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On the destruction of Speaker’s Corner

After four years of living in London I have learned that I can be assured of two things in the summer: 1) Gulf Arabs 2) Christian missionaries (actually, add rain to the list). The two are linked; it seems that the (largely American) missionaries know that they can’t go out to the Gulf and preach the good word, so they’ve decided to try the next best thing – Knightsbridge and Oxford Street.

This leads to some interesting scenarios, as you might think. A prominent Saudi sheikh recently ‘live-tweeted’ his own meeting with the missionaries, complete with photos. The sheikh, Mohammed al-Areefee, said that the missionary had explained that he had come to Europe from the States to spread the gospel. Personally, I think handing out Arabic Bibles on the streets of London is a bit of a missionary cop out compared to others going to African villages and then starting global viral mass movements, but then what do I know.

Now, after observing these guys for years, I have come to one conclusion: they’re crap.

Every summer the missionaries’ faces are different, but the tactics seem to be the same – scream “hadaya majaniya” (free gifts) in some badly pronounced Texan drawl at anyone who looks vaguely Arab. Never mind that you’re essentially treating the heathen Arab like an infant, hoping that the promise of a * free * goodie will trick them into picking up a Bible, only later realising that they’ve fallen for your dastardly plan.

A couple of years ago I used to find the missionaries amusing; the bizarre interactions they’d have with the Gulfies could provide at least a couple of minutes of entertainment. But they just haven’t upped their game. They’ve turned into another annoying thing to avoid when navigating London’s streets, alongside the charity harasser people (shake a bucket and I’ll give you my change, send an agency worker on £10 an hour to not let me walk on a pavement in peace – not gonna sign up) and the beggar gangs.

Our hadaya majaniya friends are not the only ones missionaries patrolling the streets of London.

Enter Speakers’s Corner.

You’ve probably heard of it – that bastion of free speech, the historic heart of freedom of expression, where all viewpoints are heard and respected, and healthy debate is ever present.

Except, if you think that, you’ve probably never been there.

I was waiting for friends at Hyde Park (where Speaker’s Corner is located) and, realising it was a Sunday, thought that I may as well go and check out something I’d wanted to see for years. How disappointed I was.

Speaker’s Corner has turned into the land of the madmen. Instead of the place where the 19th century Chartist movement emerged, where Lenin, Orwell and Marx spoke, we now have a bunch of people on soapboxes shouting, “no, I’m right” followed by their audience replying, “no, you’re wrong.”

It’s quite depressing really. The men on the boxes were largely African and American Christians, and the crowds were largely Gulf Arabs on holiday. Evidently, many of our Gulfie friends are attracted to Speaker’s Corner as a sort of tourist attraction where this curious idea of free speech is practiced. The problem is that many probably return home thinking that Speaker’s Corner is the epitome of democracy, and are all the more pro-autocratic monarchy for it.

Speaker’s Corner is a parody of its former self. On the day I was there, various non-Arabic speakers were telling me about the changes in the Arabic grammar of the Qur’an, a woman was speaking in tongues, and a really arrogant American guy was proclaiming that Muslims couldn’t handle the truth. The worst of it was, the real nutter, the black guy dressed in a sort of black robe with a quasi KKK hood and a large swastika with a line through it was getting no attention.

Both sides weren’t exactly showering themselves in glory, the Muslim fella shouting “gay, gay, gay” at the Christian preacher wasn’t doing his cause much good, nor were the ones who decided that everything would just be better if they had a screaming match.

In essence, intelligent debate seems like an long forgotten concept at Speaker’s Corner – it’s more a “my book says this”, “no, my book says this.” The problem, of course, with that is, you’re not exactly going to convince anyone of anything if they don’t believe in your holy book in the first place.

