No trial for Islamophobic tweeter Matthew Doyle, but the mere fact of his arrest has served to further chill freedom of thought and speech in Britain
Vindication for “mealy-mouthed” tweeter Matthew Doyle, who will not be prosecuted for inciting racial hatred with silly social media messages after the police realised that they vastly overstepped their authority by arresting a man for speechcrime without first consulting with the Crown Prosecution Service.
The Guardian reports:
Charges against a man accused of posting tweets likely to stir up racial hatred have been dropped, Scotland Yard has said.
Police charged Matthew Doyle, 46, with a public order offence on Friday amid allegations that he tweeted about confronting a Muslim woman to ask her to “explain Brussels”.
But officers admitted later the same day that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) disagreed with their decision, adding that they did not have the legal power to bring the charges in the first place.
A statement released by police in the early hours of Friday morning said Doyle had been “charged under section 19 of the Public Order Act 1986; publishing or distributing written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, likely or intended to stir up racial hatred”.
[..] But, late on Friday night, the Metropolitan police released a second statement saying that Doyle was “no longer charged with the offence and will not be appearing at court”.
It said: “Police may not make charging decisions on offences under Section 19 of the Public Order Act. There will be further consultation with CPS.”
So Doyle escapes on a technicality, the police (ever eager to respond to busybody public complaints about alleged thoughtcrime but much slower to respond when real crime occurs and your house is burgled) having brazenly overstepped their authority.
No doubt this is a relief for Matthew Doyle, whose initial tweet suggesting that all Muslims bear responsibility for the Brussels attacks, and subsequent inflammatory defence of that tweet, saw his life briefly put on hold and his flat ransacked by the police in their search for “evidence”.
But is this a victory for free speech?
Absolutely not. The fact that these draconian hate speech laws are on the statue book in the first place is an intolerable, long-standing affront to free speech in Britain. And the fact that the Metropolitan Police in London were able to drag a man from his home and hold him in jail when they did not have the authority to do so without suffering any kind of consequence whatsoever – there is certainly no talk of disciplining the officer(s) involved – is despicable too.
We must understand that the battle for free speech is won or lost at the margins. That often means defending the rights of people with truly heinous opinions on all manner of subjects to express themselves, while abhorring what they actually say. In this case, Matthew Doyle is hardly the world’s number one villain. He tweeted something particularly stupid about Muslims in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Brussels, but he was light years away from cheering on such attacks himself (as many others do), or urging reprisals on all Muslims for what the Brussels terrorists did.
Under no reasonable definition of the word did Doyle “incite” anything at all, except in the minds of those joyless thought police who hold such a low view of humanity that they constantly fret that the public are mindless lemmings liable to being whipped up into a violent mob if they ever encounter a slightly controversial ideas. No, Doyle’s only crime was to be ignorant, and to broadcast that ignorance on social media.
Look at Doyle’s Twitter account page now, a full five days after his arrest and release. There is nothing new. Doyle has effectively been silenced, stopped from expressing his sincerely held opinions – opinions which he is fully entitled to hold, no matter how silly or wrong they may be – after the full weight of the criminal justice system came crashing down on his head one sunny afternoon:
The online disappearance of a man who was until now a fairly prolific Twitter user is quite poignant. It shows a case of public idiocy being responded to not with rebuttal, debate, correction and forgiveness, but rather with vengeful mob justice backed by the power of the state. It shows a free voice, however ignoble it may have been in this case, being frightened into silence.
Prior to his arrest, Matthew Doyle was more than happy to interact and debate with the army of online critics who mocked and argued with him. That is how free speech is supposed to work. Bad ideas are drawn out into the open, debated, dissected and discarded. Maybe Doyle would never have changed his views in response to his Twitter critics, but others observing the dialogue unfold may have done. And in any case, it added to the infinite tapestry of our social discourse.
Following his release, there are no new tweets. Any future opportunity for learning, debate or correction has been lost. And all because some moralising busybodies with nothing better to do thought that the best response to seeing something they disliked on the internet was to report it to the police. And because the police, who prefer to sit at desks scouring Twitter looking for thoughtcrime rather than getting out and tackling real crime, leapt at the opportunity to show their PC tolerance by arresting a man for his beliefs.
