If you believe the Daily Mail, then a European election candidate has been arrested “for quoting Winston Churchill”.
It seems that Paul Weston, leader of the tiny far-right Liberty Great Britain party, was arrested on suspicion of inciting racial and religious hatred.
Whatever view we take on the rightness or wrongness of Weston’s arrest, it should have nothing to do with Churchill. If it’s right (or wrong) to stop him expressing bigoted views, then it’s right (or wrong) regardless of the identity of the person he was quoting.
There is a legitimate debate to be had about whether someone should be arrested for expressing opinions, however hateful and prejudiced they may be. Inciting violence should certainly be illegal. When it comes to bigotry that can inspire hatred, I find it hard to know where the line should be. Of course, I don’t even know whether Weston’s account of the event is accurate. I wasn’t there.
But if anything good comes out of this squalid incident, it’s that the publicity around it will make more people aware of Churchill’s real views. Churchill was a racist and strongly prejudiced against Muslims. No amount of lauding him as a national hero (based on some questionable national myths about the second world war) can make this less true.
Take the words of Churchill that Weston quoted. Churchill, in many ways an intelligent man, nonetheless descended to the level of ill-informed nonsense when it came to Muslims. He said they were cursed by “fanatical frenzy” and “fearful fatalistic apathy”.
He wrote, “The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity.”
Churchill insisted that “No stronger retrograde force [than Islam] exists in the world.”
We cannot excuse all this by saying that Churchill was a man of his time. Plenty of British people at the time had a better knowledge of Islam, while many who did not were still able to understand the unfairness of sweeping generalisations not backed up by evidence.
Unfortunately, the arrest and associated coverage has probably increased the number of people who have heard of Liberty Great Britain several times over. I decided to find out a bit about it.
Paul Weston, a former UKIP candidate in central London, was briefly chairman of the British Freedom Party, formed largely by ex-BNP members with links to the English Defence League. He then went on to set up Liberty Great Britain, which is to field three candidates in the south-east region for the European election. The third candidate on the list, Jack Buckby, recently stated that no real Muslim is peaceful and that “not all nations are necessarily equal”.
No-one should be giving much publicity to these people without pointing out the far-right, racist nature of their party. The article in the Mail barely mentioned it.
According to Liberty Great Britain’s website, their main concerns are “mass immigration from the third world, the steady rise of fundamentalist Islam and the hijacking of traditional British culture and institutions by well-organised left-wing progressives”.
Speaking as a left-wing progressive, I only wish we were as organised as that statement implies.