Freedom Of Speech Is Reserved For the Few

Jo Reid reports on clearing Kelvin MacKenzie of discrimination

Sun columnist, Kelvin MacKenzie recently questioned whether it was right for Channel 4 news reporter Fatima Manji to wear a hijab while presenting a report on the Nice massacre in July. Despite receiving complaints, the Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO) has not seen his comments as harassment or discrimination. The remarks, which received more than 300 complaints, had questioned whether “it was appropriate for her to be on camera when there had been yet another shocking slaughter by a Muslim?”. MacKenzie later defended his “reasonable” criticism of Channel 4 by arguing that the hijab was a “religious statement” and therefore should be not be seen prominently on television.

Despite Channel 4 stating that Ms Manji was a victim of religion discrimination, IPSO ruled that MacKenzie was entitled to express his own views, and his column created legitimate public debate. Channel 4, on the other hand, replied to the ruling with saying “Whilst we agree that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, we do not believe that it should be used as a license to incite or discriminate.”

The idea that hijabs are more religious or political than other religious symbols is not a new one. In France, school children are banned from wearing any religious symbols, a law that most commonly targets hijab wearers, many of whom may not even wear one for religious purposes but rather for cultural reasons. More recently was the infamous Beach Burkini Ban, which led to an incident where a woman was ordered to remove her burkini by two armed policeman, so MacKenzie’s comments are not something new.

Of course it is also ridiculous to suggest that what religion a woman belongs to or even what she is wearing would somehow inhibit her ability to perform her job, and that Muslim people by default would be unable to emphasize with the Nice massacre because it was carried out by a Islamic terrorist organization. This kind of thinking that lumps together peaceful followers of Islam with violent extremists is an extremely damaging rhetoric, which encourages Islamophobic violence and discrimination. The fact that IPSO has not criticized and instead encouraged MacKenzie’s words under a ‘freedom of speech’ excuse is unacceptable.

[Jo Reid]

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