You don’t need to throw people in prison to create a chilly, hostile environment for free speech and free thought – although there are plenty of people languishing in British prisons simply for saying, writing, posting or singing the “wrong” things, “offensive” things.
You can suppress free speech in a society just as effectively by the threat of public shaming, harassment by the police and potential prosecution under draconian but arbitrarily applied laws. And in the case of Matthew Doyle, the message has been received loud and clear:
Think the wrong thoughts or write the wrong thing on social media, and we will come for you. We are watching you, all the time. Give offence to anyone, intentionally or not, and they have the right to make a criminal complaint about your speech. And in response, the police will come to your house in the middle of the night, bundle you into the back of a police van, take you away and leave you to fester in a jail cell for a day before grudgingly releasing you. Your arrest will be made public, and your reputation will be forever stained as the person whose ideas and opinions were so heinous that they got in trouble with the law. Good luck with the rest of your life and career.
This is Britain. In the year 2016. And this is what now happens to people who say the wrong thing or express an unpopular idea in public or on social media.
And you dare to boast that we live in a liberal, tolerant country which respects human rights and free speech?
Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.
Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on Twitter, Facebook and Medium.
It seems it was the pew forum URL that was causing the problems with posting. If you wish to see it, then visit:
and search for the article the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-beliefs-about-sharia
dated 2013 04 30
In any case, you simply are not in a position to make an assertion about what the ‘lived experience’ of most Muslims in the UK today is. To make such an assertion you would have to be able to get inside the heads of all the millions of individuals.
My position is that I take someone at their word. If they say they are a Muslim then I take it as read that they believe that the Koran is the word of Allah, and that Mohammed was his messenger and also the most perfect man who ever lived.
Considering that we would today liken such a career as his to that of a career criminal, then I take them at their word that they admire a career criminal as the most perfect man who ever lived. I have no doubt whatsoever that many living Muslims in the UK today (I simply cannot know HOW many) would feel entirely justified in killing me for making this statement, and I have little doubt that the number is large and significant.
I will not therefore feel completely safe until every Muslim (with the possible exception of the Ahmadis) has left the UK or denounced his religion. It is the fear that Islamic texts provoke, shared by many, that is eroding our freedoms, and you will not be successful in protecting our freedoms until you realize this. You may win the odd battle, but you will lose this ideological war.
I applaud your commitment to freedom of speech regardless of your views on anything else and thank you for giving me the opportunity to debate this at your blog.
What’s more compelling however is research into views. If Pew Research is anything to go by, around 83% of Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh believe Sharia law should be the law of the land and of those around 76% of Pakistanis and 44% of Bangladeshis favour the death penalty for apostasy (many more will favour other punishments). Since these are the main two countries of origin of the UKs Muslims it seems entirely reasonable to suppose that the numbers would be in similar proportions in the UK. I have even heard that UK Muslims are more conservative than Muslims in Pakistan. These figures do not suggest a very moderate lived experience of Islam in the UK today.
I’ve had problems posting my full response to your points, I am trying again in sections.
I had some problems posting replies, please delete any duplicates.
I agree with pretty much everything you say except your continued vilification of Matthew Doyle which implies he is stupid and ignorant all the way through. Perhaps it is now built into British DNA that when we have something harsh to say about the authorities, we feel we have to excuse ourselves by semi-agreeing that maybe they had a point. ( because after all, the guy made this huge mistake which was really stupid and maybe people on Twitter didn’t really like him etc.). The police were very wrong. The laws ( which are EU laws) are very wrong. There is no excuse. There is no way to soften it. Why not stick to your guns instead of partially blaming the recipient of these police state laws.
