Leading article: Incitement and the law

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Compared with what was going on this weekend in Beirut and Damascus, the protests outside the Danish embassy in London were mercifully peaceful and small. This does not mean, however, that the shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, did not have a point when he said that some of the placards amounted to incitement to murder and called for firm action by the police. Indeed, considering the wording of the more inflammatory posters, what Mr Davis said seemed rather mild for a politician with a reputation for toughness on law and order.

In fact, the decision of the police not to arrest individuals on the spot might have been prudent - if it was a decision. To have pulled people out of the crowd could have inflamed passions further. It would also have required the police to make snap judgements about which slogans might be unlawful and which the exercise of free speech. So long as the protests remained peaceful, there was a compelling argument for not intervening.

Yesterday, ministers said that the police were examining video recordings and would decide how to proceed. It is hard to argue, though, that no action should be taken. Among those condemning the protests most forcefully were senior British Muslims concerned that the whole community might be branded extremist because of the conduct of a minority.

They are right. Not to act leaves the impression that some issues are too hot to be handled by normal law enforcement. This does the peaceful majority of British Muslims no favours. What arguments can they advance against extremism in their midst if the law of the land turns a blind eye?