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Rod Liddle

The Twitter martyrs are true subversives

‘Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high.’ — Paul Chambers, on Twitter. ‘Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death. I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing.’ — Gareth Compton, on Twitter.

20 November 2010

12:00 AM

20 November 2010

12:00 AM

‘Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high.’ — Paul Chambers, on Twitter.

‘Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death. I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing.’ — Gareth Compton, on Twitter.

‘Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high.’ — Paul Chambers, on Twitter.

‘Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death. I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing.’ — Gareth Compton, on Twitter.


First, the context. Mr Chambers, formerly a financial manager, wished to take a flight and was worried by the temporary closure of his local airport near Doncaster; his message was sent directly to one friend but was spotted on the open network. And Mr Compton, formerly a Conservative councillor in the West Midlands, had just been listening to the ineffably stupid columnist Alibhai-Brown speaking on the radio about how politicians had no moral right to condemn the stoning to death of Muslim women when they’d supported the killing of Muslim women with war in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

Now, the consequences so far. Mr Chambers was arrested by the police under the Terrorism Act, lost his job and was convicted under legislation designed to prohibit nuisance telephone calls. He was fined £1,000. The judge, Jacqueline Davies, who is possibly even more stupid than Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, described Chambers as an ‘unimpressive’ witness for failing to understand the consternation he had caused to security staff. Mr Compton, a barrister, has meanwhile been arrested, sacked by the Conservative party, and faces prosecution. Ms Alibhai-Brown, once described by the director of the Centre for Social Cohesion, Douglas Murray, as ‘the most stupid woman in Britain’, at first demanded Mr Compton’s prosecution and then, when she discovered everyone was laughing at her, decided he should not be prosecuted after all. She felt the message was ‘racist’, though, because she is herself a Muslim woman — a conclusion so beyond the bounds of logic that only Yasmin could possibly reach it.

Incidentally, I do not quite agree with Douglas Murray’s assessment. I think Yasmin is the fourth most stupid woman in Britain, coming slightly behind Janet Street-Porter, Judge Jacqueline Davies and the woman I spoke to recently in the customer complaints department at Europcar. Also, there are lots of women I have never met who may be more stupid than any of these I have mentioned and with whom I had personal contact. We have to be rigorous about this, and put in the caveats, because you never know when the old bill might come a-knocking. It might well be a crime simply to call Yasmin stupid, without qualification.

She is, mind, the most self-important woman in Great Britain, as this latest episode proves. But there was also the earlier episode where, having been awarded an honour by the Blair government (yes, I know, I know), she wrote a column worrying about whether or not she should accept it and decided in the end to do so on account of the ‘little people’. She didn’t mean dwarves, she meant the public.

The other consequence of these two arrests are that almost everybody in the country thinks that they are absurd, perhaps even fantastically absurd. Scour the newspapers from right to left and the only comments in favour of prosecution in either of these cases come from media studies lecturers at polytechnics, who don’t count — and even they are able to see, as do the rest of us, that these comments were flippant and were not remotely an incitement to mayhem or murder. The usual bien-pensant lefties think it just as barking as do the growling curmudgeons on the right. Charlie Brooker, in the Guardian, for example, wrote a piece in response in which he said he intended to strangle everyone and challenged the police and the CPS to come get him. Stephen Fry — and good on him for this — has offered to pay Mr Chambers’s fines and crippling legal costs. Nobody, not even a poly lecturer, believes that Compton wanted Alibhai-Brown stoned to death or Chambers intended to blow up the airport — and those are the only grounds for prosecution — even if many did not find the Twitter comments funny. So why were the police and the courts involved?

Look at the deep structure. The real villains here are not Alibhai-Brown, thick though she is, or Robin Hood Airport, or even the police and Jacqueline Davies, but the political establishment. Both of those tweets challenged a political orthodoxy which the establishment believes to be beyond the remit of humour — or, crucially, questioning. The first is the sanctity of the war on terror, which you gainsay at your peril. You put up with watching the courts impose unlimited detention for supposed terrorists and long prison sentences for Muslims who simply say horrible stuff, you put up with reports of collusion and bribery with the repulsive Saudis, and then connivance with the Americans in the torture of suspects, and the Met Police shooting British Muslim citizens who have done nothing wrong at all, and that illegal war against Iraq, and the security checks at the airports, and the warnings to be forever vigilant, because we are whipped up into a fervour, a fervour which we are so gripped by that we are inclined to forgive these grave transgressions of democracy, because we are at war. No we’re not. Tweets like the one sent by Mr Chambers undermine this illusion imposed upon us; they challenge the official consensus on the war on terror. Mr Chambers’s tweet was, however unwitting or unfunny, truly subversive. And that’s why he was clobbered by the law.

Likewise with Mr Compton. Because the flipside of the war against terror is an almost deranged hypersensitivity towards Islam and a concomitant limiting of the freedom of speech. Islam is an amenable and peaceable religion and anyone who says otherwise will be prosecuted: that is the end of it. And so to, however jokingly, threaten a painfully politically correct Muslim writer with a painfully politically incorrect Muslim punishment is all too close to the bone; it exposes too many contradictions in the orthodoxy.


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