Yesterday I signed a petition calling upon the British government to proscribe, to ‘outlaw’ in other words, the English Defence League (EDL). I also advertised the petition on social media and suggested that others do the same. Shortly after I found myself embroiled in a Twitter conversation about freedom of speech as though opposing the EDL and their approach (not just to Islam but to all Muslims) was the same as opposing freedom of expression.
There’s a long and noble tradition of freedom of speech throughout the West dating back centuries:
“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”
John Milton, Areopagitica: A Speech for the Liberty of Unlicens’d Printing (1644)
“Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it.”
Samuel Johnson in James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
But there’s a huge difference between ‘freedom of speech’ and the freedom to do (or incite) violence. Many people criticise Islam but the EDL go further – much further. Just a few minutes worth of internet searching is enough to demonstrate the litany of assaults an intimidation, arson and victimisation that this far right group of Nazis is responsible for. That’s not free speech, it’s violent discrimination against an entire demographic. And that’s illegal.
The EDL is as much a terrorist group as was ‘Muslims Against Crusades’ (MAC), another Luton based hate group that was proscribed by the Home Office years ago. Just like the EDL they were violent, sectarian thugs and their proscription had nothing to do with freedom of speech.
Muslims Against Crusades was outlawed for reasons of national security. The terrorist EDL should be banned too – not because of their opinions (odious though those opinions are) but because of their violence.