Friday, November 12, 2010

Words Have Consequences

Conservative councillor Gareth Compton has learned this week that anything you say on a public forum like Twitter can have drastic consequences. Reacting to some anti-Cameron comments on Radio 5 Live by Yasmin Alibhai Brown he tweeted this...





A Radio 5 listener reported him to the Police and he was subsequently arrested, then released yesterday on bail. The Daily Mail reports Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's reaction...

Mrs Alibhai-Brown said the ­barrister’s behaviour was ‘crazy’ in the light of the recent conviction for attempted murder of Muslim ­student Roshonara Choudhary for stabbing MP Stephen Timms.

The journalist, who has written for the Daily Mail, said she regarded the comments as incitement to murder and added that the reference to stoning inferred that they were racially motivated. She pledged to support any prosecution and said the matter had upset her teenage
daughter.

She said: ‘I don’t use Twitter but my daughter does . . . she had seen the message, but she kept it from me so as not to alarm me. It has really scared us. You just don’t do things like this. It’s incitement.’


I would argue that all parties have severely overreacted here, and all been very unwise. Mr Compton's tweet was ill considered and stupid. The wording suggests that it was not meant to be taken seriously, but knowing how easily words can be misinterpreted on the internet, it was an idiotic thing for an elected politician to write. We all have to realise that what we say or write can have consequences.

But the reaction of the Police has been over the top too. Did this really warrant an arrest, when it must have been clear from talking to Mr Compton that the tweet was not meant seriously? Wouldn't a quiet word ending up with 'make sure you don't do it again' been sufficient?

And it is also arguable that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's reaction has been (some would say typically) over the top too. However, in this case I think we need to understand the reason for her reaction. As readers know, I know her quite well. On countless occasions over the last eight years she has told me of the abuse she suffers on the internet and she finds it incredibly upsetting. She regularly receives what appear to be serious threats to kill or maim her or her family.

Guido's view seems to be that this is the sort of thing you just have to accept if you put your head above the parapet of public life. I agree with him to the extent that we all have to put up with unwarranted abuse, but when it comes to threatening lives I think we all need to draw a line. I've gone to the police on only one occasion, not because I felt my life was being threatened, but because of a persistent case of what I felt to be stalking, which culminated in series of 40 phone calls in one evening and a use of the phrase "I know where you live" or something similar. We all reach a point where we think 'enough is enough' and I don't blame Yasmin for reacting in the way she did, even if the rest of us can see that the culprit didn't actually mean what he was saying. Those of us who have been there can empathise in a way that no one who hasn't been on the receiving end of sustained threats can.

This case is similar to that of Paul Chambers who lost his appeal yesterday. He had been convicted of “menace” after tweeting about blowing up an airport - “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!” Again, the legal reaction could be said to be completely OTT, but it again provides a real lesson to us all.

Words have consequences.

UPDATE: Tom Harris is less than impressed by Yasmin's arguments.

50 comments:

commentor said...

Oh honestly Iain, I could strangle you sometimes. People need to get a sense of humour.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

I agree with you that there has been too much heat on both sides.

However.

YAB has had all the benefits of political asylum in this country. She now spends her time taking the piss out of us. Yasmin, darling, it is safe to go back to Uganda now.

Bill Quango MP said...

Yasmin has a very important position in society. Yasmin's job, which she carries out admirably, is to make Polly Toynbee appear reasonable, balanced and considered.

IanVisits said...

Words have consequences.

Words only have consequences because the law is worded in such a manner.

I have long been uncomfortable with the idea that a person who says something should be held partially accountable if someone else then acts on it.

...although sadly, precedent does go rather a long way back in that situation - remember Thomas à Becket?

In my view, a person who says that someone should die, be stoned or whatever, should be considered an idiot, but not criminally liable if a total stranger then takes it upon themselves to then murder someone.

It's odd that if I said "kill someone", and that person then dies, I am held responsible - but if I said "reward someone", and they were rewarded, I don't seem to get a prize as well.

JuliaM said...

"And it is also arguable that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's reaction has been (some would say typically) over the top too. However, in this case I think we need to understand the reason for her reaction."

That reason being that she is an immensely-dim yet overwhelmingly self-important little nonentity who has traded all her life on her sole talent - being a Muslim female refugee?

Professor Pizzle said...

Yasmin has said some pretty dreadful things over the years. However, she has seriously, seriously underestimated how the public will react to this. Take a look at the comments below her piece in today's Independent.

Oh dear.

One good thing will come out of this. Do you seriously think any jury in this land (other than in Tower Hamlets) is going to convict? Imagine the TV pictures (Yasmine, CPS and the police) on the day the case is thrown out of court, and the media listens while the judge castigates everybody for wasting tax payers money on this piece of self-indulgent flummery.