Maybe I’ll go back to Speaker’s Corner in September. Maybe the rational debaters leave it for the summer, knowing the international men of madness will take over. One can live in hope…

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Discussion

188 Responses to “On the destruction of Speaker’s Corner”

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  10. This isn't just an annoyance in Great Britain, it happens in every city and town in the United States, too. And all over the internet, especially news forums. I don't care what religious beliefs someone has as long as no one is harmed. But do these zealots ever actually recruit anyone? I mean anyone that's sane?

    Posted by PoofShesGone | October 4, 2014, 10:41 am
    • I know wrong "stalker", but I have a thought on this as well.

      I absolutely agree with what you are saying.
      I read the line " intelligent debate seems like an long forgotten concept" and news forums and internet "debate" sites were the first things that came to my mind as well.
      BTW. I live in Mormon country so I know exactly what Abubakr is talking about, they'll bring the soapbox to your house.

      I thought it was a good article.

      Posted by juan_garcia | October 4, 2014, 11:08 am
      • Good morning, Juan, nice to 'see' you! I'm fortunate in that I have a 6' security fence around my property and an electronic coded gate, so the mermins and JW's can't get in. I was walking down the street in a nearby 'large metropolitan area' with my grandson and there was a guy screaming at the top of his lungs, "Jesus is coming!!!!" My grandson looked at me and said, "Grammy, is that man sick? And who's Jemus?" I just looked at him and said, "Yeah, that guy's sick". =)

        Posted by PoofShesGone | October 4, 2014, 11:17 am
        • Good morning to you as well, there won't be much debate with you and me on this subject it sounds like we totally agree.

          Cute story about your grandson. I'm old enough to have grandkids, but my son is too busy playing the field to have a serious relationship.
          His Mom aches for a grandchild, I think she's going to kidnap one.

          Posted by juan_garcia | October 4, 2014, 11:35 am
          • Tell your wife to hang out in stores like Walmart and Target — there's always little kids wandering around by themselves she can kidnap. LOL.

            As for my grandson, I thought it was kinda funny he'd never heard of Jesus, he even put in an "m" where the first "s" goes. He's a sweet little guy.

            Posted by PoofShesGone | October 4, 2014, 11:46 am
          • A lack of early childhood training might result in a lack of manners and social skills.

            Even if you don't agree with religion to keep someone deliberately ignorant is not a good sign of parenting skills.

            Posted by Roger | October 4, 2014, 12:51 pm
          • "…old enough to have grandkids…"<—however old that is!?! One of my sisters became a grandmother right after she turned 35.

            Posted by PoofShesGone | October 5, 2014, 1:39 am
          • Well I'm not that young, but my son is 35 he should be having a serious relationship by now, I would think.

            I can't stand Walmart so we'll have to get our grandkid somewhere else.

            Posted by juan_garcia | October 5, 2014, 1:47 am
          • You're right, nobody needs a WallyWaif. Get your wife a puppy.

            Posted by PoofShesGone | October 5, 2014, 1:55 am
          • Better to wait for the right one, then have him pushed into one that he regrets.

            Posted by Roger | October 5, 2014, 4:30 am
  11. Alinsky — I see Looking4Insanity and TopSnot are having a bit of a lover's quarrel, with one suggesting the other wants him to stop commenting. Trouble in paradise….no more paradise from the dashboard light, I guess.

    Posted by PoofShesGone | October 4, 2014, 10:52 am
    • It reminds me of the fight Steven and Sara had after they returned from their vacation island in the book Dallas Billionaires.

      Posted by Alinsky Hero USA | October 4, 2014, 12:10 pm
      • Sara and Steven bicker all the time because she's an ill-mannered harrigan who flies around on a broom with a rotted-out broomstick because her po-po reeks of fish and her saggy boobies drag on the ground and she nags all the time because she hates men and needs more estrogen and midol and people whisper behind her back. Duh.
        I'm going to work. I'd tell you to enjoy your day with 'he who shall not be named', but it's the holy seventh day so I'm sure he'll be busy observing the sabbath and won't comment because that violates the tenets of all things holy. *wink, wink*

        Posted by PoofShesGone | October 4, 2014, 12:38 pm
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