How can insulting soldiers be “racially aggravated”?

Yorkshire 19-year-old Azhar Ahmed is facing charges of “racially aggravated public order offences” after he posted an angry Facebook status update about the reporting of the latest British Army fatalities in Afghanistan.

Ahmed’s sentiment (see pic) was not unsual. He starts off with the widely repeated complaint that deaths of British soldiers are given blanket coverage, while deaths of Afghans barely merit a mention. This is true, and hardly controversial.

Ahmed’s mistake, apparently, is to continue to vent his anger, and suggests that British soldiers should all die and go to hell. Strong language, but does it tip into incitement to violence? I think not. Nor, for that matter, do West Yorkshire police, who have not pursued Ahmed on this charge. Rather, they have sinisterly construed Ahmed’s comment as “racially aggravated”.

Serving British army soldiers do not count as an ethnicity. So why angry words about them could be seen as racially aggravated is a mystery. But perhaps unwittingly, those responsible for this charge have revealed something dark about the way the war in Afghanistan is now viewed.

Unconditional support for soldiers is now expected, even as we become increasingly unsure of what they’re doing out there. From the most ardent supporter of the war to the most strident critic, everyone claims to be acting in the interest of Our Brave Boys. This is now not a matter of politics, but loyalty. This question is compounded in Ahmed’s case, as the six soldiers killed were all from the local Yorkshire Regiment. Ahmed’s home town Dewsbury was also home of Britain’s best-known suicide bomber, Mohammad Sidique Khan, in the months before his attack on London. Suspicion of young Muslims voicing anti-troops opinions in the area is predictable.

But still the “racially aggravated” charge doesn’t stick, unless one is willing to buy into the notion that Afghanistan is part of an ethno-religious war between “Islam” and “the West”. This is the line that the likes of Anjem Choudary have been pushing for years. And now it seems West Yorkshire police agree.

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  1. Posted 13Mar12 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    I’m inclined to agree save for being able to view the rest of the comment thread. On that message alone, the CPS will have a hard time convincing anyone that there is mileage in any prosecution.

    As the burden of proof tends to be quite high I can only assume that there is something else that was written by the chap which has caused the “racially aggravated” allegation to be selected over and above, say, ‘incitement’.

    As I say, the case should be dead in the water if it is only based on that single comment.

  2. Posted 13Mar12 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    You might like to ask yourself why this overtly threatening and racist comment on the case is still on Facebook nearly 24hrs after it was posted

    “Matthew Cooper > Azhar Ahmed In Court Over Disrespecting Dead British Troops

    ‘fukin hang the p-ki c-nt, better still let him walk the streets n let people dish out their own justice.’

  3. Posted 13Mar12 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Socrates, I have reported Matthew Cooper’s post via and urge you to do the same. The amount of racism/general hate speech on social media sites such as Facebook is astounding, and like ASDA say, every little helps! ;)

  4. Posted 13Mar12 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    I feel the need to point out that the posting refers to “All soldiers” and not just British ones. It also expresses a mildly negative sentiment about the Taliban. There is absolutely nothing religiously or racially provocative here. There is nothing likely to cause fear of violence, or alarm or distress to any degree requiring intervention. What planet are we on?

  5. Posted 13Mar12 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    I’m increasingly coming to believe that I live in a country that doesn’t value freedom of speech. I can honestly find worse things than Azhar Ahmed said without too much searching that were voiced online about the death of Osama Bin Laden, and I’ve heard of anyone being arrested for mocking his death and saying he deserved his fate.

    Don’t get me wrong: I disagree with *all* gloating over *all* death. I just don’t think it should be a legal matter in a country that claims to value freedom of speech, and find it sickening the way that the ‘justice’ system only sees fit to misuse hate speech laws against those verbalising opinion on one side of the debate about the rights and wrongs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I also fail to see how this can be “racially aggravated”, unless all the soldiers in Afghanistan are one race.

  6. Posted 13Mar12 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    This is just too rich for words. On the one hand you support, quite rightly, a fellow who has been charged for expressing an opinion. Then one of your commentators comes along and tells us how he complained to teacher because somebody, er, expressed an opinion…

    What can I say? The white, liberal middle class: you are gems, you really are.

  7. Posted 15Mar12 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    good! well done cps, give the kid ten years.

  8. Posted 18Mar12 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Let him go. What he said was provocative but hardly illegal.

    I have had this suspicion for a while Europeans believe in free speech only for themselves. This incident seems to confirm that suspicion.

