A Boston councillor was denied the role of Mayor of Boston after accusations of hate speech against Islam on Facebook.
Blue Revolution Councillor Mike Gilbert lost the vote on Monday night’s AGM after posts that he made during the Qatar World Cup were brought up.
He denied he was racist, but said he was raising questions about Islam’s record of women’s rights and gay rights.
Newly elected Boston Independent Councillor Dale Broughton criticised the remarks, saying: “The comments expressed on social media do little to bring about social integration in our town, which I believe is so badly needed to progress.”
However, Cllr Richard Austin said: “I have looked at the comments on social media, and I saw them as a historical note. They were not personal.”
When confronted, Councillor Mike Gilbert admitted making the posts during the Qatar World Cup “at a time when there was a lot of speculation in the media that the choice of venue wasn’t appropriate for a number of different reasons.”
“My intention was not to target any individual personally but to highlight that Islam, as a culture and ideology, intersects with certain issues in the West,” he explained, citing women’s rights and gay rights as examples.
“I hold no prejudice against anyone on any inappropriate basis, but I do have specific views on politics, ideology, and religion that I am not willing to suppress in my political position,” Gilbert added.
“On Facebook, I have stated that I will respect the office of Mayor and refrain from making any comments on controversial matters. Therefore, I am surprised by what is being said, to be honest with you. However, politics can be a dirty game, and I have been involved for a very, very long time.”
During the discussion, Councillor Anne Dorrian, who served as mayor at the time, entered the debate by expressing her concern about the increasing prevalence of hate speech.
She noted that it is not only propagated by populist or extremist groups but is also being embraced by representative parties across the political spectrum.
“As politicians, along with other public figures, we have a crucial role to play in this process. Our status and visibility allow us to influence a wide audience and significantly shape the tone of public discourse,” Councillor Dorrian stated.
“In fact, as politicians, we not only have a political obligation to refrain from using hate speech, but we also have a moral responsibility to avoid engaging in such rhetoric.”
She added: “Choosing to remain silent when hate speech is used can be interpreted as approval or support. Therefore, it is our duty to unambiguously condemn it whenever it is employed by others.”
As Councillor Gilbert lost the vote for the position, there were comments of “disgusting” from the public gallery which included friends and family.
According to the council’s tradition, mayors are selected based on their length of service, and as a result, Conservative Councillor David Brown was voted into the role since he was the next most senior eligible candidate.
Following the meeting, Councillor Gilbert accused the motion of hijacking procedure for political reasons.
“I feel quite insulted that the word ‘hate crime’ was used to describe a post that clearly was not intended to cause any hate. Everybody that seen that post and it was just simply some information getting made may be worthy of a comment but no more than that,” he said.
Councillor Dorrian, said she was “heartbroken” by what had happened and that she was “desperately sad for Mike, his family and his friends”.
“There were no winners here tonight, in all honesty, everybody lost.
“I was determined that the protocol of this council would continue that the longest serving councillor would be offered the morality and that happened.
“However, things came to light on social media that that people just couldn’t accept – words and phrases that people found offensive.”
She added Councillor Gilbert could be nominated again next year, but suggested he “has some remedial work around the ways he gets his point across to people and there needs to be some inclusion work done around the differences we established here tonight.”
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