July 21, 2021 Abdul Haqq

Freedom Day: One Man’s Terror is another Man’s Freedom!

The UK government’s lifting of Covid-19 restrictions on Monday 19th July 2021 has been dubbed Freedom Day; however, it is apparent this occasion symbolises anything but that for many who are fearful of the risks associated with such extensive unrestraint:

“People who are at high risk of catching the coronavirus have called the ending of restrictions in England “really frightening” and urged the government to give “more thought” to the vulnerable community…

There are around 3.8 million clinically vulnerable people in England with many saying they will do what they can to keep themselves and others safe – while charities have criticised the government for the blanket easing of coronavirus restrictions.” [1]

Despite increasing rates of infection,[2] Boris Johnson remained resolute regarding the need to ease restrictions. Freedom Day would still go ahead:

“’Stick with the programme,’ Boris Johnson urges as he isolates ahead of Freedom Day after being ‘pinged’” [3]

He also had to make an embarrassing U-turn with his chancellor, Rishi Sunak, by self-isolating despite earlier plans to avoid this course of action by availing a new pilot scheme where he could still attend the office. The anger over the his blatant disregard for protocol, introduced by his own government, were echoed by the Labour party’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner who tweeted:

 “Sorry for the unparliamentary language but this just takes the pi**. Not following the rules that they created and which they expect my constituents to follow. 

“This govnt treat the public with contempt and think they are above the law and that the rules don’t apply to them. 

“A VIP lane for PPE contracts, a VIP lane for testing contracts and now a VIP lane for getting pinged but not having to isolate. A government of fraudsters and grifters conning the public.”” [4]

While she may be correct in her summation of the present government, only hindsight will reveal whether 19th July 2021 was the greatest con trick pulled off by this government. For now, the majority of Britons appear to support this emancipatory occasion, actively embracing it – and understandably so:

“Clubbers flocked on Monday to the first live music events without restrictions since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The government reopened nightclubs and dropped almost all coronavirus measures in England in a bet that mass vaccinations will prevent another deadly wave of COVID-19.

“I have not been allowed to dance for like what seems like forever,” said Georgia Pike, 31, at the Oval Space in Hackney, east London. “I want to dance, I want to hear live music, I want the vibe of being at a gig, of being around other people.”” [5]

Freedom of Expression or Oppression?

Few would begrudge the sentiment and desire of Georgia Pike to express herself following stifling lockdown rules, so it must be asked, why are concerted efforts made and legislation enacted to continue suppressing others who wish to enjoy similar rights of expression?

“Women can be sacked by employers for refusing to remove their hijabs, Europe’s highest court has ruled. EU judges decreed businesses can ban employees from wearing a headscarf if they need to do so to project an image of neutrality to customers.” [6]

The latest EU ruling is unequivocal in its targeting of hijab-observant Muslim women. The objectification of Muslim women has long been the focus of entities whose underlying and primary objective is to exoticise them as an alien ‘other’, requiring liberation from perceived cultural and religious subjugation. What better then, than to gradually strip them of religious attire considered sacrosanct by many – including non-observant Muslims and non-Muslims alike – as symbols of freedom of choice and expression:

“A moral crusade to rescue oppressed Muslim women from their cultures and their religion has swept the public sphere, dissolving distinctions between conservatives and liberals, sexists and feminists. The crusade has justified all manner of intervention from the legal to the military, the humanitarian to the sartorial. But it has also reduced Muslim women to a stereotyped singularity, plastering a handy cultural icon over much more complicated historical and political dynamics.” [7] 

The face veil, or niqab, was successfully targeted and banned in a few western societies, with France being among the first to introduce such legislation in 2010. Fast-forward 10 years later and, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the ban was upheld while mandating the wearing of facemasks:

“In 2010, France passed a law prohibiting people from wearing clothing in public that covers your face. And although many blasted the law as Islamophobic, the “burqa ban” remains in place today, punishable with a fine and citizenship course.

But as the country begins to emerge from lockdown, wearing masks is mandatory in public places such as schools and on public transport. Shop owners can require customers to wear them as well. And while the government does not see any conflict between the laws – one is to promote gender equality and the other is to maintain public health – the situation has left many, including some French Muslims, smirking at the apparent irony.” [8]

These glaring inconsistencies often give rise to and fuel more radicalised narratives, obscuring the more nuanced voices of moderation (and common sense) seeking to highlight such paradoxes. This could not be more starkly illustrated when considering legal restrictions that end up facilitating the free speech of individuals previously prohibited by the same legislature due to former crimes.

Freedom of Speech: ‘One man’s Terrorist is another man’s Freedom Fighter’[9] 

“Radical preacher Anjem Choudary’s ban on speaking in public is to be lifted as conditions which were imposed after his release from prison come to an end.

