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Livingstone, Confused

In 2004, London Mayor Ken Livingstone—who has long held a soft spot in his heart for terrorists of the Muslim and (perhaps of weightier concern to his constituents) Irish variety—welcomed the fanatical Egyptian cleric (and al-Jazeera commentator) Yusuf al-Qaradawi to his city for a conference (see this great anti-Livingstone advertisement). Peter Tatchell, the heroic gay rights campaigner and anti-Islamist advocate, as well as Livingstone’s most vocal and persistent critic on this issue, offered this brief and all-encompassing summary of the Islamist “scholar”:

Qaradawi supports female genital mutilation, wife-beating, the execution of homosexuals, destruction of the Jewish people, suicide bombing of innocent civilians, and the punishment of rape victims who do not dress with sufficient modesty.

Yesterday, at the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” site, in an exercise that truly strains belief, Livingstone published a piece supporting the British Labour government’s attempts to pass a law banning incitement to homophobic hatred.

Livingstone writes:

Consistency in the protection the law provides is essential for two reasons: to provide justice to the individuals concerned, and as a line drawn by society against prejudice. This is the approach I have taken towards the government’s impending Single Equality Act and it is the approach that politicians and government must adopt in providing equal protection against incitement to hatred.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote that “an intelligent person is one who can hold two contradictory ideas in mind simultaneously.” There’s a degree of truth in that assertion. But this is just ridiculous.

To be sure, hate-crimes laws are in and of themselves a specious proposition: aren’t all violent crimes, in the end, motivated by hatred? Proponents have not sufficiently explained why crimes committed due to the perpetrator’s racism or homophobia—as opposed to his hatred, say, for an ex-lover—should be treated more harshly, and such laws therefore run the risk of valuing certain victims more than others. The proposed law in Britain goes even further by rendering whole categories of speech illegal. Actual hate crimes already are prosecuted more vigorously than other violent crimes.

But the debate about the merits of the suggested law is an academic one and secondary to addressing the unmitigated gall behind Livingstone’s assuming the mantle of gay-rights champion. It’s frankly shocking that an ostensible progressive like Livingstone, who has hosted a prominent religious fascist advocating the execution of gays, would not see the inconsistency in his arguing on behalf of a law to ban incitement to violence against gays.

Normally, the reader comments section at the Guardian is rife with Stalinist apologetics and conspiratorial anti-Semitism. This time, however, the commentators outdo themselves in expressing amazement at how Livingstone could pen such an outrageously oblivious article without any mention of his own affiliations with inciters to homophobic crime. Were this bill law at the time Livingstone welcomed Qaradawi to London, the mayor quite possibly could have been prosecuted under its statues for aiding and abetting incitement to murder. Given his remarkable obtuseness, one cannot help but conclude that the irony of this situation is lost on Livingstone.



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