Anne Marie Waters
Tuesday 3rd August 2021
It’s quite a place. This small corner of Hyde Park in London has been a place of open speech and debate for 100s of years. It’s a well known, and much welcome, tradition in the capital city’s most famous park. I’ve spoken there before, but this time was a little bit different.
I visited Speakers’ Corner on Sunday, a week after Hatun Tash, an outspoken critic of Islam and Christian, was attacked with a knife by an incensed Muslim – incensed because she speaks critically of Islam there regularly, but also, I suspect, because she wore a t-shirt commemorating the brutal murders of cartoonists at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris back in 2015.
Probably unsurprisingly, police failed to apprehend her attacker, and were left with questions to answer as to why. The Daily Mail writes:
Scotland Yard was today criticised for failing to catch a knifeman five days after he stabbed a Christian preacher wearing a Charlie Hebdo T-shirt at Speakers’ Corner, as counter-terrorism officer continue to investigate.
An estimated 30 witnesses saw Hatun Tash, 39, being slashed across the face in broad daylight at Hyde Park on Sunday with some filming what happened in an area of Central London that is packed with CCTV cameras.
The force are believed to be holding a meeting today to discuss how they police Speakers’ Corner going forward, but questions are being asked about how the attacker got away so easily after stabbing the preacher.
Having visited Speakers’ Corner again, for the first time in some years, I’m not remotely surprised he got away.
How do I describe it? “Discussion” or “debate” are not appropriate words. You have to raise your voice to be heard at Speakers’ Corner; though luckily I did manage a few civilised conversations as well! It is, for the most part, people with something to shout but no intention to listen.
Among the crowd were Muslims who I have no doubt know full well who attacked Hatun, and smug grins gave it away. One such Muslim made a ‘shooting’ hand sign in my direction, others tried that slimy old tactic of slippery words and redirections – refusing to answer questions.
Also shouting at the top of their voices were those with the unfortunate ‘woke’ view of things – that freedom to criticise Islam is a freedom that leads to trouble, therefore it is the speaker that is guilty, not his or her attackers.
This was the theme of the day. It’s one I’m familiar with. My first encounter with it was in 2012 when I was to give a talk at Queen Mary University in East London. This was hijacked by a Muslim who issued threats, but when the police arrived, they clearly put the blame at my feet. “It’s only to be expected when you make speeches like this” was the prevailing view then as well.
This is the country’s problem in a microcosm. We have allowed the bullies to gain the upper hand and they’re using it with brutality. As a society, we have placed so much emphasis on not causing offence, that those who are offended feel justified in exercising violence to demonstrate it. Then the speaker is condemned for provoking the rage.
It’s a moral inversion with potentially catastrophic consequences. Even the law of the land now will (and does) prosecute for offensive speech, lending legitimacy to those already feeling aggrieved.
It is a political position that brings free speech to an end, and that creates a hierarchy of importance among different groups. We all know it won’t matter to the press, politicians, or police if those on the right of politics are offended. In fact, it is those on the right, no matter how moderate the expression of their views, that are most likely to be accused of causing offence, and even blamed if they are subjected to violence as a result.
It is a tactic as old as totalitarianism itself to accuse people of “hate speech” if they dare to publicly dissent against the left-leaning view. If one engages in “hate speech”, they can expect to be held to account, even by mobs, and little help or sympathy will be forthcoming.
That Hatun Tash was attacked at Speakers’ Corner is strongly symbolic of the state of freedom in the UK in 2021. If the bullies can take over that area, and they have, it’s a victory for them and a message to the rest of us: your speech is only free if the bullies agree.
Only a strong grassroots movement of the people can bring this situation to an end. For Britain is, and will continue to be, the rise of that movement.
Anne Marie Waters
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