With a General Election, it is more important than ever that we have hustings with those who would be our MPs. So I was delighted to hear from Sonal Sher, that she had persuaded those in Woking to participate – candidates of all major parties. Let the best person win.
Little did I expect in a British constituency the pressure and venom she would come under for doing so.
The attacks are on Facebook. First, that she had the idea, there was objection, because, she is a Kashmiri Hindu who suffered and has spoken about ‘ISIS style killings in the Valley’. Note that she was not a speaker in the event.
Then Sonal is called a ‘Hindu Extremist’ by Az Har. Says he, “You’re a Hindu extremist who brought (sic) your extreme religious views to our community. I’ve seen your posts on your profile pages calling Pakistan a ‘terrorist state’ and also vilifying Jeremy Corbyn and Ilhan Omar for supporting ‘jihadi organisation’ just because they have called out India for its human rights abuses. You’re spreading anti-Islamic propaganda in a town with a very high number of Muslims.” Continued Ayesha Tariq, ‘If any politicians were thinking of attending this event I would urge you to rethink associating your name with Sonal Sher. Her views go against British values of tolerance.” Ayesha argues Sonal’s hustings are ‘hate speech’.
Firstly, we live in a divisive time, even more so because of Brexit. So my first responsibility writing in a responsible paper is especially at such a time not to incite even more division.
Second, I do as a Briton, and a Barrister have a duty to explain the moral duties and legal rights. First, trying to shut down debate among candidates for Parliament from mainstream parties is what is unBritish – regardless of your religious demographic. I don’t care if all were Hindus, Catholics or Parsees in your town. Since the Magna Carta enshrined such rights of the people to speak, the traffic has been in one direction.
Third, to call out Pakistan’s association with terrorism is what Prime Minister Gordon Brown did as reported in the Guardian when he said 75% of all UK terrorism stems from Pakistan. It is what I worked on in the US Congress for Congressman Eliot Engel (a Democrat) when he was lobbying the White House and State Department to have Pakistan declared a ‘terrorist state’ under US legislation.
That statement was not against any religion. Like you, Sonal would say, true adherents would not say terrorism is your faith. But to stop criticism of Pakistan by claiming it is an attack on your religion reveals you are not willing to accept what a former Labour British Prime Minister and the plain facts are telling you and are trying to shut down debate by playing the religion card. It does not help you, your case or any religion to do so. Sadly, for Britain and Azhar, the terrorist on London Bridge proved the point about Pakistan.
Fourth, this well known ‘trick’ of claiming to be protecting human rights and using words like tolerance in order to stop candidates for Parliament to stop talking does not work anymore.
Mayor Khan had to embarrassingly apologise for defending terrorists in numerous press interviews as a ‘human rights’ lawyer when standing for Mayor. Let alone the libel of calling someone a religious extremist – ‘Hindu extremist’ - the term used for calling for a husting. We are educated. We know the plain meaning of words and their abuse.
It is not ‘hate speech’ under the legislation ‘Freedom of Expression' exception stating that ’nothing prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions’.
And to Azhar, I strongly suggest he read the case of R V Rogers (2007) 2 WLR 280 where a conviction for telling someone to ‘go back to our own country’ was upheld by the House of Lords (now Supreme Court) in a hate speech case. The words used by Azhar (presumably showing his tolerance in ‘his town’) were as quoted on Facebook ‘Like I said before it’s the UK not India, if you want that mentality then you know what to do…like us Muslims have been told for years.’
Yes, we need less division. But trying to gag our Parliamentary candidates is not less division. By trying to gag anyone critical of Pakistan is not less division. One set of homogenous views, shutting down all others, is not less division – it’s just unBritish and unIndian – just look at India’s demographics and the ‘argumentative Indian’. That’s why British Indians like Sonal like a good debate.
Az, Ayesha, British values of free speech are not hate speech when critical of Pakistan, when critical of terrorists. We share a common nationality; I want us to share those common values of understanding too. Either way, we will not be shut down or shut up.