Showdown in Birmingham
by Tim Burton (Catstrangler101) (April, 10 2014)
I took a last mouthful of cappuccino and glanced out of the window of the restaurant over the road from the Birmingham Magistrates’ Court. A small group of demonstrators had already arrived on the Court steps and were busy setting up placards and handing out leaflets to curious passers-by. It was time to go.
It was Tuesday 08 April, and the time was just after 09:00. I was scheduled to appear in Court 13 of the Court later that morning to answer a charge of Racially Aggravated Harassment – a charge which had been brought by the Crown Prosecution Service following my interview with West Midlands Police some four months earlier. A gentleman by the name of Fiyaz Mughal had complained that I was harassing him on Twitter by referring to him as a “Mendacious Grievance-Mongering Taqiyya-Artist” and a “Lying Muslim Scumbag” – words which I had indeed used in relation to the gentleman in question – and he had seen a chance to exact revenge by using the forces of law and order to do his dirty work for him.
A link to the case from Liberty GB is included here.
I walked across the street and introduced myself. The demonstrators with the placards and the leaflets (whom I already knew by reputation) were from Liberty GB, a political party for whom I was the Radio Officer, and there were also one or two familiar faces from other publications and political organisations that I had come to know and respect. I also recognised (from photographs in his many articles and books) Professor Hans Jansen, our expert defence witness, chatting on the courtroom steps with one or two people. The case had generated a lot of interest over the preceding four months, with the phrase “Mendacious Grievance-Mongering Taqiyya-Artist” going around the world like wildfire – a phenomenon which had generated its own cottage industry with commemorative coffee mugs and T-shirts, each emblazoned not only with the “Mendacious Grievance-Mongering Taqiyya-Artist” slogan but also with the distinctive features of Fiyaz Mughal himself.
It was now 09:30 – time for me to present myself at the Court. I walked up the steps into the main building, an imposing edifice built in Victorian times and originally known as the Victoria Law Courts. As I walked through the door, past the security screening device, the two imposing gentlemen wielding metal detectors and the sign saying “No Knives Allowed”, I reflected on the many generations of people who had come here to answer similar charges and wondered if they had felt as I did – a feeling of awe at the magnificence of the surroundings combined with a certain trepidation at the prospect of facing serious jail time.
For make no mistake, the charge of Racially Aggravated Harassment is not one to be dismissed lightly. On conviction, the penalty may be up to £5000 and six months imprisonment. One might think that this is somewhat over-the-top for the heinous crime of calling a Mendacious Grievance-Mongering Taqiyya-Artist a – well, a Mendacious Grievance-Mongering Taqiyya-Artist – but apparently there is “A Lot Of This Going Around” according the Crown Prosecution Service, and they wanted to put a stop to it. Never mind that the right to free speech is one of our fundamental freedoms and the cornerstone of a free democracy - if it offends one of our protected minority species then it must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law - or so the current thinking goes today, influenced as it is by the twin evils of political correctness and multiculturalism.
Court 13 is on the second floor of the building, and I made my way up the step to meet the Court Usher at the door. The Court Usher checks (amongst other things) that the people coming in and going out of the Court have all mobile devices turned off, and ensures that they are seated in the right place - such as the press gallery for newspaper reporters, the public gallery for members of the public, and (of course) the dock for miscreants such as myself. The ban on all mobile devices is a bit of a nuisance – obviously the Court does not want people to be recording audio or video of the proceedings, or to be taking phone calls in the middle of a case – but some of the political activists were looking to see whether they could blog or tweet live from the public gallery, and that was unfortunately not allowed. Note-taking, however, was indeed allowed, and the lady representative from New English Review settled into her chair with her pencil at the ready, as did several of the representatives from Liberty GB, and we all waited for the proceedings to start.
The judge entered the courtroom just after 10:00 and the first thing that became apparent was that my case was not the only case scheduled for Court 13 that day. There was one more case involving a dispute between two local business people. However, the other case was beset by procedural delays concerning the appropriate documentation, and was quickly adjourned to a later date. Then it was time for my case to proceed. My name and address were confirmed, the charge was read out, and it was ascertained that I wished to plead Not Guilty.
