On 13th March, Jeff Potts, a Solihull councillor had sanctions imposed upon him by Solihull Council after an investigation concluding he breached the council’s Code of Conduct. The council panel who gave the verdict, stated the tweets he retweeted were “clearly racist and Islamophobic”. Potts defending himself by simply stating that this is “free speech” and has not shown any remorse.
Potts was suspended from the Conservative party after he was put under investigation by the council for his actions back in September 2017.
As a campaigning organisation, MPACUK, started to mobilise people and put pressure on the council to act. We are glad that they did. Whilst ideally, such an act would have warranted him being sacked from his role, our current government took away powers from council to de-seat their own councillors. Perhaps knowing, there are others within their ranks that hold such views as Potts. It is not the first time the Conservative Party has shown it’s Islamophobic credentials.
Despite this, the result is the best we could have hoped. The council met all our demands, which included removal from all committee positions, public censure and mandatory diversity training.
As a seasoned campaigner, there are a couple of lessons to glean from this case that are worth illustrating to the Muslim public.
Free Speech is not Hate Speech
Perhaps the most famous example of “unspeak” (using words to redefine and mask) is masking venomous and bigoted views of Muslim as a free speech.
Free speech was originally defined as being able to say anything in the face of power without being persecuted. However, in the public amnesia of that context, what the political right have done is create a narrative where they should be free to express any views they wish without being held to account for their impacts.
This is compounded by the fact that religious hate crime has less protection under UK law than racial hate crime and therefore much harder to prosecute. Consequently, there is much more freedom and less barriers in expressing hate towards Muslims than there is to racial groups. That why hate preachers such as Britain First and Tommy Robinson enjoy so much freedom.
Despite this, the Jeff Potts case sends a message out to those who want to be credible that hate speech will not be tolerated and will be met with consequence. This also sends a message more widely to the rest of society.
It’s for this reason, when we get a “win”, we should as a community share this news far and wide. We don’t because we lack the priority, mindset and focus on what needs to be done. This needs to change if we are able to have any stake in our own future.
Intelligent Campaigning is Still Vital
We live in a reality where hate crimes on Muslim are going up and our masjids and communities are under siege. If we want to live in peace, we need to not only organise with our allies, but also disrupt the ability of racists & Islamophobes to act without impunity.
The Tory party, in particular, have a history of overt racism among their members and in their campaign literature. That simply did not go away by relying on the sensibilities of the masses. It dampened their xenophobic attitudes because people created consequences, made them uncomfortable and made them an obstacle to power.
Islamophobia is commonplace today like racism was last century. And yes racism is becoming more fashionable on the back of Islamophobia, but at our society has not gone so far down the path of fascism where people in power can be openly racist….yet. They still have to mask their bigotry if they have any. Here is where we have leverage.
We can still, in many cases, campaign using their own rule book or even by just by public pressure. We still live a society where people’s views has consequences and where intelligent civic and grassroots campaigning can thrive.
Cases such as Jeff Potts’s prove that. Those willing to learn will gain the capacity of campaigners to be the changemakers of today. And at this rate, we need a lot more of them.