The Tories are responsible for many bad things. However, they do not have a record of punishing women by stoning them to death. Therefore, one might think, it would be safe for a Tory flippantly to suggest that a liberal commentator should be stoned to death, on their Twitter account.
Police in Birmingham today arrested a Conservative city councillor who sent a Twitter message saying that the newspaper columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown should be stoned to death.
Alibhai-Brown said last night she would report Gareth Compton, a councillor for the Erdington district, to police following the tweet.
Compton was arrested last night and bailed after questioning. A spokeswoman for West Midlands police said: “We can confirm a 38-year-old man from Harborne has been arrested for an offence under section 127 (1a) of the Communications Act of 2003 on suspicion of sending an offensive or indecent message. He has been bailed pending further inquiries.”
The Conservative party said Compton had been suspended indefinitely over the alleged tweet.
A spokesman said: “Language of this sort is not acceptable and as a result Gareth Compton’s membership of the Conservative party has been indefinitely suspended pending further investigation.”
Compton said the message posted yesterday on his private Twitter account had been “a glib comment” in response to the writer’s appearance on Nicky Campbell’s Radio 5 Live breakfast show.
The message – now apparently deleted – said: “Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing, really.”
Alibhai-Brown, who writes columns for the Independent and the London Evening Standard, said last night she regarded his comments as incitement to murder. She told the Guardian: “It’s really upsetting. My teenage daughter is really upset too. It’s really scared us.
“You just don’t do this. I have a lot of threats on my life. It’s incitement. I’m going to the police – I want them to know that a law’s been broken.”
She added that she regarded Compton’s remarks as racially motivated because he mentioned stoning.
“If I as a Muslim woman had tweeted that it would be a blessing if Gareth Compton was stoned to death I’d be arrested immediately. I don’t think the nasty Tories went away.”
YAB is correct up to a point. The “stoning” joke came to Compton’s mind, because he associates Muslims with stoning. It is in particularly poor taste to make a joke about YAB, because YAB is a liberal Ismaili, who has been outspoken in her opposition to stoning and huddud punishments generally. Quips which pay on a person’s religious or ethnic identity are not generally to be encouraged.
I do think, however, that YAB may be ever so slightly overstating the level of “fear” that the tweet caused her.
It is good to know that the West Midlands Police are now taking stoning so seriously. They seemed very unconcerned, a couple of years back, at the conduct of Abu Usamah Al-Thahabi, of Birmingham’s extremist Green Lanes mosque who called gay “perverted, dirty, filthy dogs who should be murdered”.
Sadly, on that occasion, the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service tried to have Channel 4 Dispatches prosecuted for bringing Mr Thahabi’s bigotry to the attention of the public.
Also see Paul Sinha on Index on Censorship, who is getting worried about a similar joke involving Peter Mandelson
There is some debate as to whether Gareth Compton or YAB first raised stoning. This is important.
Here is what Compton says:
In a statement released in a series of tweets, Compton said: “I did not ‘call’ for the stoning of anybody. I made an ill-conceived attempt at humour in response to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown saying on Radio 5 Live this morning that no politician had the right to comment on human rights abuses, even the stoning of women in Iran. I apologise for any offence caused. It was wholly unintentional.”
I didn’t hear the Radio 5 segment in question. If Compton is correct that YAB expressed the view that Western politicians should not object to Iranians stoning women, that puts a very different context on the “joke”. The comment is aimed at YAB’s politics, not her ethnicity.
So my question is: did YAB really say that Western politicians shouldn’t object to stoning in Iran?
Here is the sound clip from the show. She is on the programme with a chap from Human Rights Watch. You will hear the issue of stoning came up on the programme and YAB spoke about it.
Clearly, contrary to my initial reaction, it was improper for her to suggest that stoning only entered Compton’s mind for reasons of some racist association with Muslims.
Paul Chambers, the airport-bomb-twitter-joke loses his appeal. These are dangerous times in which to make a joke.