This week, a British teenager was charged with committing a racially aggravated public order offence. In a society rampant with racially motivated crimes ranging from anti-social behaviour to assault and murder, it is to be welcomed that the police are taking a sterner approach towards protecting members of the public. After all, for too long now we have tolerated mobs of Far-Right English Defence League members marching through heavily populated Muslim areas hurling racial and religious abuse against them whilst vandalizing their cars and businesses. In the age of smart phones, there are an increasing number of amateur videos being uploaded to the internet showing racist bullies on public transport using the ugliest and most profane language to intimidate Blacks and Asians peacefully going about their business. Even the footballers are at it now with England captain John Terry and Luis Suarez all getting in on the action. It seems the authorities had had enough and so went for the most dangerous offender they could find and arrested Azhar Ahmed, a teenager who was charged for posting a message on Facebook.
Ahmed was unfortunate in that he happens to be Muslim and so immediately fit the post 9-11 criteria for posing a risk to the public. He should have realised that in Britain today, there is a twin-track system of justice in place: one for those of the Muslim faith and one for everybody else. In light of recent cases whereby Muslims have been convicted for terrorism for selling books widely available on Amazon, for uploading videos of insurgents attacking soldiers, and for writing poetry, Ahmed should have been more careful about his online activity.
So what did Ahmed do exactly? In the same week that news emerged from Afghanistan that a US soldier (or soldiers if those pesky Afghan eye witnesses are to be believed) slaughtered 16 civilians including 9 children while they slept in their beds before incinerating the bodies, Ahmed was charged for publicly bemoaning the lack of media coverage afforded to Afghan civilian casualties of the war in comparison to that given to soldiers. He then proceeded to call for all soldiers to fall down and die, withdraw from Afghanistan and make their next destination somewhere slightly hotter. In his words:
“People gassin about the deaths of soldiers! What about the innocent familys who have been brutally killed.. The women who have been raped.. The children who have been sliced up..! Your enemy’s were the Taliban not innocent harmless familys. All soldiers should DIE & go to HELL! THE LOWLIFE F*****N SCUM! gotta problem go cry at your soliders grave & wish him hell because that where he is going..”
One may gloss over the poor punctuation and focus on the intended meaning but not all are so forgiving. A spokesperson for West Yorkshire police stated that “He didn’t make his point very well and that is why he has landed himself in bother.” Azhar Ahmed should have realised that as a Muslim, poor articulation is not only a sign of a failure to adequately integrate into British society but also constitutes criminal activity.
Ahmed could be forgiven for believing that he was acting within the law. It is not clear what Public Order Offence he has been charged with but it would only be with a great stretch of the imagination to presume he committed riot, violent disorder, affray affray or fear or provocation of violence. Although it is Orwellian in itself for him to be charged with the remaining public order offences of using threatening, abusive or insulting words to intentionally or unintentionally cause harassment, alarm and distress. Ahmed only posted his comment on his own Facebook page visible to those who consider him a ‘friend’ and who if offended, would presumably respond from the comfort and safety of their laptops or smart phones. (Who knows if Ahmed has any friends?) If they were particularly offended, they may just delete him as a ‘friend’ or report the comment to Facebook as violating his account conditions. Ahmed was not shouting abuse at a soldier in the street, or on a public train or outside his house. Would his comments really have caused harassment, alarm and distress to others?
Unfortunately for Ahmed, his comments were deemed so offensive that his alleged crime was described as ‘racially aggravated’ meaning that at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, he demonstrated hostility towards the victim based on the victim’s membership (or presumed membership) of a racial group, or the offence was motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility towards members of a racial group based on their membership of that group. When I initially read the comments, I could not identify any racial element to the comments. In fact, on the face of it, Ahmed was calling on all soldiers to die and go to Hell, which could include members of NATO, the Taliban, the IDF and even G.I. Joe. Having painstakingly scrutinised Ahmed’s comments for hours today, I have finally identified the racial group towards which he demonstrated such hostility. It could not have been White people as there are many Asian and Black soldiers in Afghanistan as well. It could not have been Jewish people because Ahmed probably knows better than that. It could not have been Asians because Ahmed himself is Asian. It is clear therefore that the only racial group his hostility could possibly have been directed towards is the inhabitants of Hell whose membership he presumes includes soldiers.
Azhar Ahmed’s trial will be a test case to determining what we can and cannot say about the people of Hell. Their natives may even be identified and give evidence, although in the current climate, it is likely to be in secret and not open to challenge. They may even be given a protected minority status although Parliament has still not gotten around to amending the legislation to prohibit discrimination against Muslims and Christians (as is currently the case with Jews and Sikhs) so the people of Hell may be waiting some time. Rumour has it that since Ahmed’s comments were made on a website hosted by a US-based server, he may be extradited to the US to be tried there under the US-UK Extradition Treaty 2003.
It will be interesting to see if the authorities will be as aggressive in pursuing Scott McHugh, who has been a serving soldier in Afghanistan for several years, who posted on his own Facebook page in response to news about Ahmed’s charge, “Azhar ahmed you sick horrible twisted paki b****rd, how can you say that about our soldiers!”. Clearly McHugh’s grammar is slightly better than Ahmed’s but the comments seem to clearly be made to cause harassment, alarm and distress to Ahmed. It is in line with McHugh’s previous racist comments just after Christmas in 2010. McHugh’s friends have been less discreet.
Danielle Lufc Harker commented “Dirty smelly greasy b****rd needs f*****g torturing the dirty paki b****rd!!”.
Leighanne Gillott said “He’s disgusting and should be f*****g hanged!! He won’t get away with it, locked up or not somebody will get him, he will get what he deserves!!x” Presumably the ‘x’ at the end of her comment was not a friendly kiss but a reference to Azher perhaps being crucified.
Helen Massey Gordge ”Cheeky smelly pakki c**t wants tying to a tree n shooting …Smelly f****r..Lock him up n throw the key away ..Grrrhhhh….SKUM…!!”
A new Facebook page called ‘Azhar Ahmed Scumbag’ has also been created and has been liked by over 2000 people already. It describes itself in its ‘About’ section as “Azhar Ahmed need to be killed for what he wrote on facebook the scum! people like this should not be in our county if their not going to support it! out with the scum!!!”
Another of McHugh’s friend, Robbie Joedys Sampler, is active on this page. He commented about Ahmed on this page saying “Deserves to keep get blown up lyk them soldiers hoep he gets wots cummin to him”. Sampler previously commented on McHugh’s post about Ahmed that “He’s nothing he’s gunner die veryy soon”. Sampler has also been calling on people to attend court on 20 March saying “For all thoses who hate that scum that sed things about. The british soldiers deaths azar ahmed will appire in dewbury magistrates court on tuesday 20 march for all those who can make it let’s show him we dnt stand fpr people slaggin are soldiers on iv been told to post this monthmy wall if you won’t to see this scum get wot he deserves post this an get to the court.” The EDL have rallied to the call and are already planning to demonstrate outside court on the day.
In light of his repeated threats, there is a real risk of a genuine crime – assault and perhaps even murder – being committed against Ahmed. Surely if Ahmed’s comments were enough to get him arrested for public order offences, those of Sampler and company constitute incitement to murder. But don’t hold your breath. Sampler is not a Muslim. Moreover, he is a soldier in the British Army. This may make him an inhabitant of Hell and as we now know, they may a protected species.
Fahad Ansari is a human rights lawyer. He has also authored a number of articles and reports on international human rights, social discrimination and anti-terrorism legislation.