Thanks Amanda for reading and commenting. I appreciate the general observation you make about people feeling the need to balance criticism with “on the other hand” type excuses. But in this case I was expressing my honest opinion. Since Matthew Doyle cared to air his views in public, I do in fact consider them Islamophobic. The fact that he admitted approaching a random Muslim woman in the street and asking her to “explain Brussels” suggests he believes that all Muslims are in some way accountable for (or at least sufficiently similar to that they are able to explain) the actions of murdering, primitive Islamist thugs. He essentially admits to being scared – phobic – of all Muslims because of the actions of some. Now, I’m the last person who will deny that there is a specific, major issue within Islam that needs to be tackled. But I call shots as I see them, and in this case, Matthew Doyle was being Islamophobic.
Now, that in no way excuses what the British state did to him. People have the right to be mildly racist, extremely racist, not racist at all or any point in between, and to publicly express the views they sincerely hold in their heart without fear of reprisal by the state. I am a free speech absolutist, and I will come out fighting for Doyle’s right to free speech any day of the week.
Though I have a tendency toward writing polemics, I also hope to use this blog to occasionally change hearts and minds. And in the case of free speech, that means reaching out to those of a more authoritarian mindset and explaining why they are wrong, hence the “Doyle is an idiot” hook. Not only is it true, as evidenced by his original tweet and subsequent defence of it (“towelhead” etc.), it also makes the point that free speech should not apply only to the virtuous, which I think is an important front in the fight for free speech.
As you say, the laws are wrong. And the heavy-handed application of those already draconian laws by the police is also wrong. Matthew Doyle’s own wrongness on one particular subject does not mean that his fundamental human right to freedom of expression should ever be egregiously violated, as it so brazenly was. But his wrongness still exists, and it would be incomplete if I failed to mention it.
Its become clear from a previous debate I had with Mr. Hooper that he not only sees no connection between bad deeds of individual Muslims and the Islamic religion, but he regards any suggestion of such a connection to be dishonouring to Muslims. He seems to elevate religious beliefs to a higher plane than other beliefs. I wonder if he ever thought about whether it would be alright to switch the word Muslim with the word ‘disbelieve’ in this statement:
“Surely the vilest of animals in Allah’s sight are those who disbelieve….”
Islam dishonours myself and all my relatives with this statement, alive and deceased. I hope he can give a moment’s thought to that. I am grossly offended by this statement.
That said, I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Hooper’s main point here, that such laws are a grave threat to free speech and therefore to our democracy.
Balderdash. I never said that there was no connection – merely that the fundamentalist literalist interpretation of many terrorists does not represent the lived faith of many peaceful Muslims. I have written frequently of specific issues within the wider Muslim community (to do with doctrine and integration/assimilation with the West) which need to be tackled, but I would no sooner claim that the Quran quotes you cite represent the lived religion of most British Muslims than the edicts of Leviticus predict the behaviour of your average Anglican Christian.
At least half of the UK’s mosques are home to such movements as the Deobandi movement which could scarcely be described as moderate.
“about 600 of Britain’s nearly 1,500 mosques were under the control of “a hardline sect”, whose leading preacher loathed Western values, called on Muslims to “shed blood” for Allah and preached contempt for Jews, Christians and Hindus”
Mosque attendance is up. Why are they not voting with their feet and refusing to visit the mosque? Surely the “lived experience” of Muslims in the UK is formed first and foremost by what goes on at the mosque? Your assertion that most Muslims’ lived experience is unconnected with the quotes I give is not borne out by these facts.
Islam cannot be reformed without a new moderate voice such as the Mahdi that the Ahmadis believe in. If all the Muslims in the UK convert to this sect, I will happily accept that the lived experience can change. Until then, I do not and I will continue to criticize the violent career of Mohammed regardless of whoever may be offended by that.
What percentage of self-identified Muslims regularly attend mosque, out of interest? The statistics you quote don’t mean much without that key context.
This blog is a free speech zone, so you are of course free to criticise whatever and whoever you like here.
It seems that mosque attendance figures are simply not available. Vague estimates range from 50% to 25%. What does seem clear is that mosque attendance is very much higher than church attendance is among Christians. Even if only 25% attend, that could still mean that many hundreds of thousands of UK residents are being subjected to such preaching.
Reblogged this on Looking back in sadness and commented:
A good summary of a sad situation