Jess The Dog said...

As Dizzy points out, this is one of the pitfalls of Twitter. It's effectively a broadcast medium, like speaking on the radio or standing on a soapbox with a megaphone. There is a tendency to take it literally.

There's the peculiar legal aspect of Twitter as well, as a communications medium covered by the Communications Act 2003. Not sure how far this applies to blogs or Facebook. Clearly no-one sensible wants to see Yasmin A-B stoned or an airport blown up. But I bet if this was to appear, in (for example) a Liddle or Littlejohn column, then nothing would happen....it would be in bad taste, but in context, and the main difference would be the legal status of print versus broadcast.

I trust the Labour MPs who have been enjoying the riots will be taken to task in some way for their inflammatory tweets.

By the way, I reckon the Met knew that trouble was coming but decided to hold back in the knowledge that Conservative offices could end up trashed. It's impossible to conclude otherwise in the context of all that has happened since the riots a decade ago, and the unsavoury and intrusive practices the police have adopted to deal with demonstrations but seemed reluctant to implement on this occasion. Is an external force or the Home Office looking at this?

Minnie the Minx said...

Yasmin Alabi Brown upsets a lot of people every time she opens her mouth. If she receives hate mail it is no doubt because of her malicious interpretations of everything about this country, its people, its history, its customs, its culture and its language.

We are obliged to put up with her humourless spiteful observations day after day, week after week. Its hardly surprising that at some stage someone would react to her moronic provocations.

Chalcedon said...

Politicians all know how important their use of language is so much so that seeing one avoid answering a question on TV or radio is quite commonplace. They know that if they give a specific answer they will be held to account and haunted by it forever should they cock it up. To deliberately say what he said, as an elected politician, was asking for it to rebound and haunt him in some way. the police reaction was absurdly over the top but I can understand the journalist getting upset and annoyed by it. Sticks and stones OK, but a politician sould be more careful.

Jabba the Cat said...

In Alibaba's case I would suggest the original tweeter got it right. Thoroughly obnoxious woman who has probably contributed as much to bad racial relations in this country as anyone else in the PC business.

Boo said...

I wish that when people talk about about these thing being misinterpreted, they put in the context.
Apparently it was in response to comments that no politician had the right to comment on human rights abuses, even the stoning of women in Iran.

Perhaps the tweet was a tad OTT, but the response does kind of prove the point.

Personally I think this is an overreaction.
First why go straight for the racism acusation?
Such kick up a fuss and demand an apology, but be gratious when a sincere one is offered, certainly don't bring the police into it. Well not as a first resort

George said...

YAB is a pain the arse and really should be asked to leave the country. She has this innate ability to find fault and discrimination where none exists, and to be insulted at every turn and with every word. Why, oh why does she remain in the UK when we are so beastly and rotten to her.

Like so many, she has made a very nice living out of the race game and its time for her to either make an effort to adopt,adapt and assimilate or go away.
(Disclaimer:- I have no personal animus against the wretched woman, I just find her a pain and a nuisance and a distraction.)

johnpaul said...

SIMPLE THE MAINSTREAM POLITCIAL PARITES DON'T COMMUNCIATE WITH YASMIN anymore incase she gets uspet.

Colin said...

"Conservative councillor Gareth Compton has learned this week that anything you say on a public forum like Twitter can have drastic consequences."

Yes, but only if you're a Tory, it seems.

For Alibhai Brown to try to link, compare or even mention it in the context of the attempted murder of Stephen Timms is typical of her utter pomposity.

Hughes. said...

In the raw, humour or not, it's easy to class what was said as incitement, which is a lot more serious than the case of Paul Chambers.

But the left are desperate to claw back some kind of high ground after the Woolas debacle, so the reaction, predictably, is massively disproportional.

Jimmy said...

So frightened enough to go to the police but not too frightened to pick at the scab and drag it all up again.

Not like the Old Bill have anything better to do. People who go to the police just so they can mention it on their blogs should be fined.

JuliaM said...

Professor Pizzle: "One good thing will come out of this. Do you seriously think any jury in this land (other than in Tower Hamlets) is going to convict?"

I'd have said that about the #TwitterJokeTrial too. Until yesterday...

sinosimon said...

she's on the advisory board of your publishing company isn't she Iain?
is someone who overreacts in this fashion, and apparently believes that a conservative local councillor is actually trying to rustle up a stoning party, suitable for that role? i would say not. If she really believes that was a death threat she needs psychiatric help, and the relief from the stresses of her work for you would aid in her recovery process.
She is a horrid woman who is quite happt to vilify anyone who disagrees with her as racist when it suits her, and yet she treats one (very poor taste) joke in this hysterical fashion. you should sever ties......or do you think the vicious hounding of a man, on a demonstrably false premise that he was posing a real threat, is suitable activity for one of your business associates?
or do words have consequences only when they don't interfere with your profit margin?

wild said...

