May 26, 2023 8.00 pm This story is over 10 months old

Free speech debate after Boston councillor accused of Islamophobia

He denied that the posts were racist towards Muslims

Boston Borough councillors are facing a backlash after denying a councillor his opportunity to become mayor due to allegations of Islamophobia.

Councillor Mike Gilbert lost a vote for the mayoral role due to accusations surrounding Facebook posts that some claimed were “hateful speech” towards Muslims.

The National Secular Society (NSS) has defended the councillor, arguing that describing his criticism of Islam as hate speech unfairly smeared him.

Councillor Gilbert denies the posts were racist, and says he was highlighting aspects of Islamic doctrine which criminalise homosexuality and limit the rights of women.

The Facebook posts were written while the World Cup was being held in Qatar.

Stephen Evans, the Chief Executive Officer of the NSS, has written to leaders stressing that critical views on Islam or any ideology should not be automatically considered hateful.

“Free speech and social cohesion are harmed if this is considered beyond the bounds of reasonable public debate,” he said.

The Boston Borough Council Full Council meeting on Monday. | Image: Daniel Jaines

Responding to the NSS’ criticism, Councillor Anne Dorrian said councillors from all sides of the political spectrum had voted against Cllr Gilbert’s appointment due to their concerns.

A total of 16 voted against Councillor Gilbert becoming Mayor, including the 15 Boston Independent Group members and one other. A further 11 voted for Cllr Gilbert to be mayor, including all of the Conservative Group.

“A number of councillors spoke about the importance of working to improve inclusion in our community and related this to very recent, public comments which had been posted on social media by Cllr Gilbert,” she said.

She cited specific remarks, including one where Cllr Gilbert referred to Islam as an “ideology of war, submission, and conquest” and said it “really is possible for one culture to be superior to another in certain respects, it cannot be racist to say it”.

Councillor Dorian said: “It is notable that Mr Evans has not offered any commentary on these particular remarks.

“We do not agree with Mr Evans view that this decision makes it more difficult to challenge women’s rights and LGBTQ+ equality, which is something all of us fully support.

“We believe that the decision was entirely correct in the circumstances and in the light of our determination to show respect to the diverse population which lives in our Borough.”

The council leader expressed hopes that he would reflect on the impact of his words and “make genuine efforts to build bridges with the diverse communities in the Borough of Boston”.

Screenshots of some of the posts Councillors took issue with. | Image: Facebook

Councillor Gilbert defended his comments during the council’s Annual General Meeting on May 22.

“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,” he said.

Several members expressed support for Councillor Gilbert during the debate, with one calling them a “historical note”.

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