 04/01/08.
The potential charge of stirring up racial hatred seems a little strange but could pertain to Paul's repeated blog attacks on Pakistani Muslims. Alternatively, Ian Holden's email may simply be a little sloppy: it seems more likely and more logical that Paul would be charged with stirring up religious hatred under the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006, an Act which complements and completes the Public Order Act of 1986 (the one mentioned in the email to Paul) with offences relating to religious hatred and not just racial hatred.
Despite everything remaining much in the realm of possibilities rather than certainties this case has already inflamed part of the wingnut blogosphere and support for Lionheart has swollen to a veritable deluge in the past days.
Support for Lionheart: Straw Man arguments galore...
Tens of rightwing bloggers have taken it upon themselves to spread the word regarding this perceived injustice, yet not a single one manages to address the actual issues. Broadly speaking said supporters treat the case as an assault on freedom of speech and their arguments can be fitted more or less into three main categories:
1. Political Correctness gone mad:
It's alleged that Paul's case hinges on suppressing criticism of Islam or even criticism of Jihadists. Nothing could be further removed from the truth. In Britain, freedom of speech does have legal limits but the law goes out of its way to impose as few impediments to free discourse as possible. For example, the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006, under which Lionheart may be charged with offence(s), stipulates under 29 J:
Protection of freedom of expression
Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system.
Paul is therefore perfectly legally entitled to criticise Islam or Islamists to his heart's content, no charges could ever flow from that. But it has to be noted that 'criticising' and 'stirring up hatred' aren't the same thing and can be distinguished from one another quite easily.
The 'political Correctness gone mad' defence is increasingly used by parties that have been found guilty (but not necessarily in the legal sense of the word) of making racial slurs, including anti-Semites, we should be careful to judge it properly.
2. Islam is not a race and therefore Paul cannot be charged with 'stirring racial hatred':
Right now it isn't clear what Paul will be charged with (IF he will be charged with anything at all). The charge(s) could pertain to Paul's written treatment of Pakistanis (mostly Muslims), in which case the law would definitely recognise a racial element. Alternatively it could pertain to Paul's attacks on British Muslims as a whole (without distinction between Radical British Islamists and law abiding British Muslim citizens or legal residents) under the 2006 Act. Either way, the 'Islam is not a race' argument simply doesn't cut mustard.
3. UK Dhimmitude at work:
This most extreme of arguments really doesn't punch much above Roswellians, or advanced Ufology and is in essence as whacky as the "9/11: t'wos Mossad wot did it" conspiracy theory. Usually used by those highly critical of 'multiculturalism', it implies that Europe in general, and in this case the UK in particular, has already fallen for the 'Muslim Hordes' and that the 'barbarians' have taken over (both are in themselves rather vicious allegations). It implies that 'Muslim colonisers' are setting the agenda, that Sharia law is replacing Civil Law and that legal prosecution of Lionheart is nothing more than making said blogger a political prisoner of Islam. A fictitious book, yet to be written, called "The Protocols of the Elders of Mecca" really does spring to mind in this context.
It should come as no surprise that Lionheart, in slightly different words, actually subscribes to the 'Muslims have taken over' theory.
Most of Lionheart's supporters can be found here.
Lionheart: a profile
Let me firstly emphasise that my characterisation of Paul does not imply illegality: no matter how much I disagree with much of what he writes, he's perfectly entitled to believe what he wants to believe. This is merely an attempt to figure out where his thinking comes from and how it's come to the point where he might be charged with 'stirring racial/religious hatred'.
Paul runs three blogs (see his profile to find the other two) and comes across as an extremely Manichean writer, full of extreme hyperbole, rhetorical exaggeration and pulling things out of context. He's a Far Right English Nationalist, rarely referring to the United Kingdom, but almost invariably to England ('Christian land'). He has a bit of a knack for self-aggrandisement, seeing himself clearly as some sort of a 'knight for England', defender of the Realm. A racist? Possibly not, as on his blog he supports Oona King as mayoral candidate for London (against the 'racist Ken Livingstone' [Paul's words]).
He appears also to have a rather poor grasp of legal matters in general, at one point appealing to our non-executive Head of State, Betty II, to stop the construction of a Mega Mosque.
He's a fairly poor (but very variable) writer, yet has an uncanny ability to choose terms and catchphrases that resonate well with the like-minded: one of his posts is titled "Heroin: Golden Sword of Islam", another "Jihad (Holy War) against our children", another "Osama Bin Laden - The third Anti-Christ".
Much of Paul's discourse focuses on Luton and Dunstable's problems with drug dealers, which in his book are invariably Pakistani Muslims. It would appear that his past experiences in that area have very much coloured his current day view of British Muslims.