  9. Posted 22Mar12 at 11:48 am | Permalink
    Bertram Fox

    The campaign to curb online free speech will use any tool that comes to hand. (And the mob outside Dewsbury court were a right bunch of tools, but let that pass.) Last year it was online piracy, next year (if the conspiracy theorists are right) it will be child porn, right now they’ve snatched the chance to wrap themselves in the flag (as the Americans put it.) But it’s all the same eventual goal, and any defence must be based on exposing that.

  10. Posted 20May12 at 6:01 am | Permalink
    Philip Walton

    I am generally positive about our armed forces who I hope are fighting to maintain the freedom of speech that we usually enjoy in the UK. In the context of what Ahmed posted many vicars preach hell and damnation without CPS intervention so it is my contention that CPS behaved in a racist manner in bringing this prosecution. The generalisation might insult the good soldiers, but when we hear of prosecutions of soldiers for shooting a man whilst praying or setting off a flare in anothers face or whole families being raped and massacred by soldiers then his sentiment isn’t without reason. If there were NO soldiers there would be no wars (an impossible ask of course). The CPS has come under a deal of criticism over internal racism as have the police in the Stephen Lawrence affair, but there have been no criminal prosecutions. I despair!

  11. Posted 05Jul12 at 10:14 am | Permalink
    john jack

    he”ll get off proberly. comments he made are sick and i doubt he’ll have a nice time bumping into squaddies in civi street. very silly boy. throw the book at him and make an example to those who disrespect and spit on our heros graves like he has.

  12. Posted 13Oct12 at 1:24 pm | Permalink
    Philip Walton

    This prosecution was an utter disgrace.
    The police said his comments were insensitive at a time of the dead soldiers repatriation.
    BUT THIS THE TIME WHEN HIS COMPARISONS BECAME VALID…his comparison was about the huge public sympathy shown to them vs the total ignominious acceptance of “collateral damage” i.e death of civilians AND THE DELIBERATE RAPE AND MURDER OF CIVILIANS AND CHILDREN BY SOME SOLDIERS in a war which most people in this country don’t understand.
    I believe the prosecution and very harsh penalty was to discourage others using their right to freedom of speech on social networks.
    I believe that the prosecution actually devalues the work of our military, because the reaction should have been that we are fighting to maintain a free democratic society where freedom of speech is a right and racism is not tolerated, but it proves the absolute converse to that. I BELIEVE THAT THIS PROSECUTION AND RESULTANT HARSH PUNISHMENT WAS RACIST IN THE EXTREME, ESPECIALLY WHEN COMPARED WITH THE NON-PROSECUTION OF OTHER EVENTS THAT HAVE OCCURRED RECENTLY.
    The comment about soldiers going dying and going to hell has been widely promulgated by the media DIVORCED FROM THE CONTEXT IN WHICH IT WAS PUBLISHED in an attempt at justification.
    It is enlightening to see Judge Goodwin sentencing comments, about the effects on Fox’s biscuits and the mistaken retribution against another person of the same name..WHAT ON EARTH HAS THAT TO DO WITH THE SUPPOSED CRIME…CERTAIBLY IT IS NOTHING TO DO WITH AZHAR.
    IMHO Our Criminal Justice System is rapidly becoming a joke.

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7 Trackbacks

  1. [...] Ahmed never mentioned mention race, ethnicity or even culture or faith in his rant. As Padraig Reidy pointed out on the Index on Censorship blog, ‘the “racially aggravated” charge doesn’t stick unless one [...]

  2. [...] Update 2: Padraig Reidy at Index on Censorship asks the same question: how is this racially aggravating? [...]

  3. [...] is really at stake here? Why are the police behaving like this? The blog of the Index on Censorship website suggests that suspicion of Muslims voicing opposition to the troops is rooted in fear and suspicion [...]

  4. [...] never mentioned race, ethnicity or even culture or faith in his rant.’ There is more very useful discussion of Ahmed’s arrest on — of course — the Index on Censorship [...]

  5. [...] this last story: Index on Censorship notes that there was no actual racial content in Ahmed’s message; author Tony White points [...]

  6. [...] Magistrates’ Court today. Ahmed is charged under the Communications Act 2003 after allegedly posting a message on Facebook earlier this month commenting on the relative coverage of British soldiers [...]

  7. [...] are the police behaving like this? The blog of the Index on Censorship website suggests that suspicion of Muslims voicing opposition to the troops is rooted in fear and [...]