Archive for February, 2009

Fitna at the House of Lords on Thursday (and it wasn’t Ahmed who delayed it)

The UKIP peer Lord Pearson of Rannoch has just issued a press release revealing that the postponed screening of Geert Wilders’ Fitna at the House of Lords will now take place on Thursday 12th February. Baroness Cox will chair the event, and there will be a question and answer session with Wilders after the showing.

Extra security has been ordered.

Contrary to Lords Ahmed’s claims in the Pakistan press that the event had been cancelled in response to his and other Muslim leaders’ threats, which apparently represented a “victory for the Muslim community”, Pearson states that the postponement was in order to “allow time for clarification on issues concerning freedom of speech”.

Parliament has ordered extra security for a House of Lords event with the controversial Dutch MP Geert Wilders. The private screening of Wilders’ film Fitna was initially postponed to allow time for clarification on issues concerning freedom of speech. Despite threats of demonstration from a British Peer and Muslim community leaders, the meeting will go ahead Thursday 12th February.

Wilders’ film Fitna features verses from the Quran alongside images of the terrorist attacks in the US on 11 September 2001, Madrid in March 2004 and London in July 2005. The film equates Islam’s holy text with violence and ends with a call to Muslims to remove ‘hate-preaching’ verses from the Quran. It provoked protests in Muslim-majority countries including Indonesia and Pakistan.

The leader of the Dutch Freedom Party, Wilders has lived under 24-hour police protection since 2004. Following Fitna’s release online in March 2008 al-Qaeda issued a fatwa calling for Wilders’ murder.

Wilders currently faces prosecution in Holland for incitement to hatred and discrimination. The charges are based on his film Fitna and comments in the Dutch press last year in which he argued that as Mein Kampf has been banned in Holland, the Quran should similarly be banned under Dutch incitement laws.

Wilders called the Dutch Court of Appeal’s decision to prosecute an attack on freedom of expression. “Participation in the public debate has become a dangerous activity. If you give your opinion, you risk being prosecuted,” he said.

The court ruled that prosecution does not conflict with Wilders’ right to freedom of speech. “Statements which create hate and grief made by politicians, taken their special responsibility into consideration, are not permitted according to European standards,” the court said in a statement.

The House of Lords event, originally scheduled for January, was not postponed in response to the threats made by the British Peer, Lord Ahmed. However, Lord Ahmed told the Pakistani press that the decision to stop the screening was “a victory for the Muslim community”.

Following the private screening there will be a press conference:

“The Quran and Freedom of Speech” A screening of Fitna (2008 – 17 mins)
Q&A with Geert Wilders MP (Holland)
No. 1 Abbey Gardens
Thursday 12th February 6:00 – 7:00pm

UPDATE: (17:35) An email from Baroness Cox explains in more detail what is meant by the “clarification on issues concerning freedom of speech”. Apparently, the original postponement occurred as a result of the organisers finding out that Wilders had previously called for the banning of the Koran, and that therefore

it seemed then a little inconsistent to proceed by giving a platform to someone who was advocating censorship

It was not until after this decision was made that they learned about Lord Ahmed’s threat of disruption.

this threat was not the reason for the postponement of that meeting

Ahmed’s boast to the APP was unjustified – as was the hysteria from some less scrupulous anti-Islam bloggers (just about all of them, in fact) who were claiming, without reliable sources, that parliament had been cowed by his threats to round up “10,000 Muslims” to prevent Wilders entering the House.

Bad Science v Bad Lawyers

Homeopathy is not a religion. But as it is a belief held firmly in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, it can certainly be classed as a faith. Similarly, those who still campaign against the MMR vaccine because they mistakenly believe it causes autism – in spite of the fact that there was no good evidence for it ten years ago and that every study since then has reaffirmed its safety – can also be described as faith-driven.

Jeni Barnett is one of those. Her recent phone-in show on LBC was such an egregious example of everything wrong and stupid about the anti-vax mindset that Guardian columnist Dr Ben Goldacre invited his readers co compile a full list of its canards for his Bad Science Bingo game.

To do this, he posted a 44-minute audio file of the relevant parts of the show on his site.

Yesterday, he got a call from LBC’s lawyers telling him to take it down immediately, and informing him that they “reserve their rights”.

Now, Jeni Barnett is free to peddle her hysterical ignorance, although whether she should be able to do so on air without repercussions is another question. However, if she is to do so, then other more informed parties should be able to rebut her nonsense point by point.

As Dr Goldacre points out

But thirdly, there is a question of the basic tools you need to illustrate a point. The clip I posted was, to my mind, hideous and unremitting: it went on for so long.

