On January evenings last year, a Muslim convert named Jordan Horner took to the streets of the East End to carry out a number of “sharia patrols”. The Brit – with a group of burly companions - bullied people as they went about their business. Some he forced to pour out cans of alcohol, others to stop holding hands. One incident stands out from the highlights reel online. As a couple hurry away down the dark street, an unseen member of Horner’s gang speaks up: “Your woman is drunk”, the voice shouts (note the “your”) before lamenting the Western values that permit such a terrible thing as female inebriation. “This is democracy, this is freedom, this is secularism,” he cries. Then comes a call for revolution: “We clearly need Islam.”
Whether it was his voice or not, these sentiments were evidently shared by Horner, who got himself arrested later that month for punching drinkers in Shoreditch. White, pudgy and red-haired, Horner was dubbed “the ginger jihadi”. Horner clearly has a problem with freedom. Well – as of last week, he’s lost some of his own. He has been handed an Anti-Social Behaviour Order that clamps down on his ability to spread “extremist views” – the first person to receive such a punishment. The 20-year-old is now not allowed to use a megaphone, distribute leaflets, or associate with other known radicals. In other words, the Government has attempted to muzzle this thug. And so, having tried to stop people sipping at Carlsberg, Horner has instead invoked the powers of state to curtail a much more vaunted freedom – the freedom of speech. It’s a grubby irony.
But I find myself unable to muster much outrage. A more principled liberal might quote Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. Well, I disapprove of what Horner says, and would not pour out two cans of beer to defend his right to say it. This may be intellectually lazy; certainly at a time when Turkish and Egyptian journalists are being jailed for ‘aiding terrorism’, such a complacent attitude to the curtailment of free expression is one that holds good only within these borders. It comes down to trust. I would place the threat posed by Islamic extremism above the erosion of a democratic principle that need not be treated as a matter of “either, or”.
Will the “anti-terror” Asbo be abused by an anxious Government (one that faces the return of 250 Britons from war in Syria)? Possibly. Will the Asbo really limit the behaviour of men like Horner? Possibly not. But the people who suffer from the ‘speech’ of Islamic extremists – be they victims of terrorism, or Muslims facing an unwarranted backlash – might well be glad that the state is flexing its muscle.