Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Muscular Liberalism

'Muscular liberalism," says Jack Gilbert. "I'm no Tory, but that's what we need here. A little muscular liberalism." He sighs. It has been a trying time.

The main problem is always the earthquake, causing fear and devastation. But thereafter come the aftershocks, continuing the damage, heightening the uncertainty. Jack is worried about the aftershocks in Tower Hamlets in east London.

What happened in the borough, where a population 36% Muslim shares space with one of the highest ratios of same-sex couples in the country, was nasty. Stickers began appearing, on the streets, near gay venues, on public transport, outside a school, declaring the borough to be a "gay free" zone. "Verily Allah is severe in punishment," they said.

Fair dos; the local police reacted quickly. A fortnight ago one local man, Mohammed Hasnath, was convicted.

But then came the aftershocks. The first was that Hasnath was fined just £100. "The charge brought by British Transport Police was too low," says Gilbert. "Even the judge seemed to think so, but they decided that the stickers themselves were not threatening." Jack's exasperated. "Not threatening? As a Jew I know that had the signs said 'No Jew zone', that would have been regarded as threatening. 'No blacks zone'? We wouldn't even be talking about it."

Gilbert had been expecting the influential East London Mosque to react with an unequivocal public statement denouncing all shades of homophobia. Despite several requests and private meetings with officials, he is still waiting for some clear indication that everyone is on the same page.

"The CPS didn't cover themselves in glory either," he says. "You could say everyone needs to reflect."

They do indeed. For while we were all digesting figures that suggest a 21% rise in gay hate crime incidents locally, Gilbert was doing some number crunching. "We fear the true position is substantially worse," he suggests.

That's why, for him, the future is muscular liberalism. "We have been conciliatory, but that's got to work both ways. Now's the time for mutual respect."

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