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Convicted For A Facebook Rant

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Teenager Azhar Ahmed has been found guilty of posting an offensive Facebook message following the deaths of six British soldiers in Afghanistan. The message he posted on his Facebook wall is reproduced below:

Azhar Ahmed’s Facebook status update

Azhar Ahmed’s Facebook status update

The judge called this “derogatory, disrespectful and inflammatory”.

Although Ahmed’s message is deeply unpleasant, I do not think that updates of this nature should qualify for a criminal conviction. Much political speech is “derogatory, disrespectful and inflammatory” and the first part of his message reads very much like a politcal opinion.

In the latter part of the update, he says that the soldiers “should die” and “go to hell”. Wishing for someone to die is also unpleasant, but it is not the same as a death threat. If it were, then thousands of Trades Unionists would surely have been prosecuted for wishing death and Hell upon Margaret Thatcher! No-one was specifically mentioned or targeted in Ahmed’s message. Moreover, it was broadcast to those in his Social Network – not towards the soldiers’ families.

To my mind, this reads like the frustrated outpourings of an inarticulate teenager, similar to the @Rileyy_69 and Tom Daley controversy. It is not the whipping up of an angry mob (unless the 8 Facebook ‘likes’ somehow count).

The appropriate response to this kind of ill-informed and unpleasant, offensive language, is through the power of the pen or the keyboard. Social opprobrium, and even Facebook’s ‘Report’ function for T&C violations are all means of discouraging this kind of speech, without resorting to criminal sanctions.

What’s next? Well, the religious overtones and talk of Hell in Ahmed’s message is noteworthy. The next step on the slippery slope is the criminalisation of offensive criticism of, and by, religious organisations. And those union members with their Thatcher’s Grave t-shirts better watch out too.

There’s another aspect to this, related to the other big free expression story of the moment: the “Innocence of Muslims” film which has been cited as the cause of rioting in Libya that led to the death of the US Ambassador.

As Alistair Campbell said, the British don’t ‘do’ religion, so blaspheming Christianity is hardly controversial these days. But it occurs to me that soldiers who have died in the line of duty fulfil a similar ‘sacred’ role for the secular British as the Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him) serves for practicing Muslims. Any denigration of either is seen as “derogatory, disrespectful and inflammatory” and worthy of punishment. I am reminded of Charlie Gilmour, imprisoned for swinging on the Cenotaph.

I do think that soldiers killed in the line of duty should be revered. Their sacrifices should be memorialised, and society has a duty of care to the families they leave behind. However, saying unpleasant things about them should not be a criminal offence, because sometimes their actions may be in need of scrutiny and criticism. Moreover, criminalising derogatory comments about one sacred thing opens the door to criminalisation of other sacred things too.

And before you know it, we will be confronted with a pantheon of plastic Gods and tacky idols, protected from criticism, staring mutely at us, as we stare mutely back.

9 Responses to Convicted For A Facebook Rant

  1. who_me September 15, 2012 at 10:29 am #

    “Although Ahmed’s message is deeply unpleasant,”

    no it wasn’t. it’s what needs to be said a lot more. it was his kind of sentiment that went a long way in securing an american retreat from vietnam. it was the sort of wishy washy hemming and hawing, support the troops type of sentiment, as expressed by the author of this piece, that has so far kept those troops killing, maiming and raping. as long as these “people” running the government (for israel) and their assorted lackeys and hired don’t feel the opposition in a strong way, they will keep on ignoring it as they do now.

  2. Blake September 15, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

    No one can even answer you when you ask what are the western armies doing in Afghanistan anyway.

  3. David Holden September 15, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

    the merit of those who die in the line of duty must depend on the nature of that duty.

    reverence cannot be in any way an appropriate response to the deaths of personnel when an armed force is deployed to commit crimes against humanity in the course of an illegal invasion undertaken at the behest of a gang of psychopathic usurpers who have gained control of the US government.

  4. Ariadna Theokopoulos September 15, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    I agree with both w-m and DG.
    This: “I do think that soldiers killed in the line of duty should be revered. Their sacrifices should be memorialised…”
    invalidates the very criticism it attempts to make.
    Revering soldiers for dying while killing innocent people in wars “of choice” and memorializing their “sacrifice” makes it impossible to indict those who started the wars.
    Continuing to utter in hushed whispers of reverence the set phrase “our men and women in uniform” while knowing that the US has not fought a defense war in memory propagates the noxious lie.
    The explanation many on the left make that most of those soldiers joined the army only because there are no other viable economic alternatives is not an excuse but in fact an accusation: why do they not assault the Congress, Wall Street, the banks?
    The chess table should be swept off because not only the king, the queen, the bishops but the pawns are criminals too.

  5. fool me once... September 15, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    Agreed. And even the white and black “squares” are culpable, by their complacency!

  6. Deadbeat September 20, 2012 at 12:11 am #

    It is clear that Azhar Ahmed properly juxtaposed the killing of innocents by the soldiers to the soldiers deaths. He was very correct in his outrage and commentary. Apparently Judge Jane Goodwin, is more about defending the status quo than she is about justice. I hope Ahmed is able to appeal the ruling.

  7. Roy Bard October 9, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    Azhar Ahmed sentenced

    Ahmed was also fined £300 at Huddersfield Magistrates’ Court.

    He will have to do 240 hours of community service over a two-year period.

    Ahmed was charged after the mother of one of the soldiers read the comments and was so upset she called the police.

    ‘lenient’ sentence designed to discourage an appeal?

    • who_me October 9, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

      £300 and the equivalent of 30 8 hour working days of slavery. doesn’t sound all that lenient to me.

      • Roy Bard October 9, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

        Well – he could have served time…..