This is a London story I realize, yet would it be any different in the U.S.? How intimidated are we as a people of Islam? How prepared are you, and me to stand up for freedom? To stand against this type of bullying? How soon before this comes to our country, maybe your town?
This is just crushing. We are relinquishing our most cherished freedoms, our unalienable rights, with nary a whimper. What is wrong with everyone?
A talk on Islamic law and human rights by NSS Council Member Anne Marie Waters at Queen Mary College, London was cancelled at the last minute because of a Muslim who threatened everyone who came. The event was scheduled for January 16. Right before it started, a Muslim came in, filmed everyone in the room, and"said that he knew who everyone was, where they lived and if he heard anything negative about the Prophet, he would track them down. Not a whimper."
The man also filmed students in the foyer and threatened to murder them and their families. On leaving the building, he joined a large group of men, apparently there to support him. Students were told by security to stay in the lecture theatre for their own safety.
Jennifer Hardy, President of Queen Mary Atheism Society, who organised the event said: "This event was supposed to be an opportunity for people of different religions and perspectives to debate, at a university that is supposed to be a beacon of free speech and debate.
"Only two complaints had been made to the Union prior to the event, and the majority of the Muslim students at the event were incredibly supportive of it going ahead. These threats were an aggressive assault on freedom of speech and the fact that they led to the cancellation of our talk was severely disappointing for all of the religious and non-religious students in the room who wanted to engage in debate."
The police were contacted about the incident.
The organisers of the event, the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies called the police and the event was unfortunately cancelled.
On reflection of the incident, I am left wondering what exactly we could have done. I would love to say that we stood up to him and carried on bravely in a valiant defence of free speech, but it was a frightening experience and I know that people felt genuinely threatened and upset. In any case, is it the role of speakers and students to face off against potentially violent Islamists in defence of our free speech, risking our safety in the process? Just whose job is it to defend freedom of speech and can we be expected to fight for it when the state and other powers refuse to back us up?
Question: can you remember the last time you heard the Government – or any political party – give a robust and dogged defence of free speech? No, neither can I. But there have been plenty of opportunities.
Take the Danish cartoon affair for example. Look at the pathetic response of the British Government at the time; "There is freedom of speech, we all respect that ... But there is not any obligation to insult or to be gratuitously inflammatory. I believe that the republication of these cartoons has been unnecessary. It has been insensitive. It has been disrespectful and it has been wrong." Even the UN said it would investigate whether the cartoonists were racists. How can we expect people in a university lecture hall to stand up to violent threats when this is the reaction of our leaders? The message is very clear – don't insult religion. And if you do, and you get in to trouble for it, you have only yourself to blame (or "don't come crying to us"?)
Freedom of speech needs to be defended from above. We need prosecution and punishment of those intent on frightening people into staying silent. Until the state speaks out and makes it clear to the likes of this guy that this behaviour is not acceptable – no excuses, no apologies – these things will continue to happen and more and more people will be frightened in to shutting up. We can then say goodbye to freedom for good."
Read our news coverage of the story.