It isn't a palatable truth but Anjem Choudary, the leader of Islam4UK, has contrived a genuinely tricky double-bind with his plan to march through Wootton Bassett in commemoration of Muslims who have died in Afghanistan. Despite the disingenuous claim on the Today programme that his organisation, Islam4UK, would proceed with "the least disruption that we can", what Mr Choudary really seeks is maximum publicity and trouble and it's quite difficult, right now, to think of a way to deny him.
That provocation is his intention can't possibly be doubted. There's the choice of Wootton Bassett as the venue, for one thing – a village that has chosen to identify itself with spontaneous gestures of respect for the bodies of British soldiers killed in the war. Mr Choudary is candid about the advantage of this location for his purposes: "The sad reality of the situation", he told Justin Webb yesterday, "is that if I were to hold it somewhere else it would not have the media attention that it has now". But, as Islam4UK's website makes clear, Wootton Bassett allows him to link his march with an implicit attack on the dead – described there as members of "the occupying and merciless British military", men being honoured "for what is ultimately genocide".
The natural instinct is to prevent the march – though no one who proposes such a step should kid themselves that this wouldn't suit Mr Choudary just as well – perhaps even better. He doesn't strike me as a man who's eager for personal martyrdom and he would probably prefer to be relieved of the necessity to walk it as he talks it. After a legal challenge against the legitimacy of the ban, he could happily denounce the double standards of the secular democracy he despises. Look at the hypocrisy of this notionally free and tolerant society, he would say – and look at how they weigh British dead against our Muslim brothers.
And while this might not carry much weight with most British Muslims (some of whom have already denounced Mr Choudary's plans) it might persuade some confused waverers to share Al-Muhajiroun's dream of one day seeing "the black flag of Islam fly high over 10 Downing Street". I'm guessing he'd be equally happy to settle for a counter-demonstration – confident that he'd be protected by the police from serious harm and virtually guaranteed blanket coverage on the evening news bulletins. I did wonder briefly whether the people of Wootton Bassett should take silently to the streets and turn their backs as his procession passed – but then what would such an image convey about British attitudes to civilian casualties in Afghanistan?
The only solution I can think of would be to behave as if Anjem Choudary and his supporters are as marginal as they actually are, representative of little beyond their own vainglorious piety. They should be treated like a light drizzle – a passing inconvenience that is too negligible to be worth mentioning. Their own videos could show nothing but a thin straggle of ranters apparently invisible to the people of the town they were walking through (rather than the exciting scenes of struggle they hope for) and the event would be so anti-climactic that news editors would either drop the item altogether or down-page it.
But that, I fear, defies all known laws of human nature. Mr Choudary knows that he has his counterparts in the BNP who will give him his news story if no one else will – and in any case he's just too delicious a pantomime villain for sections of the press to resist. I promise I won't ever mention him again – but I fear that one way or another Mr Choudary is going to get what he wants.
What now for the dedicated followers of Fry as Stephen tweets goodbye?
Stephen Fry is temporarily saying farewell to Twitter – a piece of news I find I can absorb with stoicism. I don't want to suggest by this that Mr Fry's tweets are anything less than sparkling.
I seem to remember he was a little wounded when a fellow tweeter suggested his contributions to this new literary form were "boring", and briefly threatened to take his ball away entirely – and I wouldn't want to hurt his feelings. It's just that I still haven't worked out what Twitter is for or why anyone would want to pour even the tiniest portion of their energy and creativity into this voracious time sump. For that reason I don't wait for his tweets – or those of anyone else for that matter – to inject a little sunshine into my day.
But if, as the tone of the announcement seems to suggest, there are people out there who are going to be bereft, a compromise is surely available. He could employ a ghost tweeter who would post Fryian observations on the world darts and the snow and what Stephen is having for lunch. And if that's too expensive I would have thought he could easily automate the process, using one of his IT contacts to produce an iPhone app which would generate fresh and pertinent tweets on its own, drawing on a database of larky vocabulary and its knowledge of prevailing weather conditions, recent internet searches and the user's current geographical whereabouts. Would his devoted followers be any the wiser?
A new perspective on Ryanair's prices
Ryanair's reaction to criticisms of its pricing policy by the head of the Office of Fair Trading was to depict itself as a champion of the little guy. "Ryanair is not for the overpaid John Fingletons of this world," a spokesman said, "but for the everyday Joe Bloggs who opt for guaranteed lowest fares." Oh sure, that's right – stick it to the OFT, that notorious enemy of the ordinary consumer.
Thank goodness Ryanair is on our side. Of course the harsh truth is that the only thing Ryanair values about everyday Joe Bloggs is their cash and their dependable reluctance to read small print until it's too late, by which time they can have been grossly overcharged for paying for their tickets.
Like rail bosses who suavely boast about their cheap fares (while failing to mention that they are only available if booked months in advance and you're willing to catch the train at 5.30 in the morning) Ryanair isn't championing ordinary joes – it's doing everything in its power to distract them from the bottom line cost. Ryanair, of course, will argue that they're not technically lying by blazoning the supplementary-free fares in banner headlines.
So perhaps what we need is a rule linking the size of the print used in an advert to the prices proportionately paid by real customers. That way you'd stand a better chance of being able to honestly compare Ryanair with its competitors and the fairy tale prices would have to be tucked away in the 6pt mouseprint they'd currently prefer you not to bother with.Reuse content