It seems likely to me that Paul's intense dislike of Muslims (and Pakistani Muslims in particular) started well before 9/11 (and 7/7): in the mid eighties, Paki-bashing (including its more violent expressions) among rightwing whites in Britain was very much du jour. The typical racial stereotypes of those days, including "they send all their money to Pakistan", "they take our jobs", "they rape our women" and many more besides that, have now found vindication with that group of white rightwingers by means of that small band of bad apples, often connected via Pakistan, that make up British born Islamic radicals and terrorists.
Lionheart: what's in a nickname?
Superficially one might be advised not to read too much into any blogger's chosen Blogger handle but in Paul's case it's legitimate to make an exception. Apart from the name Lionheart, the address of his main blog (lionheartuk.blogspot.com), Paul also incorporates the Lionheart theme in his avatar, posing with a figure clad in military regalia, designed to conjure up images of Richard the Lionheart, or Cœur de Lion, Richard I, King of England (1157 - 1199) and Christian Commander during the Third Crusade. There's little doubt in my mind that Paul strongly identifies with Saladin's greatest foe. Certainly several of Paul's supporters have gotten the message: the image to the right of this paragraph has been used by quite a few of them: clearly the icon of a Christian Crusader against Islam very much appeals to them...
Whether the BNP actively supports Paul's crusadette remains to be seen: at the time of writing the BNP website made no mention of Paul's plight.
But at least one of Lionheart's supporters, Home of the Green Arrow is an active supporter of the British National Party (from the site's motto: "The purpose of the site is to support the British National Party and [...]"). From one of its recent posts:
I do not know Lionheart personally but know him to be a very sincere religious man with deep convictions. We have not always agreed on everything but have been united in our fight to make our fellow True Brits aware of the dangers of Islam.
Lionheart replies in kind in the post's comment section; "Thanks Green Arrow, please dont put yourself on the line its not worth it".
Clearly the two aren't complete strangers to one another. Again, no illegality is implied here.
It would appear that whether or not the BNP supports Paul's plight, Paul himself is nonetheless a BNP supporter. Who'd have thunk it (note irony)?
Anthony Bennett: Lionheart's legal representative
Anthony ("Tony") Bennett, Paul's lawyer, is no stranger to controversy. A former Labour member, he's a relatively well known Euroskeptic activist and anti-metrication nut and was once associated with the National Front:
In early 2002, he was banned from standing for UKIP for two years and from holding office in the party in 2004 after he privately circulated a pamphlet in which he called the Prophet Muhammad a paedophile for having consummated his marriage to his child bride Aisha when she was nine years old, which Bennett stated would have been prosecuted today as a case of child sexual abuse. The pamphlet also warned of the probable rise of militant Islam in the UK, which were later claimed to be part of a "reasoned, academic exposition" aimed at explaining the reasons behind the September 11 terrorist attacks". UKIP described Bennett as "an energetic campaigner, with some extremely eccentric and individualistic views".
On 15 August 2004, Bennett began work as Robert Kilroy-Silk's Researcher and became a founder member of the Veritas Party in January 2005. In February 2005 however, Bennett was involved in controversy when it was revealed that he had previously co-founded the People's Campaign to Keep the Pound with Ian Anderson, a former chairman of the far right, White Nationalist party, the National Front. Bennett denied any knowledge of Anderson being chairman of the National Front at the time the two men formed the campaign, describing Anderson as an "English patriot".
Presumed innocent until found guilty
While everything remains up for grabs in this case, it remains likely that Paul will either not be charged with anything or be let off with a warning and a slap on the wrist. Alternatively, if charged with and found guilty of stirring up racial and/or religious hatred Lionheart could face a lengthy prison sentence.
Having read large swathes of Paul's two main blogs there is no doubt in my mind that stirring up hatred is exactly what he's doing, although that may be somewhat inadvertently and possibly due to ignorance of the law (which in one of his rebuttals in the comment section he dismissed rather cavalierly as irrelevant) but ignorance can be no excuse for committing an offence. Paul's constant equating of Radical Islam, Jihadists, Pakistani drug dealers and British born Muslim bomb throwers with ordinary British Muslims or Muslim British residents, is difficult to construe as anything other than stirring up hatred of Muslims in general. Ironically, the comment sections of his blogposts are a testimony that this tactic is working and that many are in agreement or are influenced by Lionheart's Islamophobic musings...
And so, no, until further notice I will not be supporting Paul's cause. To be continued...
The Sadly, no! blog has an excellent post on Lionheart, with plenty of quotes from Paul's rants, illustrating how it's hard not to see much of it is stirring up religious hatred, in the aptly titled Oh England My Lyin’ Heart blogpost. Read it...