We Should Honour Leaders Who Defend Their Nation’s Cultural Terrain, Not Cancel Them
Events around the world, arising out of the Oct. 7 pogrom in southern Israel, have exposed multiculturalism’s core weakness, namely that ancient hatreds prevalent in certain cultures do not dissipate in the journey from there to here. Normally dormant, a trigger thousands of kilometres away can activate them. Jews are the primary target of angry Islamists’ hatred, but we are also witnessing a disruptive ripple effect that spreads in every direction, turning public spaces into contested cultural terrain.
This contest, best exemplified in London, England, in recent days, is played out in small ways and large.
Small: Poppy-sellers in public spaces like train stations, older veterans and harmless ladies who are not personally linked to any foreign conflict, have been intimidated and even physically assaulted by activists for a “free Palestine,” which is code for the elimination of the Jewish state.
Large: A Remembrance Day march for Palestine, including an estimated 70,000 pro-Hamas supporters, which required a massive police presence to monitor and manage. The police had begged the protest organizers to “urgently reconsider” the planned rallies, but they refused. Tensions were high, since a counter-protest organized by “Football Lads Against Extremism,” supporters of anti-Islamist activist Tommy Robinson, was planned to protect the Cenotaph from the pro-Hamas group. In the event, the two-minute silence was observed with respect, but the footballers skirmished with police before and after the silence.
That the Free Palestine contingent remained largely peaceful is due to the march organizers’ decision to keep it so. Nobody really knew what would happen. So the potential for violence that no amount of police could have contained was present, and sucked up the oxygen around what should have been a wholly focused and uplifting, culturally unifying ceremony.
High-octane blame for the footballers’ counter-protest fell upon Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who, in a perfect illustration of messengers being killed for delivering unpopular but necessary messages, was removed from her cabinet post on Nov. 13.
At issue was a column Braverman wrote for The Times on Nov. 8, which her critics believe was pivotal to the footballers’ counter-protest. In it, she stated some home truths. “I do not believe that these marches are merely a cry for help for Gaza,” she wrote. “They are an assertion of primacy by certain groups — particularly Islamists.” She also criticized the police, alleging a perception that “senior police officers play favourites when it comes to protesters,” for example indulging BLM protesters during COVID lockdowns.
Braverman is right. The London police do hold double standards (similar to those of other police forces in the West, including Canada). They threatened volunteers from the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism with arrest for a “breach of the peace” if they continued to display images of kidnapped hostages on their billboard truck, but routinely turn a deaf ear to calls for jihad. They prefer to avoid the provocation of publicly arresting criminally inciteful Islamists, because they fear that enforcement of the law will set off a reaction they will be powerless to contain. Yet a van full of officers arrested an ethnically British man in his home—handcuffs and all for his neighbours to see—for posting a disrespectful Facebook video about Palestinian flags in his area, not a crime. On Remembrance Day, two Met police officers happily posed for a selfie with a child dressed as a Palestinian militant, but when the British Friends of Israel asked officers to pose with their group, they turned the offer down.
Braverman poses an existential question for all democracies in which freedom of speech is held to be a sacred principle. She asks, with regard to the “hate marchers” (“a phrase I do not resile from”): “Are some public displays so offensive that they deserve to be banned? Is there a level of disruption to the life of a city that is too great to justify a demonstration?”
This question was asked and answered by Theresa May in 2011—at least in situations involving right-wing white men—when she was Home Secretary, and Tommy Robinson’s controversial anti-Islamist English Defence League (EDL) planned a march through Tower Hamlets, a densely Muslim enclave in East London. All marches in Tower Hamlets and four neighbouring boroughs were banned for a 30-day period. Nick Lowles, then director of the anti-extremist campaign group Searchlight, said the decision was a “victory for common sense.” The EDL, he said, clearly intended to use the proposed march “to bring violence and disorder to the streets,” and the ban had foiled their plans. He congratulated all concerned who opposed the “divisive” demonstration, concluding: "Legitimate protest is healthy. Violence and intimidation are not."
Could not these same words be legitimately applied to any number of Free Palestine marches in the West, including Britain?
Free speech absolutists believe that it is more important to the health of a democracy to permit hateful speech than to suppress it. That is a defensible position, but even those who hold that principle would surely not support the entitlement of hate speakers to dictate where and when they are entitled to exercise that right. It would be foolhardy on, say, the day of a Coronation to allow a demonstration by organized anti-monarchists with a large following and a history of violence, who shamelessly call for the assassination of kings and queens. So why allow a march on Remembrance Day by groups, half of whose organizers, according to The Telegraph, “have links to Hamas,” a terrorist organization, and so classified in all civilized countries.
As English journalist Melanie Phillips observes in her Braverman-supportive substack post, “Free speech is an important right, but of greater importance is the obligation not to cause, permit or enable harm.” Phillips writes: “The calls for ‘intifada now’, the genocidal ‘from the river to the sea’, ‘jihad’, and references to the 7th century slaughter of the Jews at Khybar are not rogue outbursts on the fringes. They are calls to war against the Jewish people and the west, and they are absolutely central to the purpose of these demonstrations.”
It doesn’t matter that many marchers believe they are marching for peace, a ceasefire, or Palestinian rights, all legitimate causes. The old expression, “lie down with dogs, get up with fleas” applies. Naiveté is no excuse. Islamism seeks control of public spaces as a strategy to a dangerous end.
Remembrance Day honours those who sacrificed their lives in the cause of liberty and democracy. Islamists hate both. Instead of cancelling political leaders with the courage to defend their nation’s cultural terrain, we should be honouring them.