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Don’t ban the Armistice Day demo

We must defend the right to protest, even for those whose views we find abhorrent.

Luke Gittos

Luke Gittos
Columnist

Topics Free Speech Politics UK

A protest, supposedly in support of Palestine, has been planned for this Saturday, 11 November, in London. Tensions are running high ahead of the march. After all, it will be held just over a month after the most lethal pogrom against the Jewish people since the Holocaust – namely, the 7 October attack by Hamas on southern Israel, in which 1,400 Israelis were killed. Plus, 11 November is Armistice Day, traditionally a sombre day for remembering the Britons who died in war.

The organisers – the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) – have already staged similar demos on successive Saturdays over the past four weeks. These have understandably sparked a lot of alarm and consternation, particularly among British Jews. While posing as ‘pro-peace’ and ‘pro-Palestine’, some people at these demos have flagrantly expressed Islamist, anti-Semitic and pro-Hamas sentiments.

The PSC has told the police that this Saturday’s protest is not intended to interrupt remembrance services at the Cenotaph (these will actually take place the day after, on Remembrance Sunday). But there are many who still consider the march to be a provocation. Senior Tories are calling for it to be cancelled. Oliver Dowden, the deputy prime minister, has said he has ‘grave concerns’ over the planned demonstration. As a result, the Metropolitan Police have come under political pressure to ban it using Section 13 of the Public Order Act 1986.

The PSC’s protests are politically and morally abhorrent. No doubt, this Saturday’s demo – if it goes ahead – will be attended by many well-meaning protesters, concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Yet they will still be happily marching alongside and endorsing Islamists chanting anti-Semitic slogans, as has happened at all the other marches in recent weeks.

However, as grotesque as these demonstrations often are, they must be allowed to proceed. It is vital that we stand up for the freedom to protest, even for those protests that we find objectionable.

The British state has been increasing its powers to clamp down on the right to protest in the past few years, largely in response to the disruptive demos and stunts of Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil. This culminated in the Public Order Act 2023, which criminalised certain forms of protests, and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which gave the police more powers to interfere in and even stop demonstrations – all supposedly in the name of ensuring public safety.

So the police may have lots of powers at their disposal to shut down this weekend’s abhorrent protest, despite the Met’s claims to the contrary. Still, they should resist the growing demands to use them. Banning the march wouldn’t just be wrong in principle – it would actually play into the hands of the Islamists, too. They could claim that this proves, once again, that they are being unfairly victimised by a no doubt ‘racist’ British state.

More importantly, a protest ban would do nothing to tackle the vein of anti-Semitism running through the ‘pro-Palestine’ movement. Instead, it would just push it underground, leaving it out of sight and unchallenged. As Louis Brandeis, before he became a US Supreme Court justice, famously argued, ‘sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant’. That certainly applies to the kind of hatred currently on the march in the UK. As difficult as it must be for some to witness these demonstrations, we should challenge their hatred out in the open, so we can expose them for the bigots they truly are.

The calls to ban this protest must be resisted. We have to stand up for the right to protest, even for campaigns we find objectionable. The freedom to protest is fragile and precious. We lose it at our peril.

Luke Gittos is a spiked columnist and author. His most recent book is Human Rights – Illusory Freedom: Why We Should Repeal the Human Rights Act, which is published by Zero Books. Order it here.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Free Speech Politics UK

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