The British government’s double standards when it comes to free speech has been exposed as the English Defence League (EDL) and Unite Against Fascism protesters clash in Bolton.

With 67 arrests, and six people reported injured, including four members of the public and two police officers at the EDL’s march in Bolton, the pleads from Bolton Council and faith leaders in the community for the government to ban the march raises important questions. Exactly who is free to speak and protest and who is not?

Bolton Council and faith leaders had every right to be concerned about the EDL’s march in the town centre as violence has broken out in previous EDL marches.

The EDL says that it is a non political, non violent group opposed to militant Islam in Britain, however the group has been linked with attacks on Muslims and Asian-owned businesses according to the Socialist Worker (August 2009) when they marched in Luton, in May last year.

In March last year the EDL marched in Birmingham inciting violent clashes and more than 30 people were arrested by police.

The government’s double standards

The EDL has surprisingly been given latitude by the British government in comparison with Islam4UK, a Muslim group which believes that Britain should convert to Islam. They hit the headlines in January this year by planning to hold a protest march through Wootton Bassett, a town where members of the public paid their respects to the deaths of British soldiers killed in action.

Previously the group held an anti-war demonstration in Luton last year when soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment, known as The Poachers returned from Iraq to a parade in the town centre, on Wednesday, 11 March.

Protesters held up placards saying “Anglian Soldiers: Butchers of Basra” and “Anglian Soldiers: cowards, killers, extremists”, trying to highlight the innocent Muslims that has been killed during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars

The British media was furious, the Daily Express calling the protests “sickening” and the Daily Star going as far as to call the protesters “the enemy within.”

The beliefs of Islam4UK may not be shared by some people but the fact remains that like the EDL they have a right to free speech yet leading up to the Wootton Bassett protests the government decided to ban the group from protesting and even used the Terrorism Act 2000 to label them terrorists and making membership of the group illegal and punishable by up to ten years in prison.

So while the speech of the EDL is protected despite the violence that has been associated with those protests the speech of Islam4uk which was critical of British foreign policy is called terrorism. Is this a case of the government protecting the free speech of the far right when it suits their interests? This certainly seems to be the case.

Related article:

English Defence League plans Dudley protests

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