Jimmy, what a sad, bitter little man you are, you make Despairing Liberal look principled. I would have never have guessed you are a member of the Labour Party.

Roland Deschain said...

If she said that no politician had the right to comment on human rights abuses, even the stoning of women in Iran, then she has no right to complain when her comment is thrown back in her face.

If she's suffered abuse on the internet you'd think she might pause before saying that stoning of women is nothing to do with politicians.

Q said...

Today's headline: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has histrionics in an effort to self-dramatise and gain attention

Which is pretty much the same as every other day.

This woman is a moron, a thin-skinned pig-ignorant entitled joke of a woman whose whole purpose in life seems to revolve around whining victimhood based on her gender, her skin colour, her religion and no doubt a hundred other things that I can't even think on.

The fact that idiots like her are able to abuse the legal system in order to harass anyone who criticises them tells you all you need to know about the state of this country after 13 years under Yasmin & Friends.

Charlotte Corday said...

Didn't she claim that we had no right to make moral judgements on women being stoned?

Her reaction then seems rather ironic.

Bill Quango MP said...

Q said...

This woman is a moron, a thin-skinned pig-ignorant entitled...

Oh dear. I'd make a break for the border now. Religious bigotry and racism crimes.
The sound of the thought police's sirens can't be too distant.

guythemac.com said...

I know Gareth. This is a nightmare. Criminal charges would be an outrage.... we need to stand up for him: http://guythemac.com/2010/11/12/whatever-you-think-of-him-why-we-should-all-stand-up-for-gareth-compton/

Jabba the Cat said...

@ Bill Quango MP said...

"Yasmin has a very important position in society. Yasmin's job, which she carries out admirably, is to make Polly Toynbee appear reasonable, balanced and considered."

Alibaba is the Polly Parrot of Ealing Common.

Colin said...

"Again, the legal reaction could be said to be completely OTT, but it again provides a real lesson to us all."

The lesson presumably being that we now live in a fascist police state.

pete-s said...

"Referring to PM David Cameron’s visit to China, Ms Alibhai-Brown said that no politician was morally qualified to comment on human rights abuses, including the stoning of women." I suppose the sanctimonious Brown presumes she does!

JuliaM said...

"This woman is a moron, a thin-skinned pig-ignorant entitled joke of a woman whose whole purpose in life seems to revolve around whining victimhood based on her gender, her skin colour, her religion and no doubt a hundred other things..."

Hey, no fair just copy & pasting her Wikipedia entry - tell us what you think... ;)

OldSlaughter said...

No no no.

The guy was not an idiot for saying what he said, it was perfectly justified irony.

Words of that nature SHOULD NOT have consequences. Like the offensive cartoons, they cannot arrest everyone. We should all be tweeting the same rather than assuming the reaction to such things is inevitable or justified.

The law is an ass. We must prove that.

YAB is a ghastly human and appalling writer

Ken Tindell said...

"but it again provides a real lesson to us all."

Yes. That lesson is that anyone can have their words taken out of context and menaced by anyone in authority whenever they feel inclined. The words "chilling effect" don't even begin to cover it.

Cardinal Richelieu said "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him."

500 odd years later it describes perfectly what's going on here: individual pieces of a complex highly contextual chains of thought are being ripped from their context and used to accuse unjustly. Some people are doing this deliberately in the knowledge of Richelieu's truism.

Brian said...

West Midlands Police have "previous" in cases affecting "community" relations as they say. Here and here. Remember how CCTV was switched off in Muslim dominated areas - would that happen anywhere else ?

Mirtha Tidville said...

So she gets upset when she reads nasty comments about her does she....well that should make a change from dishing them out.Well here`s some more....its people like her that have turned ordinary tolerant people into foaming racists...

Why does the media give this British hating oxygen thief publicity...

Lady Finchley said...

Aw, the Patron Saint of victimhood has hurt feelings - diddums.

She who lives by the sword....

A reasonable but angry man said...

You are patient and reasonable to a fault, Iain. YAB is an irksome and factious individual who makes a living out of being a victim, perceived or real. Were she of almost any other background, then her shallow, perverse and solipsistic views would be challenged openly more often. Thank goodness that the gradual disippation of political correctness may lead to less kid glove treatment of her special whining brand of clueless nonsense. Perhaps we can then listen instead to people on our televisions and radios who have real opinions, instead of one-dimensional dogma. She makes our national life duller, more broodingly joyless and (now) more threatening. And if you are reading this, dear Yasmin, it's for no other reason, however much you may wish it was, than that you are uninteresting and bigoted.

