Analysis: Gaza protesters might be 'angry' but they're still guilty

By David Aaronovitch, March 4, 2010

In January 2009 someone sent me a link to footage taken at one of the Gaza protests in London. Taken by a demonstrator, and 10 minutes long, it showed a thin cordon of policemen being, in effect, chased from the edge of Trafalgar Square to the Hyde Park end of Piccadilly.

For the entire distance, men with faces covered were throwing traffic cones, sticks and anything that came to hand at the retreating officers, while shouting "Run, you f**** cowards!" The only time this mantra changed was when the police, briefly, put up a fight, when the shout became "you racist bastards!"

I don't know whether it was at this demo, or a subsequent one, that a crowd laid siege to the Israeli Embassy, an occasion that ended in the trashing of a Starbucks and battles between police and demonstrators, who used metal crash barriers and sticks as weapons. When I saw those scenes I knew - as an old demo-person - that, if caught, someone would go to prison.

The CPS guidelines lay out "aggravating and mitigating factors" in sentencing for public order offences. Aggravating factors include a setting in a "busy public place", a large group, people put in fear, injuries/damage, violence towards the police and disguises (ie faces covered). The only mitigation would be the impulsive nature of the action.

Sure enough, a number of those convicted of taking part in these disturbances have received short jail terms. The result has been a triumphant yell of "Islamophobia" from parts of the old Left.

The most egregious example was provided by Seumas Milne in the Guardian. In an article characterised by more than the usual amount of elision, evasion, lack of evidence and amnesia, Milne asserted that the sentences confirmed that "young British Muslims" were being singled out for "special treatment in the land of their birth".

In a comment on this piece, the former MCB spokesman Inayat Bunglawala drew a parallel between the "disproportionately stiff sentences" given to "young Muslims", and the immunity of Israeli officials from arrest in Britain.

It is clear from the original footage that those who took part in violence at the Gaza protests were operating under the assumption that their "anger" created some kind of impunity. But the British state has never allowed such a feeling to persist. Were the officers who were accused of brutality towards Countryside demonstrators in 2004 ruralophobes? Or, when they arrest EDL anti-Muslim thugs, are they Islamophobiaophobes?

Of course not. So whatever the intentions of Messrs Milne and Bungawala, their words are practically incitements to further violence.

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010