The first problem was to get the video-link working. Two enormous TV screens on the wall of the Court were to facilitate the evidence to be given by Fiyaz Mughal from an undisclosed remote location, somewhere in London. Fiyaz Mughal had submitted a letter to the Court indicating that he was too frightened to come up to Birmingham because the threatening nature of my tweets had made him scared for the safety of himself and his family. (I had been quite surprised when I had first heard this. I know that they say that the pen is mightier than the sword, but one would have thought that having gone out of his way to make life difficult for me by pressing charges, Fiyaz Mughal would have at least had the courtesy to be present in person, in order to look me in the eye.) Nevertheless, it was his right to ask for his evidence to be given from a remote location, and even though I myself might have thought he was a complete wuss, the Court had granted his request.
I glanced around the court and surveyed my surroundings. The Crown Prosecution lawyer and my defence lawyer, standing at their desks in front of the dock, were exchanging pleasantries and poring over a copy of a law manual whilst waiting for the video-link connection to be made. The Crown Prosecution lawyer seemed somewhat harassed. Some of the papers he needed were missing, and the Birmingham Magistrates Court fax machine wasn’t working, so there was quite a lengthy delay while this was being sorted out. You could tell that the judge was unimpressed by all of this. He indicated to the Crown Prosecution lawyer that he was not minded to postpone the case, and that the Crown Prosecution lawyer had best get his act together, pronto. The Crown Prosecution lawyer scurried off to get his papers in order, and the case finally started at 11:45.
Fiyaz Mughal was the first to give evidence. The officers in the undisclosed remote location asked Fiyaz Mughal what religion he was – to which he replied “Islamic – I’m a Muslim” and so he was sworn in on the Qu’ran. I did think about jumping to my feet and shouting “Objection, Your Honour – this book gives the plaintiff divine permission to lie under oath in a British Court of Law if it furthers the cause of Islam!” but as I had been advised by my defence lawyer not to do any such thing, under threat of being charged with contempt of court, I simply gritted my teeth and remained seated.
The Crown Prosecution lawyer led Fiyaz Mughal through his testimony, during which he stated that he had felt threatened, harassed, distressed, alarmed, upset, insulted and offended by my tweets. In addition his very identity and who he was as a Muslim had been viciously attacked – he had felt scared for the safety of himself and his family – who knows what Catstrangler101 might have done if he had turned up on his doorstep one day with a mad gleam in his eye and a blood-stained keyboard under his arm? I sighed inwardly. Oh, for heaven’s sake. Methinks the lady doth protest too much (to paraphrase Queen Gertrude in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.)
Fiyaz Mughal was also asked about taqiyya. He said that it was a historical concept, used by Shia Muslims a thousand years ago to defend themselves from persecution. (He didn’t say that the persecution was from other Muslims.) He said that the concept of taqiyya was mainly used today by extremist far-right groups seeking to defame Islam and Muslims. (He didn’t say that taqiyya was a generally accepted licence for Muslims to routinely lie to non-Muslims about the nature of Islam.)
But then it was the turn of my defence lawyer. He fixed Fiyaz Mughal with a steely glance (as far as it is possible to fix someone with a steely glance over a video-link connection.) “I put it to you, Mr. Mughal, that far from feeling threatened, harassed, distressed, alarmed, upset, insulted and offended by my client’s tweets, you felt a sense of quiet satisfaction, didn’t you? You wanted and need those tweets to add to your online hate crime database, didn’t you? In fact if you didn’t get enough of such tweets, you would be hard pressed to justify your enormous public grant, wouldn’t you, Mr. Mughal? Isn’t that right?”
It wasn’t long before beads of sweat could be seen on Fiyaz Mughal’s brow – a phenomenon which was commented on by several people in the public gallery afterwards. It was generally agreed that my defence lawyer was doing a grand job of grilling Fiyaz Mughal, and I have to say that I concurred with that sentiment. My defence lawyer continued. “Do you know what the word – mendacious – actually means? Or the word – scumbag – do you know what that actually means?” “Of course I do, let’s move on to the next question!” “Well, Mr. Mughal, what does it mean?” “Next question!!”
At that point the judge intervened to explain to Fiyaz Mughal that he was obliged to answer the question. It subsequently transpired that Fiyaz Mughal had only a partial grasp of the subtle nuances of both words – to the extent that it made me wonder why he was offended in the first place.
