In reverse order to that of a conventional church wedding, first comes the marriage of a crazed ideology to murderous violence, and after that comes the reading of the bans.
Ban this extremist website, ban that radical group, ban the buffoon who went on telly to profess his “shock” at but in no way to condemn the slaughter of Drummer Lee Rigby... the national consciousness takes a monstrous blow, and the political knee duly jerks. This reflex reaction is as understandable as it is daft.
Musing aloud in compliance with the Something Must Be Done (Though God Knows What) Act 2001, the Home Secretary floats the notion of granting Ofcom the power to ban the likes of Anjem Choudary, the aforementioned buffoon of a “radical/ extremist preacher”, from appearing on television at all. Theresa May thinks that he has “disgusting views”, and there, given his various pronouncements over the years, we may all agree.
Where some of us part company from Mrs May is when she questions the right of the BBC’s Newsnight and Channel 4 News to invite him to share them with the rest of us, though one may assume from his mealy-mouthed efforts that he was exercising restraint. In private, the founder of the banned Al-Muhajiroun and current stalwart of Nation4Islam may be less guarded about his real emotions on seeing video footage of a young father being hacked to death on the streets of Woolwich, where he himself grew up.
Also marching behind the censorship banner is Sayeeda Warsi, the faith and communities minister, who said: “We all have a responsibility, including the media, not to give airtime to extremist voices – idiots and nutters who speak for no one but themselves.” Baroness Warsi has a worryingly short memory. She was not only content once to appear on Newsnight with Mr Choudary, long after his extremism was a matter of public record. In 2009, she sat on the same Question Time panel as Nick Griffin.
You may recall the hysteria that preceded this broadcast. Many were scandalised by the prospect of the BNP and its leader being legitimised by so mainstream a public platform, and demanded that he be banned. Meanwhile, no less powerful a thinker than Kelvin MacKenzie himself predicted, with a certain relish, that it “will be one of the great political events of our time. Right up there,” he amusingly added, “with Frost-Nixon.”
In the event, Mr MacKenzie’s status as a top-ranked soothsayer was derided, albeit less effectively than Mr Griffin’s as a political force to be feared. The man revealed himself as an idiot of a rare order, while a rictus grin of humiliation made him look a raving nutter. He insisted that Winston Churchill, seldom previously seen as a fan of fascism, would have joined the BNP. He spoke of the Ku Klux Klan, with whose leaders he had fraternised, as “non-violent”. In a classic instance of transference, he called homosexuals “creepy”. With legalistic piety, he pointed out, when asked if he believed in the industrial genocide of the Jews as historical fact, that he had no criminal conviction for Holocaust denial.
Mr Griffin entered the studio as a menacing bogeyman of the extreme right, and left it, his legend punctured, as a cross between Roderick Spode – PG Wodehouse’s pastiche of Oswald Mosley – and a less self-aware David Brent. While inhabitants of deranged ideological fantasy lands adore being feared and hated, since that inflates their infantile self-perception as heroic fighters for what they see as justice, the one thing they cannot handle, or survive, is ridicule. If we hear gratifyingly little from Mr Griffin today, Question Time is the reason why.
If that reflection should jog Lady Warsi’s memory, she might care to tweak her declaration as follows: “We all have a responsibility, particularly the media, to give as much airtime as possible to extremist voices.” What Mrs Thatcher called “the oxygen of publicity” is nothing of the kind. It is in fact the asbestos of publicity. Far from fanning the flames of a vicious dogma into a raging inferno, it first retards them, and then inflicts as inevitably fatal a malignancy as mesothelioma on the ambitions of those who espouse it.
What does fan the flames is banning the preposterous likes of Mr Choudary. That not only inflates the significance of someone whom Lady Warsi believes speaks only for himself. It hot-houses the senses of grievance, warped romance and melodrama – the essential components in driving the disaffected who dream of jihad to act on the dream – in those for whom he may well speak.
Mr Choudary, who seems quite the media tart, should be a frequent guest on TV and radio. In an ideal world, a British satirist of Jon Stewart’s brilliance, with a knowledge of the Koran to match the scything wit, would emerge and have him on a chat show thrice weekly to explore his philosophy with the clinical ironic detachment it deserves.
What are the precise qualifications, he or she might enquire, that permit this struck-off solicitor to describe himself as “a Sharia judge”? Would he explain, in detail and citing the relevant Koranic verses, why, as he posited in an online “sermon”, every Muslim must “protect his family from the misguidance of Christmas, because its observance will lead to hellfire”.
How is his masterplan to have the Sharia flag flying above Downing Street by 2020 coming on? Is that any nearer completion than the objective of an organisation he set up with his old Al-Muhajiroun compadre Omar Bakri Mohammed, to establish Islamic rule in India, with its more than billion strong Hindu population?
Was his insistence, as expressed on Iran’s Press TV in April, that “as Muslims we reject... human rights” (along with freedom, democracy and much else) a subtly coded statement of support for the Government’s intention to repatriate Abu Qatada to Jordan? Does he regard the benefit payments he receives, as is his perfect right as a citizen, from the British state which disgusts him (a Daily Mail question, but pertinent for all that) as dirty money?
An adroit, deadpan interviewer with a decent hold on his or her temper would have the studio audience chuckling at Mr Choudary’s desperate struggles with questions of the sort. Laughter may not always be the best medicine. But as Nick Griffin, his compadre from the opposite wing of this confederacy of dunces, must agree, it is invariably the best antidote to poisonous zealotries which flourish in the dark.