In fact it was so long, so unrelenting, and so misinformed that I really couldn’t express to you how hideous it was. If I tried, without the audio, you might think I was exaggerating. You might think that I was biased, that I was misrepresenting Jeni’s demeanour and views in this broadcast, that LBC and their parent company Global Audio are living up to the standards of basic responsibility which we might reasonably hold them to, as they shepherd Jeni’s views and explanations into our cars and kitchens. You might think that I was quoting Jeni out of context, cherrypicking only the ridiculous moments from an otherwise sensible, proportionate and responsible piece of public rhetoric.
Many of the specifics are discussed in the other post, but as a further brief illustration which has come to light today, on her website, Jeni Barnett is angry at the response to her broadcase being brought to a wider audience, and she is describing a nurse who rang in to disagree with her as “vicious”. Now, parenthetically, this strikes me as a slightly unkind and inappropriate thing to do as a wealthy public figure, a television and radio presenter, with an industry and (today we see them) lawyers behind you, to an individual working in the NHS for the good of the public on a low wage, with no such outlets, and no such resources. But more than that, I thought the nurse was actually very polite, despite Jeni talking over her, cutting her off, and expressing, as we have already discussed, unhelpful and ignorant views in a rather shrill and irresponsible fashion.

How can I convince you of this, if not with the audio recording?

The full recording is available at Wikileaks.

UPDATE: (8 Feb) Full transcript of the show is available at Science Punk.

Those silly lawyers have gone and created a blog storm.

UPDATE: In yesterday’s Times, David Aaronovitch has mooted the possibility of a class action against LBC

for permitting a presenter to inflict her preposterous prejudices on her listeners, to the detriment of someone else’s kids.

And MWW favourite Stephen Fry has entered the fray, leaving this comment on the Bad Science blog:

The fatuity of the Jeni Barnett woman’s manner – her blend of self-righteousness and stupidity, her simply quite staggering inability to grasp, pursue or appreciate a sequence of logical steps – all these are signature characteristics of Britain these days. The lamentable truth is that most of the population wouldn’t really understand why we get so angry at this assault on reason, logic and sense. But we have to keep hammering away at these people and their superstitious inanities. We have to. Well done you and well done all you supporting. I’ve tweeted this site to my followers. I hope they all do their best to support you. Publish and be damned. We’ll fight them and fight them and fight them in the name of empricism, reason, double blind random testing and all that matter.
Stephen xxx

Norway rejects blasphemy law proposal

Good news from Norway, where Dagbladet reports that the Norwegian parliament has voted overwhelmingly to reject a proposal to extend existing anti-hate laws to include blasphemy has been withdrawn because it was deeply unpopular among all parties – including the party which suggested it and Norway’s religious leaders.

At least, that’s as much as can be gleaned from Google Translate.

Fitna House of Lords show back on

This needs to be confirmed, but news is filtering through that Geert Wilders has been re-invited to the House of Lords to show his anti-Islam/immigration film and answer questions later this month. This is in spite of Lord Nazir Ahmed’s previous declaration of “a victory for the Muslim community” when he succeeded in getting the scheduled January showing cancelled.

At the moment, the only source of this story is Melanie Phillips in The Spectator.

UPDATE: (4 Feb) Speculation abounds as to which Lord invited Wilders in the first place. The most likely candidate is Baroness Cox. She has spoken in the Lords about “the threat of militant Islam”, and recently attended(or, at least, was invited to attend) a “Facing Jihad” conference in Jerusalem at which Wilders spoke. She is also co-author of The West, Islam and Islamism: Is Ideological Islam Compatible with Liberal Democracy?

Again, this is unconfirmed, so take with a pinch. But Cox is currently the clear favourite.

UPDATE: (8 Feb) It’s not (just) Lady Cox.

Wilders to appeal prosecution

This could go on for years. Geert Wilders has enlisted a top lawyer to ask the Supreme Council to overrule the lower court’s decision to prosecute him. Bram Moszkowicz is, according to Wilders, “the best lawyer in the Netherlands”.

Springer’s back!

It’s the gift that never stops giving.

The usual suspects are outraged at a plan by students of St Andrew’s university to stage the first ever amateur production of Jerry Springer: The Opera as part of the On the Rocks art festival in April.

Stephen “Birdshit” Green, national director of the failed fundamentalist organisation Stephen Green’s Voice (aka Christian Voice), makes all the usual noises: “cesspit”, “Mohammed”, “cowardly”, “evil”, “God’s judgement” – you get the idea.

His solicitor, Michael Phillips, who helped Stephen in the expensive BBC blasphemy case which effectively led to the end of the Blasphemy Law in the UK , had this to say:

It’s a worry that this production is rearing up again, and it’s sad that something with so little artistic merit was given such a lot of attention because it used profanity and blasphemy.

St Andrews University could be opening themselves up for protests which could lead to legal action

What? More bankruptcy-threatening legal action? Didn’t Green have to beg the BBC to waive his costs the last time?

if there is somebody with the right funding behind them

Ah, right. Once bitten, eh Mikey?

UPDATE: (2 Feb) Richard in the comments reminds us that Michael Phillips was the lawyer who acted so effectively on behalf of Emily “God’s Nob” Mapfuwa in the Gateshead Baltic art gallery case in which it turned out there was actually “no case to answer”.