News has come in that ex-UKIP councillor, Eric Kitson, 59, will not be charged for postings on his Facebook page which included anti-Muslim materials. The former Worcestershire county councillor won the Stourport-on-Severn seat on the 2nd of May 2013. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) stated that there was “insufficient evidence” to charge the former councillor. The CPS further went onto comment that there was not enough evidence to suggest that the former councillor intended to stir up religious hatred.
Within the decision of the CPS lies the problem. It is clear that the social media guidelines developed by the CPS as they stand, do not cover the kind of material that Eric Kitson was promoting. Yet, the material that he promoted denigrated and caricatured a community with, one can easily argue, the sole purpose of making out that Muslims were sub-human and by virtue, deserving of hate. It could also be argued that promoting graphics and statements that were anti-Muslim in nature, meant that he was promoting prejudicial material that could influence some people to feel anger and hatred towards Muslims. These arguments would be strong and potentially valid given that Mr Kitson actually posted such material and did not merely state his intention to post the material. There is a clear distinction here that needs to be made. He acted on his convictions.
So the CPS decision, we believe, is not so much about the lack of evidence in this case, but more about political and practical considerations. The political considerations are this. After the ‘Robin Hood’ airport bomb tweet case, the political backlash against the decision by the CPS to prosecute, put the Department under pressure and significantly weakened its position on prosecuting social media cases. Furthermore, with deepening cuts in Government departments and more and more social media cases coming in, the decision to row back on social media positions was one made on both of these grounds. The CPS also needed to manage the caseloads coming in.
One of the graphic posters promoted by Mr Kitson was a pig with a chef’s hat on with the Arabic emblem of Allah (God), holding a fork whilst a Qu’ran burns in the background. Above the burning Qu’ran and being spit roasted is a caricature of Prophet Muhammad. Another graphic promoted by Mr Kitson states, “It’s time for the entire free world to unite against Islam – because the savages (read Muslim into that), are already united against us.” Another shows Churchill with a victorious hand gesture and with the comments, “Fuck off! You Muslim bastards, we didn’t win 2 wars just to hand England over to you!!!”
What is clear is that the comments promoted on Mr Kitson’s Facebook page were targeted at Muslims. For those seeing these graphics and posters, what are the kind of impressions they would pick up? Would viewers feel love or even ambivalence against Muslims? Or would they be incensed and influenced to see Muslims as being inherently savage like or alien?
What is clear from this case is that such material will not be prosecuted and the background noise of such hate and poison will rumble on. The CPS has decided that such material is not illegal. By the lack of action, will it open the door for more of this material to be posted? For those who think that such material does not have an impact, the best response to this position is this statement from a victim of anti-Muslim prejudice who contacted us for assistance. She said:
“There is so much anti-Muslim material on social media and on-line. When my neighbour threw rubbish on my drive-way he also posted a graphic which he printed off the web, onto my door. It was a picture of a Muslim man with horns on his head. The next time we saw him, he asked me how the picture was.”
So much for on-line material having no impact on perpetrators.