A BRIDGE TOO FAR

Viewed now almost as an appendage to Parliament, Westminster Bridge was once a tourist attraction for all the right reasons. During the construction of the original in the 1740s, the fact it was only the second major bridge erected in central London since Roman times provoked both excitement and opposition. The latter came from the Thames watermen, whose taxi service ferrying people from one side of the river to the other was perceived to be under threat; for centuries, old London Bridge, that marvellous medieval bottleneck crammed with houses and shops and permanently congested with traffic, had been the sole man-made edifice enabling the Thames to be crossed without the need for hailing a boat.

The sudden appearance of a new bridge was so novel a sight that during one of the periodical winters when the Thames froze over and a frost-fair was held on the river, the incomplete piers of Westminster Bridge served as part of the entertainment as visitors paid to stand atop them for a unique view of the city. This version of Westminster Bridge survived for just over a century before the current model replaced it, but it remains the oldest working bridge still in use in the capital.

Moving on, say the words Westminster Bridge to TV viewers of a certain age and chances are they’ll think of that iconic shot of the Daleks from the 1964 ‘Doctor Who’ story, ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’; the Time Lord’s arch-enemies gliding along the bridge with Big Ben behind them seemed to enhance their menace. A Surrey quarry masquerading as an alien landscape was one thing, but the natives of Skaro intruding on home territory convinced children they could turn a corner and run into a Dalek on their own high-street.

Of course, Westminster Bridge has now been added to the annals of infamous London locations on account of events that took place there yesterday, effectively erasing all past associations from the popular imagination. The Daleks are the kind of fantasy embodiment of evil we can understand and be excited by, just as we can Dracula or Darth Vader; but the greatest evil, as always, is harboured within man himself, not the creatures he creates. Patrick McGoohan got that when he revealed Number One in the controversial climax of ‘The Prisoner’ as being Number Six all along.

Any individual who can deliberately drive a car into a random selection of pedestrians and then stab a man to death either because he was wearing a particular uniform or simply because he got in the way inhabits a different league altogether, one that provokes repulsion and bewilderment because it bears so little relation to the evil of fiction that we’ve been familiar with ever since being told the story of the Big Bad Wolf’s encounter with Little Red Riding Hood as children. The real bogeyman isn’t a comfortable caricature, but too close to the realities of the dark side in all of us. Just make sure you get his name right.

Yes, it seems apt, considering the topic of the previous post, that the rush to be first with the facts following yesterday’s incident resulted in a catastrophic faux-pas on the part of ‘cool’ Channel 4 News, which tries so hard to be the ‘Magpie’ to Newsnight’s ‘Blue Peter’. With veteran host Jon Snow at the helm, a man who seeks to combine the broadcasting gravitas of David Dimbleby with the wacky tie wardrobe of Richard Whiteley, ably assisted by both Cathy Newman (a woman whose serious news presenter credentials have often been undermined by the occasional glimpse of stocking-top – check YouTube for evidence) and Krishnan Guru-Murthy (a man whose fat neck seems in constant danger of absorbing his entire head), the programme was caught out as it jumped the gun far too early in the aftermath of the afternoon’s confusion by naming the assailant.

Unfortunately, the man they named – Trevor Brooks AKA Abu Izadeen, a disciple of fellow jail-bird Anjem Choudary – happens to be serving a prison sentence at the moment and therefore couldn’t have been behind the wheel on Westminster Bridge. But he’s a fat ‘coloured’ bloke with a big beard, so the cock-up is understandable, eh? Sacrificing fact-checking and journalistic integrity in order to be first off the blocks in the perennial battle with Sky and the Beeb, Channel 4 News blew it big time and became a Twitter laughing-stock last night, even removing the offending section from the sixty-minute delay of the Channel 4 +1 service so their glaring error couldn’t be watched again. But the damage was already done.

As expected, the trickle of misinformation that occupied the hours following yesterday’s events was eventually superseded by a clearer picture of what happened and who was actually involved. The dead have been named, as has the perpetrator of the incident, and his name isn’t either Trevor Brooks or Abu Izadeen, surprisingly. It should serve as a warning to rolling news channels and all media outlets that deal with the news to make sure they get their facts right before broadcasting them, though I doubt they’ll take heed of the warning; the competition is too intense and the self-inflicted pressure to get a scoop to the public before the competitors do so precludes any old-school attention to detail.

