Less than a month ago, Theresa May spoke outside Downing Street, in the wake of a terror attack – the second of the general election campaign. Responding to the assaults by terrorists on London Bridge and Borough Market, in which eight people were killed and 48 injured, she said that “we cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are. Things need to change, and they need to change in four important ways”.
“While we have made significant progress in recent years, there is – to be frank – far too much tolerance of extremism in our country,” she continued. “So we need to become far more robust in identifying it and stamping it out – across the public sector and across society. That will require some difficult and often embarrassing conversations, but the whole of our country needs to come together to take on this extremism…it is time to say that enough is enough”.
Yesterday, the annual Al Quds Day march took place in London, as usual – only a few miles away from London Bridge. The flags of a terrorist organsation, Hezbollah, were brandished as usual. Speakers pushed anti-semitic tropes, as usual – with one suggesting that “Zionists” caused the Grenfell Tower fire: no prizes for guessing what “Zionists” might be a code for. Ed Husain claimed on Twitter that others were more direct, relaying ” ‘Khaibar Yahud’ anti-Jew slogans”.
Ministers would bar a march by supporters of ISIS or Al Qaeda. They justify this annual pro-Hezbollah extravaganza by arguing that there is a distinction between Hezbollah’s “military wing”, which is proscribed in Britain, and its “political wing” which is not. This is a distinction without a difference, put in place largely to justify dealings with the organisation in Lebanon, where it moves in and out of participation in government. The organisation’s flag cuts to the chase: it shows the first letter of “Allah” reaching up to grasp a stylised assault rifle.
Three points follow.
First, it is obviously legitimate in itself to protest and march publicly against Israel, and most people do so without simultaneously displaying the flags of proscribed organisations. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign manages its events without masterminding demonstrations of support for Hamas or Hezbollah. It is noticable that it does not appear on the list of bodies supporting yesterday’s event. (The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which did, is a seperate organisation.)
Second, it may fall short of incitment to claim that “Zionists” were responsible for the Grenfell Tower fire, and it may also be that the concept of “hate incidents” is dubious. But while the latter remains on the statute book, it must be applied properly by the police. A hate incident, we read, “is any incident which the victim, or anyone else, thinks is based on someones prejudice towards them because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or because they are transgender”. There are claims that the police refused to register hate crimes yesterday.
Third, we return to the Prime Minister’s assertion that “we cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are”. But things continuing as they are is exactly the position in this case. Some countries maintain the fiction that Hezbollah can somehow be partitioned into terrorist and non-terrorist wings. Others recognise that this is indeed a fairytale, and recognise reality by proscribing Hezbollah altogether. The Prime Minister refuses to move from the first camp to the second. She says “Enough is Enough”, but delivers more of the same.
May piled up proposals in her post-London Bridge statement. She pledged a counter-terror review, longer sentences if necessary, and depriving extremists of “safe spaces”. But yesterday, a swathe of central London, starting at Duchess Street and ending at Grosvenor Square, seems to have been transformed into a very safe space indeed, in a city that continues to feel the force of terror.
There is no good reason why this pro-Hezbollah jamboree should be permitted at all. But if it is to be, those displaying terrorist emblems or pushing anti-semitic slogans should be arrested and charged. Until or unless this happens, why should anyone take the Prime Minister seriously?