Main Site         

The free-speech defence won’t wash

2010 December 17
by Paul Vallely

Philosophically the easiest option is to take a stand for freedom of speech when it comes to the case of Pastor Terry Jones. He is the man who almost burned the Qur’an at his ironically named Dove World Outreach Center (congregation 50 souls) in Gainesville, Florida, on the anniversary of 9/11. Perhaps if I were a secularist I might speak up for his right to come to Britain on the grounds that protecting free speech means nothing if we do not protect the rights of those with whom we heartily disagree.

But I think that as his co-religionist – however tenuous that linkage may be – I have a different responsibility.

At the height of the international outcry as his Qur’an-burning day approached it was popularly said that the international media should not be giving this zealot’s flames the oxygen of publicity. To add to the irony, or perhaps the hypocrisy, this position was widely proclaimed by the very media which insisted on putting the weirdly- moustachioed minister on their front pages and at the top of their news bulletins. This was having your Qur’an and burning it – in the time-honoured media way of condemning something at such length, and in such detail, that readers are allowed the vicarious pleasure of indulging in the very thing they smugly condemn. The British press has done this with sex stories for decades.

But now the Home Secretary, Teresa May, has the opportunity to break this vexatious circle by announcing that is would not be conducive to public order to allow Pastor Jones into the UK.

There are plentiful grounds for doing so. Indeed his threat of Qur’an burning, and the trouble that caused worldwide, is so provocative that even the right-wing street activists of the English Defence League – whose anti-sharia rally in Luton he was supposed to be addressing in February – have announced they don’t want him. Indeed, they have disclosed they never invited him; he approached them for an invitation.

His topiary moustache is another give away. It is the mark of a preening vanity which is all the more extraordinary considering the lack of insight or even intelligence which has characterised anything he has had to say about Islam, or anything else for that matter. His pronouncements about the EDL, and how he could turn it from extremism, revealed either a startling ignorance about Britain’s far right politics (and its propensity for street violence) or else a clumsy attempt at duplicity. This is a man whom the German Evangelical Alliance said was expelled from the leadership of the Christliche Gemeinde church in Cologne in 2008 not only for untenable theological statements but also for a “craving for recognition” and making himself, rather than the gospel “the centre of everything.”  The English Defence League would be far better advised to get an Englishman to do their defending.

There are serious issues here. British politics needs to find a way of listening to the disgruntled voices of those who feel themselves to be a disposed white working class – or non-working class in many instances – without implicitly colluding in the religious racism of the EDL who portray Islam as “full of inherent violence, supremacism, and hatred and contempt for outsiders”. Takes one to know one, many may respond.

Some would say the same of Christians. Which is why it is important to condemn Pastor Jones and make clear that he is not wanted here. Muslims in Luton, who expelled the Swedish suicide bomber Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly from their mosque, were this week, fairly or unfairly, accused of failing to report him to the police. That is why people of faith should be the strongest voices in speaking out against the extremists in our midst.

From The Church Times

Comments are closed.