Why the imprisonment of Britain First’s anti-Muslim leaders is a big deal
The news that the leader and the deputy leader of the far-right, anti-Islam Britain First group will be jailed for hate crimes against Muslims is a big deal.
Britain First leader Paul Golding was sentenced to 18 weeks in prison and his deputy, Jayda Fransen, was sentenced to 36 weeks in prison after they were convicted of religiously aggravated harassment.
If their names sound familiar it is because they hit international headlines after US President Donald Trump retweeted Islamophobic posts by the group last November.
At the time, many feared that Trump’s retweets would help normalise Britain First’s anti-Muslim rhetoric. It is, therefore, a good thing that Golding and Fransen are being held to account for their Islamophobic views and actions because this sends a clear message that Britain will not tolerate such views.
The two were arrested last year after distributing leaflets and posting online videos during a trial of three Muslim men and a teenager who were later convicted of rape and jailed.
In May 2017, Fransen went to the home of one of the defendants and shouted racist statements through the front door and Golding filmed the episode. The defendant, Tamin Rahmani, was not home at the time.
Rahmani’s partner, Kelli Best, said she was alone in the house with their two young children.
In another incident, also recorded by Golding, Fransen confronted a Muslim man at a fast-food restaurant. She apparently believed the man was a defendant in the rape trial, calling him a “foreigner” and a “paedophile.”
In both cases, they targeted innocent members of the public instead of defendants in the case.
Judge Justin Barron said Fransen and Golding’s actions “demonstrated hostility” towards Muslims and Islam.
“I have no doubt it was their joint intention to use the facts of the case for their own political ends. It was a campaign to draw attention to the race, religion and immigrant background of the defendants,” he said.
The two were convicted on a joint charge of religiously aggravated harassment.
News of their conviction and imprisonment sparked calls for a clampdown on religious intolerance in the United Kingdom. HOPE not hate, an anti-racism advocacy group in the United Kingdom, welcomed the verdict.
“For Britain First, the birds are coming home to roost. Thuggery and deliberate intimidation and flouting of the law in order to prosecute a fanatical hatred of Muslims should have no place in any civilised society,” HOPE not hate posted on Twitter.
“Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen should get the message that their vile brand of hatred is not welcome in modern Britain and those who have enabled their message, like Facebook, should take swift action to remove them from their platform,” the group added.
Tell MAMA, a national project that records anti-Muslim incidents in the United Kingdom, called on social media platforms to take down Britain First’s posts and clamp down on similar anti-Muslim messages.
“Tell MAMA now calls on Facebook to remove the account of Britain First, which boasts more than 2 million ‘likes’ following this verdict,” a statement from the group said.
“As soon as the judgment was passed @facebook should have removed their page. Why not? The longer the page is up the less Facebook should be able to say that they tackle anti-Muslim hate,” the group tweeted.
It is important to crack down on religious intolerance and incitement to hatred; however many fear that “populist,” far-right, nativist discourse is getting a free pass on the internet and in the media.
Britain First and other far-right groups that promote anti-Muslim sentiments have been linked to numerous attacks in the past year. British police discovered that Darren Osborne, who drove a van into worshippers at the Finsbury Park mosque, injuring at least ten people, read posts from Britain First before the attack. Thomas Mair, who on June 16, 2016, killed Labour MP Jo Cox, repeatedly shouted “Britain First” and other right-wing slogans during the attack.
At a time when far-right and anti-Muslim rhetoric is growing across Europe, it can only be a good thing that those who preach and incite religious intolerance, whoever they may be, are held to account.