Choudary, from Ilford in east London, was jailed for five-and-a-half years in 2016 after being convicted of inviting support for the Islamic State group. He headed a now-banned group supporting an extreme interpretation of Islam… ALM [Al Muhajiroun] has been linked to multiple attacks and plots in the UK and abroad. [10]

It is interesting to note the ban was lifted on 19th July 2021: Freedom Day. There appears to be a civil servant in the government’s legal department who possesses an asinine sense of humour. It is not incomprehensible to perceive Choudhary holding a few celebrations on this occasion; civic (freedom of speech), social (freedom of movement) and religious (Hajj season)…

Conclusion: What the hell is going on?

As we witnessed the recent civil disturbances in South Africa, some may have mistakenly considered these akin to the unrest seen during the apartheid era. However, the significant difference in 2021 is not the impetus behind what transpired, but the subsequent focus of the disorder. For the sake of brevity, the latter aspect is being addressed here. The wanton looting that occurred on this occasion was and will always remain unjustifiable, and antithetical to the message of Nelson Mandela as well as what he stood for. He was a bastion of freedom. In any event, it is reassuring to now witness the subsequent response to the disturbances and effort to honour his legacy:

“As South Africans mark Nelson Mandela Day, the president has urged people to honour the legacy of the anti-apartheid hero by helping to rebuild the country after days of riots that left 212 dead. “The one positive thing I can say is that this incident has united us as never before,” Cyril Ramaphosa said.” [11]

UK celebrations of its own version of Freedom Day should never be compared to other more significant events of emancipation, like those of South Africa etc. It is however perhaps more appropriate to juxtapose two very different interpretations of freedom and what they mean for some communities in the UK. The Muslim world is currently undergoing one of the most significant rites of the Islamic calendar – that of Hajj (the annual pilgrimage). The Day of Arafah is a special occasion, observed by pilgrims and non-pilgrims alike. This year it corresponded with the UK’s Freedom Day, and arrived possessing its usual spiritual significance that imbues Muslims with an of increased sense of devotion throughout the day. Such worship is underscored by the following Prophetic narration:

“There is no day wherein Allah sets free more slaves from Hell-fire than the day of ʿArafah.”

In contrast, we also witness the elation expressed by night clubbers preparing to unleash emotions (not to mention, dance moves) on Freedom Day, being tinged with apprehension:

“Beside the zest for fun, though, there was also clear concern about a wave of new cases – more than 50,000 per day across the United Kingdom. “I am so excited – but it’s mixed with the sense of impending doom,” said Gary Cartmill, 26, outside the “00:01″” [12]

His concerns, while legitimate and likely to resonate with many others, nevertheless evoke one final thought; Doesn’t Freedom Day increasingly appear to be a case of, out of the frying pan, into the fire?




[1] Sky News: ‘Covid-19: ‘It’s not freedom day for everyone’ – vulnerable people’s fears over ending of coronavirus restrictions in England,’ 19th July 2021: https://news.sky.com/story/covid-19-really-frightening-vulnerable-peoples-fears-over-ending-of-coronavirus-restrictions-in-england-12359035

[2] James, W: ‘England’s ‘freedom day’ marred by soaring cases and isolation chaos,’ Reuters, 19th July 2021: https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/pm-johnson-pleads-caution-freedom-day-arrives-england-2021-07-18/

[3] Taggart, I: ‘’Stick with the programme,’ Boris Johnson urges as he isolates ahead of Freedom Day after being ‘pinged’’ The Telegraph, 18th July 2021: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/coronavirus-news-covid-cases-lockdown-deaths-nhs-app/

[4] Walker, A: ‘Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak forced into U-turn after anger at plans to avoid self-isolation,’ Inews, 18th July 2021: https://inews.co.uk/news/uk/boris-johnson-rishi-sunak-not-self-isolate-pinged-sajid-javid-tests-positive-1109069

[5] Ibid

[6] Parrock, J: ‘Women can be fired for refusing to remove hijab, EU court rules,’ Independent.ie, 16th July 2021: https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/women-can-be-fired-for-refusing-to-remove-hijab-eu-court-rules-40658594.html

[7] Abu-Lughod, L: ‘Do Muslim Women Need Saving?’ Time, 1st November 2013: https://ideas.time.com/2013/11/01/do-muslim-women-need-saving/

[8] NPR: ‘From Niqab to N95,’ NPR, 27th May 2020: https://www.npr.org/2020/04/28/847433454/from-niqab-to-n95

[9] Darryl Trent 1974: Cited from paper: ‘Defining Terrorism: A matter of perspective,’ 15th April 2019: https://esthinktank.com/2019/04/15/defining-terrorism-a-matter-of-perspective/

[10] BBC News: ‘Anjem Choudhary: Radical teacher’s public speaking ban to be lifted,’ BBC, 18th July 2021: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-57878910

[11] BBC News: ‘South Africa looting: Clean-up to mark Nelson Mandela Day’: BBC, 18th July 2021: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-57879286

[12] SBS News: ‘Club goers celebrate ‘Freedom Day’ across England amid concerns over rising COVID-19 cases,’ 19th July 2021: https://www.sbs.com.au/news/clubgoers-celebrate-freedom-day-across-england-amid-concern-over-rising-covid-19-cases


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