© The Editor

THE RISE AND FALL OF A MEDIA WHORE

AdjemSo, after a green-fingered interlude, we’re back to Hate Crime again. I always thought Anjem Choudary was a shit-stirring prat. Nick Griffin with a beard; a rentagobshite joke conjured up by ‘Channel 4 News’ or ‘Newsnight’ to play the tediously token controversial contrarian; a caricature of an Islamic hate preacher who could have been concocted by ‘Viz’; a desperate publicity-seeking defender of the indefensible because it brought him infamy; to be honest, I half-expected him to turn up on ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ at some point, he was so pathetic in his attempts to be noticed, no better than the stars of ‘Geordie Shore’ or ‘The Only Way is Essex’ he’d be sharing the Big Brother House with. A mate of mine regularly used to wind him up on Twitter, playing on the online evidence of his far-from devout student days before he became a Professional Muslim; he rose to the bait on every occasion.

At the same time, I could see no real difference between him and those who spout the other side of the argument on the same programmes – the PC preachers, the patronising middle-class North London-dwelling spokesmen and women for ‘the working-classes’, the squeaky-voiced Feminazi Babes pleading for Victimhood as they auditioned for a column in the Grauniad. I got the distinct impression that all these sad media whores had far more in common than whatever ideological differences divided them. In some respects, I sensed Choudary was invited onto such shows simply as an amusing alternative to the insufferable right-on platitudes of the rest of them. By challenging the consensus whenever a terrorist atrocity occurred, Choudary represented a rare minority opinion; the problem was that his ego and deep desire to make a name for himself overshadowed any valid opposition he may have harboured. It generally came across as contrariness for contrariness’s sake.

Unlike Owen Jones or Laurie Penny, however, Anjem Choudary has now felt the full force of British – as opposed to Sharia – Law, convicted of inviting support for a proscribed organisation, namely ISIS, otherwise known as ‘So-called Islamic State’ or ‘Daesh’. The latter to me always sounds like a description of somebody suspected of being Welsh – ‘Hmm, he sounds a bit Dai-ish’ – but that’s beside the point. The point is that Choudary’s years of exploiting the democratic rights of a free society by advocating the dissolution of them have finally caught up with him, and he’s due to receive his sentence next month. Playing the cartoon Hate Preacher for the benefit of the media wasn’t enough to bang him behind bars, and he knew it. Therefore, the authorities spent months trying to find a way to finally silence him, and the CPS found it in Section 12 of the Terrorist Act of 2000.

Reporting restrictions have been tight around Choudary’s trial – no doubt the powers-that-be will cite the sensitivity of clandestine terrorism-related issues, whereas Choudary’s supporters will claim the veil of secrecy within the media has been imposed to obscure the fact that the charges that have been dubiously cobbled together to nick Choudary quickly collapse if subjected to scrutiny. At least we know what the charges were. Choudary belongs to the generation whose every utterance is an online footprint that can be easily accessed by those eager to bring him down, and it would appear they’ve succeeded.

Ironically, the very democratic freedoms he claimed to despise were ones he utilised after his arrest, approaching the Supreme Court in order to halt the prosecution. He failed. That was one option he wouldn’t have had if his alleged dream of the Islamic flag flying over No.10 in ‘Londonistan’ had ever come to fruition. I’ve a feeling he was toying with the media yet again when he made that claim, but too much toying has cost him his freedom now. He’s poised to experience the kind of isolation from democracy he purports to support, though it won’t be coming via Sharia Law, but British Law.

The crime with which he has been charged is encouraging the vulnerable and easily-influenced to sign-up to the nihilistic agenda of ISIS, though I have strong doubts that he ever genuinely believed in the ISIS philosophy. I think Anjem Choudary is as much a wannabe celebrity as anyone whose ultimate ambition is to grace the front cover of ‘OK!’ magazine; he merely took a different route to that facile fame. He’s not some Bond-like criminal mastermind, just a sad little publicity-seeker who found an alternative avenue to the front pages of the tabloids that spared him (and the nation) from having to get his kit off on TV.

I don’t agree with anything Anjem Choudary advocated in his numerous television appearances, but – as the old saying goes – I respect his right to advocate them. It’s evident the authorities have searched high and low to locate something they can convict him for, and it would appear they’ve found it. I can think of many in the public eye I would gladly silence if only there were an offence on the statue books they could be charged with – can nobody evoke an ancient law that can stick James Corden in Strangeways? But in the case of Choudary, one has been found. Whether or not it stands up as a genuine offence remains to be seen. I certainly won’t miss his presence, but I can’t help but wonder if this is another case of the authorities concocting a convenient charge that will remove a thorn in their side from the headlines.

© The Editor