A Tory councillor has been arrested over claims he suggested on Twitter that Yasmin Alibai-Brown, a female newspaper columnist, should be stoned to death.
You’ve probably read this in the news. If not, you can read about it on the above link, or here, here, or here.
But basically, a Conservative councillor, Gareth Compton, was listening to a radio discussion programme featuring the journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown when she (allegedly) said something that provoked him into making the following “joke” on twitter.
“Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing, really.”
She complained, along with many others. He has been arrested under the Communications Act 2003 and suspended from the Conservative party.
Where do I stand on this? Well at the moment, I’m thinking that this was a highly offensive joke for which he probably should be expelled from the Conservative party, but that it was clearly a joke, and not therefore something he should be prosecuted for. But I do think we need to judge what he said in the context of the statement of hers to which she was replying. Which is where it gets murky, because there doesn’t seem to be a definitive account of exactly what it was she said.
He claims that she stated the following:
The councillor claimed she had said, with reference to David Cameron’s trip to China, that no politician was morally qualified to speak out about human rights abuses, including the stoning of women, bar the likes of Nelson Mandela. [link]
But I can’t seem to find any authoritative, neutral account of what she actually said. The most I can find is Alibai-Brown now stating:
If I, as a citizen of this country, cannot even express an opinion about human rights and the moral authority of our politicians, what does that say about how equal we are? [link]
…which doesn’t confirm his account, but equally, doesn’t contradict it either. Why does it matter? Well firstly, because if he was responding to a statement which itself could be considered offensive (which we can only fully judge if we know exactly what she said and the way in which she said it), then his statement is perhaps less of a unprovoked and gratuitous attack, and perhaps more of an admittedly harsh, but perhaps satirical comment.
But I think it’s most important because of this:
She added that she regarded Compton’s remarks as racially motivated because he mentioned stoning. “If I as a Muslim woman had tweeted that it would be a blessing if Gareth Compton was stoned to death I’d be arrested immediately.” [link]
The implication here being, as the Telegraph puts it:
She told The Guardian they amounted to “incitement to murder” and as a Muslim of Indian descent, his remarks could be seen to be “racially motivated”. [link]
The question here is: who first mentioned “stoning”, him or her?
If she never mentioned stoning, then yes, there is a racial aspect to what she said, much as if a white American were to joke about wanting someone (who “happened” to be black) killed, but specified that it should be by lynching (ignoring far more obvious methods such as by gun, knife, car, lethal injection, gas chamber, electric chair etc.) .
But if she specifically mentioned stoning, and especially if it was in the context of a specific discussion about the current high profile stoning cases in Iran (Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani in particular), then I think there’s no real justification for assuming that the joke was racially motivated. (It might well have been, but I don’t think you can accuse people of racism on the grounds that racism could theoretically be a motivating factor in their actions).
Finally, I think when she says:
“If I as a Muslim woman had tweeted that it would be a blessing if Gareth Compton was stoned to death I’d be arrested immediately.”
…she’s guilty of a certain amount of hyperbole. Given the response to the Channel 4 Dispatches programme Undercover Mosque (no charges were eventually bought against those saying that gay men should be thrown off cliffs, or that Indian businesses should be bombed and Jews killed, but the police did request that the CPS bring charges against Channel 4 for broadcasting a programme including material likely to stir up racial hatred), I think her implication that being a Muslim makes her more likely to be arrested, were she to say something like this is not borne out by prior events.