Fiyaz Mughal was indeed losing his cool. “But what about all the other tweets?” he spluttered. “Your client called Muslims “inbred welfare parasites.” Your client said Muslims “had shit-for-brains.” Your client is associated with extremist far-right groups. Not to mention Robert Spencer. Not to mention Pamela Geller. Your client is a menace!”
Fiyaz Mughal was reminded that the Court was dealing only with the three tweets that formed the subject of the charge. Then it was time to break for lunch.
During the lunchtime period, I spoke to the Court Usher. He was one of those people who had been around the Court system for decades and had seen it all. He probably had enough experience to have been a judge or a magistrate himself. “You’re very lucky,” he said “to have a District Judge hearing the case. If it had been a panel of lay magistrates, they might well have had difficulty understanding all the concepts in what is turning out to be quite a complex case.” He seemed quite impressed that we had managed to secure the presence of Professor Hans Jansen in order to give evidence concerning the nature of taqiyya and its understanding and practice by Muslims today.
After lunch, Fiyaz Mughal concluded his evidence and was then released by the Judge from giving any further evidence. That was the last we saw of him. Then it was my turn to give evidence and I was sworn in on the Bible in the witness stand. It’s an odd thing, but having completed the swearing-in, a sense of calm descended on me. It was as if I knew that I couldn’t lose.
I had experienced the same feeling once before, when I was taking my Aikido black belt examination. Part of the examination includes a multiple attack scenario, when you are simultaneously attacked by six students on the command of a senior instructor. I remember standing in the circle of six students, who were slowly advancing towards me and waiting for the word to attack. I closed my eyes and the same sense of calmness descended on me as it did in the courtroom. The Japanese call it “No-Mind.” I knew I wasn’t going to lose.
The sense is conveyed well in the attempted assassination scene with Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai.
My defence lawyer started by taking me through the use of Twitter as a social medium and my use of it with respect to my tweets. I explained that because of the nature of Islam as a totalitarian political ideology rather than a religion, I saw it as my duty to raise awareness of the threat of Islam towards non-Muslims and that Twitter was a useful tool in that regard. I talked about taqiyya and how Fiyaz Mughal was using dissimulation when he avoided explaining how Muslims use it today to deceive non-Muslims about the true nature of Islam. I explained that in my view Islam posed a threat to our civilisation and that our political elites were ignoring a very real long-term danger in favour of short-term advantages. Then it was the turn of the Crown Prosecution lawyer.
Well, I have to say that the Crown prosecution lawyer tried his best. He was like a dog with a bone that he wouldn’t let go. “I put it to you, Mr. Burton, that your tweets were nothing more than a racist diatribe!” “I put it to you, sir, that they were not. Islam is not a race and Muslims are not a racial group.” “I put it to you, Mr. Burton, that your tweets were intended purely to threaten and harass Mr Mughal!” “I put it to you, sir, that they were not. My tweets were intended to scold, to criticise and to castigate Mr. Mughal. I felt very strongly that someone running an organisation like Tell Mama UK should not be fraudulently misrepresenting his statistics, as alleged by Andrew Gilligan in The Telegraph, in order to receive public money.” “I put it to you, Mr. Burton, that your tweets were racist in nature!” “I put it to you, sir, that they were not. As I have said, Islam is not a race and Muslims are not a racial group.”
I must have repeated that phrase half a dozen times before the prosecution gave up and tried a different tack. “You called Mr Mughal a lying Muslim scumbag. That is not only racist and offensive, but deeply unpleasant!” “The definition of scumbag in the Cambridge Online Dictionary is of an unpleasant person whose actions and behaviour are unacceptable. That seems reasonable to me under the circumstances. I did not mean to imply that Mr. Mughal was a scumbag because he was Muslim. However I did mean to imply that there was an association between lying and being Muslim, and that is because of the doctrine of taqiyya.”
Then the prosecution changed tack again. “Mr. Burton, you could have written a tweet in less offensive language, telling Mr Mughal that you disagreed with some or all of the things on his website, inviting Mr Mughal to have a meeting with you and to discuss differences of opinion face to face. Why didn’t you?” I explained that Twitter constrains one’s tweets to 140 characters, at which a muffled titter ran around the courtroom. I further explained that I wouldn’t expect Mr Mughal to respond to such a message, and that my primary audience was my thousands of Twitter followers, who I wished to invite to join me in condemnation of Fiyaz Mughal and his organisation.