Houdini said...

So this is an arrestable offence, but what happened in London with the shameful display by muslims burning poppys and calling British soldiers murderers etc. of okay and they deserve the protection of police while they do it?

Unsworth said...

I remain completely unimpressed by Alibhai-Brown. She has made a study of being a victim from the moment she entered this country. It's quite appalling - but entirely unsurprising - that she should take this stance. Anyone who has observed her 'career' to date would recognise her tendency to dramatise anything and everything.

Is there any real evidence so support her allegations as to her daughter's reaction - and what bearing, in law, does it have?

Since when has a reference to the Moslem religion been a matter of race?

"but she kept it from me so as not to alarm me." Oh really? Perhaps the daughter had other motives for so doing - if she did at all. I'm reminded of Absolutely Fabulous and another long-suffering daughter.

killemallletgodsortemout said...

You beat me to it, Houdinin.

Steve H said...

Isn't calling on YAB to be stoned to death (even in jest) about as offensively crass as calling on a Jew to be gassed to death (even in jest)?

wendy mann said...

i posted a wholly decent comment against mr harris' point of view, and he hasnt posted it (still under moderation whilst other posts have been posted) .

it would appear dissent against his views are not allowed, at least on his blog .. i did take a screen grab as proof of concept.

wendy mann said...

i posted a wholly decent comment against mr harris' point of view, and he hasnt posted it (still under moderation whilst other posts have been posted) .

it would appear dissent against his views are not allowed, at least on his blog .. i did take a screen grab as proof of concept.

Stuart Reid said...

Iain, 99% of the time I agree with you, but your misjudgement has driven me to comment here for the first time.

You are saying that people in the public arena should know better, because the public are idiots. Surely the argument should be that the public should be less idiotic?

This person who is offended, is offended because it suits her argument. Tell you what, let's see if her daughter actually showed her, or whether that's just a convenient story.

That you condone this legal action just because you know the person speaks volumes. Iain, your opinion shouldn't be based on degrees of separation. You're showing a lack of character.

English Pensioner said...

What about the Labour MP's who allegedly twittered giving encouragement to the student rioters?
Or is racism more serious than encouraging criminal damage and attempted murder?

Weygand said...

A guy makes a joke.

A joke which most people would have found funny - and in the context not at all aggressive.

But you cannot defend him.

Is it that this lady is a friend or a business partner or simply that you also have become too PC?

Look through previous posts which you have posted over the years on this blog and ask yourself how many might make you liable to being arrested should the same criteria be applied.

Shame on you for not defending free speech and a sense of humour.

jojoko said...

And the lesson is we must all be politically correct because Big Brother is watching us 24/7.

talwin said...

So when any one of the umpteen who have opined over the last few months things like, "MPs should be strung up with piano wire", should, properly, have been taken seriously and deserved a visit from the police, should they?

Same after the ghastly, bizarre, and often violent outbursts, usually from the left, aimed at Margaret Thatcher (whose dignified silence put the likes of YAB & her opportunist ilk to shame)?

Give me strength.

freddo41 said...

I couldn't agree more with this letter in the Guardian today:

. . . the hash tag in Gareth Compton's case makes it perfectly clear that he was responding to what YBA had said on Five Live. She was a person that morning who limited the right to moral condemnation of a woman in Iran who faces being stoned to death to those whom she deemed morally superior enough to do it so people can't feel outrage at this woman's likely fate unless they sign up to a whole bundle of opinions sanctioned by YBA. Again, recognising the context, it requires deliberately perverse reading to come to the conclusion that the tweet is anything but a response to the limits YBA wishes for reasons entirely to do with her own political opinions to put on moral judgement of a state that stones women to death. Once the event had happened she was then determined to see it in in the worst possible light, dismissing an apology and all other possible explanations than the ones that fit her narrative that she has been attacked because she is a woman, a Muslim, and non-British born as if everyone who ever criticises her only respond to her personal characters rather than her persistently poor reasoning.

Thank you Pythia 67!

Bill Quango MP said...

freddo41.

Well said. An excellent comment to finish on.

Only slight spoiled by this one now pushing you off the bottom.

econyonium said...

No! The words could not be easily misunderstood, what was said and in what spirit it was said was quite clear to all except those who want to make an issue out of nothing.

It is not words that have consequences, it is the oppressive laws passed to limit our use of them.

wild said...

"Isn't calling on YAB to be stoned to death (even in jest) about as offensively crass as calling on a Jew to be gassed to death (even in jest)?"

You really haven't grasped the concept of free speech yet have you.

Pogo said...

"Sticks and stones..."

This miserable, pathetic country needs seriously to grow up.