MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT: It’s not much to ask protesters to allow us a day of solemnity
Just because you are free to do something, it does not mean that you should do it. The freedom of speech does not oblige us all to say outrageous or insulting things. On the contrary, it is a liberty to be used as wisely as possible.
The same is true of the other painfully won freedoms our society has inherited from those who fought for them over many centuries, and which we take too much for granted.
Of course the freedom to demonstrate, most especially for an unpopular cause, should be available. But society as a whole, and the police, have an equal obligation to ensure that such freedom is not used to destroy or damage the peace or freedom of others.
In recent years, the police have sometimes seemed to be confused about what they should and should not permit, allowing some protests to proceed unhindered and trying to limit others. Naturally they will look to our Government for guidance as to how to act. In the case of a pro-Palestinian march planned for next Saturday – Armistice Day – the Prime Minister himself has condemned the event, saying: ‘To plan protests on Armistice Day is provocative and disrespectful, and there is a clear and present risk that the Cenotaph and other war memorials could be desecrated, something that would be an affront to the British public and the values we stand for.’
Pictured: Outnumbered trasport police look on as activists stage a mass sit down protest in Liverpool street station during rush hour to demand a ceasefire and humanitarian aid into Gaza on October 31
Pictured: Pro-Palestine protesters perform a sit in at Kings Cross station on Friday evening as part of an ongoing series of demonstrations calling for a ceasefire
Pictured: Police officers arrest environmental activists from Just Stop Oil near Earl’s Court as they continue their slow marches during latest round of protest actions against fossil fuels in London on November 1
He has a point. But what does this mean in practice? The Palestinian cause has had plenty of opportunities to make its feelings clear during the past few weeks. Sometimes participants in these protests have expressed opinions that trespass on the edge of the lawful or the legitimate. This makes these events very hard to police, and their outcomes unpredictable. But should this assembly be banned, as some have suggested, and as some think Mr Sunak’s words imply?
The Mail on Sunday sympathises with the Metropolitan Police, who have the awkward task of upholding the sacred right to protest while making sure it is not abused. We also understand the strong passions that motivate many of the marchers, who are distressed by Israel’s current actions in Gaza.
But the planned Armistice Day protest is different from those that have gone before. At this season of the year, all the people of this country, and many from the Commonwealth too, have traditionally come together to remember the honoured dead – Christian, Muslim, Jewish and of many other faiths and none – who fell in the cause of liberty and in the battle against tyranny.
This is a non-political moment, infused in many cases with religious feeling and also with a profound, quiet, proud patriotism – which is not about waving flags but about standing silently in reverence and remembrance.
While it reaches its climax on Sunday at the Cenotaph, the actual 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (which falls on Saturday) remains sacred to many. If Central London at that time is filled by a contentious political demonstration, we cannot be sure that it will not cause distress.
Can the organisers of the November 11 protest not recognise that it would be better to stand aside and leave the heart of the capital to memory, mourning and solemnity for that day at least?
It is not all that much to ask. But as those we commemorate on Saturday and Sunday died for freedom, asking is all we should or can do. Thanks to our forebears, this is not – and should not become – a country of bans and riot squads.
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