On 8 April at Birmingham Magistrates' Court, District Judge Ian Strongman heard a trial of racially aggravated harassment against Tim Burton, 61, a computing consultant from Birmingham and the Radio Officer of the British party Liberty GB.
The reason for the charge was three tweets he sent over a period of a month from early June to early July 2013 to Tell Mama UK, a helpline organisation for victims of anti-Muslim attacks that also serves to monitor and collect data on them, whose director is prominent Muslim Fiyaz Mughal.
Investigations by The Telegraph’s Andrew Gilligan discovered that, in the wake of the murder of soldier Lee Rigby, Tell Mama had inflated numbers and seriousness of “Islamophobic” crimes, many of which were just posts on social media.
Discrepancies were also found between police figures and the association’s statistics, and this led to Tell Mama’ state funding – which by then amounted to £375,000 – being discontinued.
These revelations inspired Mr Burton to write the tweet “I wish to report Fiyaz Mughal for being a mendacious, grievance-mongering little Muslim scumbag & I want my £214,000 back now.” (a reference to taxpayers’ money) and two other tweets of a similar tone, calling Mr Mughal a “taqiyya-artist”. For these three tweets Mr Burton was accused of racially aggravated harassment.
The concept of taqiyya, part of a well-established Islamic doctrine, is the divine permission and even encouragement for Muslims to deceive non-Muslims to further the cause of Islam, particularly when Muslims are a minority.
The trial lasted all day. The Crown Prosecution Service called Mr Mughal as a witness via a video link. He repeatedly expressed that the tweets made him feel intimidated and targeted for his Muslim faith. On cross-examination, it was revealed that he did not know the meaning of the word “mendacious”, one of the insulting remarks that provoked the trial.
Next, the defendant Tim Burton took the witness stand. He said that his tweets, although in retrospect intemperate, were not intended nor expected to generate distress or anguish in someone like Tell Mama’s director, whose job is to search for and read online posts of analogous kind.
He added that the tweets were a political expression of outrage at the abuse of public money and the encroachment of Islam into British society.
Dutch scholar of Islam Professor Hans Jansen gave evidence as expert witness on taqiyya. He explained that the doctrine of taqiyya is accepted by all Muslim theologians and Quran commentaries, and rejected the prosecution’s and Mr Mughal’s theory that this word refers to a behaviour only found among minority Shia Muslims persecuted by majority Sunni Muslims, or that it is just used by far-right groups to victimise Muslims.
Asked by the defence lawyer if a Muslim could reasonably be offended by being described as practicing taqiyya, the witness replied that he had no reason to, since it is part of the faith he follows.
The District Judge, who had read some of Professor Jansen’s writings before the trial, seemed to find his arguments persuasive.
He found that Mr Burton had a right to free expression and that Mr Mughal had not been caused harassment by the three tweets sent to Tell Mama which were critical of him and his organisation. Mr Burton was acquitted on all charges.