The Crown Prosecution lawyer asked me whether I considered myself to be a journalist, and if so why my language differed so markedly from that of Andrew Gilligan in The Telegraph. I said although I might be considered a journalist in some respects, Andrew Gilligan was writing for a different audience and was probably more constrained by laws of libel than I felt myself to be. The Crown Prosecution lawyer laboured this point extensively until the judge stepped in and pointed out that it was accepted that I had used language not normally found in the Daily Telegraph, but that it might be considered fair political comment. I think that was where the Crown Prosecution lawyer realised he was starting to lose his grip on events. “But Mr Burton, your tweets taken as a whole were nothing more than gratuitous racial insults!” “No, they had a specific purpose, and anyway, as I have said before, Islam is not a race, nor are Muslims a racial group.”
Shortly after that I was released from the witness stand, and Professor Hans Jansen was called. I have to say he made an excellent witness, with his extensive qualifications over many years presented to the Court in detail, and he elaborated on the concept of taqiyya, basically confirming all the points I had made and also making the point that although Fiyaz Mughal might have been well-meaning (!) he was obviously not a student of Sharia Law and was inaccurate in his explanation of taqiyya to the court.
The prosecution and the defence were both allowed a final summary of their argument, with my defence lawyer arguing that Article 10 of the Human Rights Act allows for fair comment in the context of free speech, and although the state does have the right to restrict free speech, those limits should be very narrowly drawn. The Crown Prosecution lawyer wasn’t going to let go of the “gratuitous racial abuse” angle and again argued the point with the judge.
The judge then began his summing-up. He noted that although some of my language had been unpleasant, and that Fiyaz Mughal might well have found it to be upsetting, that was not the test. The test was whether my comments transcended the boundaries of fair political comment and strayed into the realms of criminality through harassment. Had Mr Burton crept up to his door one night and shouted these things through his letterbox, then it might have been perceived differently, but as it was, the use of the Twitter platform to convey the same messages was not the same thing at all, which was a point which I had elaborated upon in my essay in New English Review a couple of months earlier.
The judge also indicated that he understood that the juxtaposition of the words “Mendacious”, “Lying” and “Muslim” were acceptable in the context of the Islamic concept of taqiyya, and did not therefore constitute a racial slur. This was a highly significant observation, in my opinion.
The judge indicated that Mr Burton might wish to moderate his language in the future, but in a case involving free speech, the bar must necessarily be set very high, and that in his view, the prosecution had failed to meet that bar in trying to prove its case. He said “Mr Burton is hereby found Not Guilty and formally acquitted of the charge.”
At that point a round of applause reverberated around the courtroom from the public gallery. I was a free man. The Crown Prosecution lawyer, in one futile last-ditch attempt, did then try to have a restraining order applied to me in respect of Fiyaz Mughal, but the Judge was having none of it. I thought that was nice, because I did want to send a photographic memento of the day to Fiyaz Mughal (see below.)
I would like to thank my many supporters, both in the courtroom on the day and those from around the world, who have supported me in the ongoing fight against the insidious creep of Islamic supremacism and the consequent encroachment on, and erosion of, our freedoms. This was an historic decision, whereby the judge recognised that the Islamic concept of taqiyya was a valid reason for criticism of Islam in a political context. Although I am not a lawyer, and although I do not at this moment in time fully comprehend what constitutes a legal precedent, as opposed to what does not, I think I can safely say that this was a landmark case with enormous implications in favour of our fight, not only to expose the true nature of Islam, but also to specifically determine the relationship (concerning trust or more importantly the lack thereof) that must necessarily exist between non-Muslims and Muslims due to the Islamic doctrine of Taqiyya - which not only gives Muslims divine permission to lie to non-Muslims if it promotes the cause of Islam or prevents the denigration of Islam in the eyes of non-Muslims – but also makes lying obligatory if the goal (promoting the cause of Islam or preventing the denigration of Islam in the eyes of non-Muslims) cannot be achieved by telling the truth.
Tim Burton is the Blog Talk Radio host for Liberty GB.
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