I was quite upset recently when I paid a casual visit to Speakers Corner in Hyde Park and missed seeing that outspoken and rude African speaker who had nothing really to say other than vent his anger on anyone English and anything British. His main theme was to lash out at the royal family, the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London, whoever he might be at the time. But we used to enjoy, in particular, his sneering at the easy virtue and utter immorality of English women. His rich vocabulary and poetic descriptions, most obscene and indecent as they were, had always received roaring laughter and clapping from his audiences, men and women, English and foreigner tourists. Being new to England in those days, I learned from him a great number of English terms that proved to be very useful whenever I quarrelled with my girlfriends.

Foreigners used to flock to him to listen and admire the way he used to swear at the Queen of England and her Prime Minister. It was, they thought, an eloquent sign of British democracy and freedom. Indeed, there was always a policeman standing at hand to shoo away anyone interrupting him or preventing him from swearing at the Queen.

That gentleman’s regular hours at Speakers’ corner attracted my attention until someone put me right and explained to me that this particular Speaker turned his speeches into business. He managed to convince the British Tourism Board (BTB) in time of recession, that as a traditional English periodic event, he was a great attraction for foreign tourists. They come to London to see how its people can swear at their Government with ease. Desperate to attract to Britain more Arabs deprived of any freedom of expression in their own countries, the BTB started to pay him regular wages. My friend went on to inform me, that they were strict with him. If he caught a cold or sore throat and could not come and swear at the Queen and her government, he had to send a medical report from his GP.

It had never occurred to me that swearing and slandering could become a business like that. But my friend, the late Arab cartoonist Ahmad Abdu, put me right on this matter as he approached me one day with a business proposal to produce a satirical magazine attacking Arab oil producers and slandering rich Arabs. The idea was that he filled the magazine with caricatures and I contributed satirical articles. “You see”, he said, “we are not making good use of our privileged position in this country. In the Arab world, they would put us immediately in jail and finish with us. But here in Britain, we are under the protection of Her Majesty. We can say anything about them. They will have to pay us to silence us.”

“But I live here, in London, and have no idea about what they are doing to attack them.”

“Oh, Khalid, you don’t need facts to attack people. You are an artist. Use your imagination and manufacture some worthwhile scandal and stick it to them. Women! Bring in their women! They are very sensitive about them. They will pay you anything to shut your gob.”

“No good, my friend. I am not your man for that. I have been swearing at Arab governments all my life and have not received a penny from any of them.”

“Khalid, don’t blame our governments for that. Blame yourself. You don’t attack them directly. You speak in innuendos and symbolism. That is no good. They don’t understand your innuendos. You should attack them in plain language, throw the whole shit directly in their faces. You will then see how they will pay you.”

“No, Ahmad. I am no good for that. Look for someone else.”

Khalid Khistainy