There is something spectacularly disingenuous about all the lefties crying: “Tommy Robinson’s arrest isn’t a free-speech issue!”
They’re right; it isn’t. It is straightforward contempt of court that landed him in the slammer.
But the implication of their frenetic tweeting and writing to explain in depth why this isn’t a free-speech issue is that if it had been, then they might have done something about it.
As if. The truth, as amply demonstrated by their silence, or even cheering, when Robinson has faced state censure in the past, is that even if this had been about free speech they would have done precisely nothing about it.
For these people, when it comes to Tommy Robinson it is never a free-speech issue — even when it is.
No one comes out of the Robinson debacle well.
Robinson himself doesn’t. He straight-up broke the law.
Last year, he was given a suspended sentence for contempt of court when he tried to film the defendants in a rape trial in Kent. The judge told him he would go to jail if he did it again.
Then he did it again. He filmed the defendants in a rape trial in Leeds.
This was contempt of court. And he knew it. There are strict reporting restrictions on the Leeds trial.
Now, I don’t like reporting restrictions, but I know why they exist: in this case, it is because the current trial is closely linked with two trials yet to come, and if we know the details of this current trial then that could jeopardise the others. Simple.
What is unforgivable about Robinson’s behaviour is that he risked causing the collapse of these trials of alleged Muslim gangs that allegedly targeted young girls. (All those “allegeds” are necessary, though no one doubts that this is the issue in these trials.)
Robinson claims to care deeply about the way the British state looked away in recent years as large numbers of mostly white working-class girls were groomed and abused by men of a mostly Muslim persuasion, and he is right about that. And yet he then almost jeopardises the trial of such cases.
This is idiotic and criminal. And that’s why he has been jailed.
Robinson’s fans don’t come out of it well, either. They have been spreading conspiracy theories about “the real” reason he was arrested.
They share memes showing Robinson being tortured as the British police and Muslim extremists look on laughing.
Oh, calm down. Your shrill arguments are a gift to both leftists and Islamists — your enemies — because they allow them to write you off as ignoramuses who don’t understand the law and love playing the victim card.
And finally, the left doesn’t come out well. “This isn’t about free speech”, they say, but for them it never is.
The fact is, Robinson has faced official or big-business punishment for his views in the past.
Marches by his first organisation, the English Defence League, were sometimes banned by the authorities. He has been prevented from speaking at certain universities. He was thrown off Twitter.
And in each case leftists said nothing. They don’t get to explain to us now what free speech is and what it isn’t, because even when Robinson’s free speech has been attacked they haven’t lifted a finger to defend it.
And who benefits from their nodding through of such petty authoritarianism against the so-called hard right? The hard right itself.
When they’re censored, the views of people like Robinson end up appearing more dangerous than they really are, and as a result more attractive to certain sections of society. These people get to pose as Public Enemy No1. Censorship boosts them more than it harms them.
Everyone needs to learn a few lessons. Robinson’s fans need to recognise that his imprisonment isn’t a free-speech issue. And leftists need to recognise that sometimes when Robinson is shut down, it is a free-speech issue.
And they need to defend free speech even for Robinson. Because if you give an inch on this liberty, officialdom will take a mile — and before you know it, it will be you who is being shut down. And then it will be a free-speech issue, right?