Big news in Britain on Friday was the acquittal of Nick Griffin, leader of the neo-fascist British National Party, on charges of inciting racial hatred.

Griffin had been charged, apparently at the government’s insistence, after being caught on camera calling Islam a “wicked, vicious faith”.

There were some obvious problems with this. Firstly, Islam isn’t, on anyone’s story, a race; despite the contrary impression given in the media, people aren’t born Muslim (or Catholic, or Buddhist). Attacking the choices people make is very different from attacking the way they were born.

Secondly, Griffin was addressing a BNP gathering, who were presumably fully on board with race hatred. It wasn’t a public rally, and it’s a bit of a stretch to say that reaffirming something they already believed amounted to incitement.

But the government (which has already passed “religious hatred” laws to try to address the first point) seems unrepentant, with chancellor of the exchequer Gordon Brown saying disarmingly that “If there is something that needs to be done to look at the law, then I think we will have to do that.”

If the courts don’t give you the right result, just keep changing the law until they do.

It shouldn’t need to be pointed out how insane this is. The thing fringe groups want most is publicity. Nick Griffin would like nothing more than to be jailed for his noxious views, allowing him, like Holocaust denier David Irving, to pose as a martyr for free speech.

As he said when the charges were first brought, “If the Government wants to put me on a show trial about whether we’re entitled to warn about the dangers of Islam, I will be absolutely delighted.”

At least the media seem to understand the issue, with both the right-wing Telegraph and the left-wing Observer arguing against change in the laws.

And spare a thought for Britain’s Muslim community: under attack from all sides (a Muslim man was convicted on racial hatred charges earlier in the week), staring at the prospect of the mother of all pogroms, could they really be foolish enough to demand an increase in the government’s power to ban unpopular religious opinions?

Peter Fray

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