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The arbitrary tyranny of woke censorship

Why were racist jokes on a WhatsApp group punished more harshly than the public glorification of Hamas?

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Free Speech Politics UK

So in Britain in the 2020s, you can be sentenced to jail for making a racist joke about Meghan Markle in private, but you’ll only get a slap on the wrist if you publicly celebrate the racist monsters of Hamas.

That’s the takeaway from yesterday’s judgement in the case of the three young women charged with celebrating Hamas’s barbarism by wearing images of paragliders on a demo shortly after the 7 October pogrom. I have ‘decided not to punish’ you, said Judge Tan Ikram as he handed the women a 12-month conditional discharge. This is the same judge who just a few weeks ago decided he would punish – severely – six retired police officers who had shared racist gags about Markle and others in a private WhatsApp group. He gave them prison sentences, mercifully suspended.

So there you have it. Slur a duchess and you get jail. Big up Hamas and you get a telling off. Rarely has the arbitrary rule of woke censorship been so starkly revealed.

The three women were convicted under the Terrorism Act at Westminster Magistrates’ Court yesterday. They were found to have displayed articles that might arouse suspicion that they are supporters of a proscribed organisation – Hamas. The articles were printouts of stock images of paragliders. On a ‘pro-Palestine’ march in London on 14 October, just a week after Hamas carried out its anti-Semitic rampage, two of the women had paraglider pics taped to their backs and the other had one stuck to her placard.

It wasn’t hard to work out what the pics were a nod to – the Hamas pogromists who got into Israel by air, on paragliders, on 7 October. The Crown Prosecution Service said the display of such images amounted to a ‘glorification of the actions’ of Hamas. The women were found guilty, but Judge Ikram seemed in a forgiving mood. ‘You crossed the line, but it would have been fair to say that emotions ran very high on this issue’, he said. Hence, he ‘decided not to punish’ them. Their conditional discharge means they’ll receive no sentence.

How different it was when six former cops, all in their 60s, appeared before Ikram in December. They were charged with sending each other ‘racist, homophobic and sexist messages’ in a WhatsApp group called ‘Old Boys Beer Meet’. Their targets included Markle, Rishi Sunak and even the late Queen. They were convicted of ‘improper use of a public electronic communications network’. All were given suspended prison sentences and ordered to carry out unpaid work.

Think about what this means. In Britain you can get a jail sentence for cracking racist jokes but you might receive no sentence at all for celebrating one of the most racist organisations in the world. Make a bigoted quip to your mates about the Duchess of Sussex and your punishment could be severe – publicly celebrate an army of anti-Semites just days after it carried out the worst slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust and your punishment might be non-existent.

Ikram said there was no evidence the three women were ‘supporters of Hamas’. They just ‘crossed the line’ at a time when ‘emotions’ were running high. Okay. But why was the same not said for the ex-cops: that their sick humour might have ‘crossed a line’ but it was only ever shared between mates in – and this really can’t be emphasised enough – a private discussion group?

My view is that neither of these cases should have got anywhere near a courtroom. No one should be criminalised for expression. Yes, that includes expressing admiration for the scum of Hamas. Using a picture of a paraglider to give a sly nod of approval to pogromists will be repulsive to the vast majority of Brits, especially British Jews. But if we’re serious about freedom of speech, then it must be allowed. The liberty to utter is enjoyed by all or by none at all. The bigoted, the ridiculous, the malevolent and the dumb must enjoy free speech equally to everyone else. When we allow the state – whether the courts, the cops or the cultural elite – to determine what is sayable and what is not, we cease to have freedom of speech and instead have licensed speech. The right to speak so long as we don’t say anything that ‘they’ consider wrong, wicked or dangerous.

The punishment of those ex-cops was especially egregious. To criminalise people for things they say in private takes us into Stasi territory. What next – a telescreen in every home to keep an eye and ear out for iffy jokes and unwoke utterances? Neither dodgy gags about Meghan Markle nor juvenile awe for Hamas, neither private chatter nor public commentary, should be a matter for the police. Ever.

Yet these two cases force us to contemplate the staggering double standards in the policing of speech. As does another recent case involving Judge Ikram. Last August, he ruled on charges made against Sarah Jane Baker. That’s the ex-con and ‘transwoman’ who, while out on license during his life sentence for attempted murder, kidnap and torture, attended a Trans Pride march in London at which he said to the crowd: ‘If you see a TERF, punch them in the fucking face.’ Strikingly, Ikram accepted that this was not ‘criminal speech’ but rather was an attempt by Mr Baker to gain ‘publicity’.

It’s getting ridiculous now, isn’t it? That calling for violence against gender-critical feminists or sympathising with anti-Israel lunatics is punished less severely than being an antiquated white duffer who tells off-colour jokes on WhatsApp is all the proof we need that censorship, always, is a tool of ideological control and political enforcement.

This goes far beyond one judge. Britain is now a country where Christians are arrested for praying in their heads near an abortion clinic while Islamists who holler for ‘jihad!’ are left alone and even defended by police. It’s a country where you can march through central London dressed like a Hamas killer but you’ll be lectured by cops if you put up a sticker saying ‘Women don’t have penises’. It’s a country where hundreds of people are arrested and interrogated every year for tweeting things or making jokes that the establishment disapproves of. The creep of censorship has become a tsunami. Forget a ‘fairer’ application of censorship laws – it’s the wholesale scrapping of these pernicious tools of thought control that we should be calling for.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: X.

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Topics Free Speech Politics UK

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