Last month, Tory councilor Gareth Compton was arrested and later released on bail for writing a message in Twitter that said: “Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing, really.”
Compton has apologized for the Tweet and has declared that he was quite frustrated because Alibhai-Brown said in an interview that no British politicians are morally qualified to talk about human rights violations. Compton’s membership to the Conservative party has been suspended, he is now under investigation, and he faces prosecution under the Communications Act 2003, as the National Post reports.
Although Alibhai-Brown considers the message an incitement for violence against herself, some people consider the issue absurd because they believe Alibhai-Brown should be “used to” threats, since she is a journalist. Some others seem to condone Compton’s message on the grounds that Alibhai-Brown is wrong in expressing her opinion in regard to British politicians’ moral characteristics.
Regardless of Alibhai-Brown’s observations on politicians’ ability or inability to judge human rights violations, Compton’s comments belong to a different category. Compton is a politician and a councilor of one of the most multicultural cities in the U.K.: Birmingham City. This means that he is expected to be sensitive to cultural differences, religious diversity, and political correctness. Yes, one can disagree with Alibhai-Brown, and her remarks may not be accurate, but she represents neither voters nor the government.
Whereas it might be true that journalists and public figures receive threats constantly, the case of Alibhai-Brown, although not unique, is different. A public servant is not supposed to make such comments in public (or on Twitter); otherwise, Sir George Young, Leader of the Commons, would not have expressed his disapproval.
Even though some people appeal to freedom of speech and mock Alibhai-Brown’s concerns, the line between free speech and racism is difficult to draw. While Compton has claimed that his comments were unintentional, it is important to consider the context. If Alibhai-Brown was not a well-known Muslim journalist, maybe Compton would not have referred to her in terms of stoning.
Compton’s comments follow a bigger trend in which the media and many European governments look at Islam as the religion of stoning, honor killings and oppressed women. Perhaps if the situation was reversed, and Alibhai-Brown had called for Compton’s stoning, she would have been accused of being a “radical Muslim,” and perhaps some sectors would have expressed concerns based on the Anti-terrorist legislation.
Unfortunately, Compton’s “unintended” comments became public. It is understandable that he didn’t mean to appeal to an ongoing discussion on Islamophobia, but this also show us that we haven’t transcended racism and the process of “othering.”