Send As SMS

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Freedom of speech

I started thinking about this post before the sentencing of David Irving for Denying the Holocaust. I'd been wanting to write something about freedom of speech and the internet. In Europe we've having a spot of bother and civil unrest at the moment. A Danish newspaper republished a cartoon, originally published in the Egyptian paper some months ago, with no great problems. These reprinted images portrayed the Prophet Mohammed with a turban made in to a bomb on his head. I personally find the images rather distasteful. Mine was a minor reaction one of some disdain; however the reaction from some the second time around was one of vitriolic rage. Protests across Europe, European embassies destroyed in Middle East and North African missions, thousands of people marching through London carrying placards, ignoring the allegations of trouble making from some quarters, for whatever reason it's caused a fuss. Now I think freedom of speech is paramount, the cartoonist and the publications both clearly promoting freedom of speech, the protesters also demonstrating their own freedom of speech. Fantastic; two opposing opinions both putting across their points of view. Some journalists were on London streets, having their own protest handing out leaflets about freedom of speech, all adding to the discussion; parties speaking out about freedom of speech, parties trying to put across why they had been offended. The problem with some of these protests were the messages that were being displayed on some banners, proclaiming death or beheading to those who insult Islam. That was simply in London, in some cities violence erupted with mayhem, destruction, and in Nigeria multiple deaths, following in it's wake. There was an inconsistency during the policing of these events; the freedom of speech advocates found themselves arrested for breech of the peace offences. However where most people found the Metropolitan Policing Policy lacking, that weekend, was that those holding placards promoting death and beheading and even glorifying the terrorist acts of July in our Capital were allowed to continue unabated. There we have the two opposing points of view, discuss! I don't believe the cartoons were implying that Mohammed was a terrorist, maybe the cartoonist was hoping to promote a discussion just like the one we're having regarding freedom of speech, maybe they were make a low brow satirical point about people hijacking Islam for their own violent ends. I do believe in freedom of speech, I am a tremendous advocate that unless you're saying something untrue you may hold whatever opinion you like, I have a trust in the natural selection of ideas, that's why the like of the British National Party are, and always will be on the fringe of British Politics. People who vote for them don't believe in repatriation, or that ethnic minorities are inherently troublesome, they are I hope only voting for the BNP because no other mainstream party is having any part in a real discussion about immigration policy or integration, to be fair the BNP isn't actually having a discussion they're having rant an uninformed rant but at least they are saying something even if it is utter rubbish (and that's being polite about it). Everyone is too afraid of triggering such responses as we've seen recently and apparently rightly so if all the above can be caused by a mere cartoon. Not all Muslims agree with the actions of the extremists who have caused destruction across the world under the banner of defending their Prophet. Most, I like to think, Muslims believe that this row had become far to confrontational. Whilst they don't believe it is right according to their religion to have images of Mohammed. They, I assume, realise that not everyone is a believer in their religion and don't attach the same rules to images of the prophet. Just as some people drink alcohol, have sex before marriage and even have sex with people of the same sex, some might draw images of Mohammed. Catholics believe in the Immaculate conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, if a cartoon satirist wants to draw a cartoon depicting the Mary having an affair with some Roman Centurion, then whilst I would be offended I certainly wouldn't expect everyone to agree with my upset unless they're also Catholics and certainly wouldn't wish death upon those that printed such an image.
This country is currently considering a law regarding religious hatred; it is thought that since we have such a diverse population not everyone is protected by the current blasphemy laws which only protect Christian beliefs, as some might argue as a primarily Christian country they rightly should. We have some extra laws I think about Judaism though so why not everyone else. I don't know on this one. It's one of the few things I can't make my mind up on, like arming police officers or euthanasia.
We come to the events of recent days, which relate to comments made 18 years ago. A British "historian" claimed that the Nazis didn't have gas chambers and didn't execute millions of Jews. I have put historian in quotes because anyone who in the 80s was denying the existence of the Final Solution is clearly an idiot. However, it was his opinion and whilst obviously an unintelligent one, I believe that he has the freedom of speech to say these things, and the same common sense approach that keeps the likes of the BNP on the fringe will keep his ideas out of the main stream. What makes his case more interesting is that when further evidence came forward, the personal files and journal of Adolf Eichmann, he changed his opinion to a more sensible one, the charges were retrospective and more so he has been jailed for an opinion that he used to hold. I can understand why the 11 nations that have them, have laws against holocaust denial and promotion of Nazi ideals. They fear that the poison that allowed the atrocities to happen could flow again if left unchecked, there is a fringe right movement in most western countries that still believe Hitler was correct, that "He had the right idea". I am offended by these views, I don't believe we should ban them, legislate against them or decapitate those that hold them. I believe that my and everyone else's freedom of speech whilst not enshrined in constitution per se, like the French, is one of the most important things I have, even if I use it to talk rubbish. I don't believe I should be able to use it to pedal hatred, and indeed we, the UK, do have laws against certain racially intolerant language, which indeed are sometimes so feared that they too can be dangerous, taking Mark Twain off reading lists because it contains the word "nigger", I think is an infringement to far - the word is being used in context in a book telling a child's story from a past time. If I read this to my children I wouldn't hide the word I would use it, and I would explain that it's a bad word that they shouldn't use. The European countries with restrictions on freedom of speech are seen as a half way house between complete anarchy and hate and a completely controlled system, like the Chinese have where to speak out against the government is banned, illegal, imprisonable. A step to far obviously, but at least that is a government making the rules, who maybe can't be voted out in China but they certainly could here. However I didn't elect the Ayatollah, I didn't elect the Muslim leaders. I didn't elect the Pope, or the Arch Bishop of Canterbury and that is why I don't believe that any of those people should vet my speech or my reading list. The UK is not a secular country with a separation of Church and State, many of our laws are derived from religious beliefs, and even those can be wrong and need updating, i.e. laws about homosexuality, abortion or divorce have all been modernised. Despite that I still like the fact we are a Christian country, I do believe it is still the government's job, elected by everyone, to grant and remove my freedoms but that, government should also trust me to censor myself and explain to my kids that nigger whilst in a book from 1885 isn't a word we use anymore. Some argue that David Irving broke the laws of a particular country and those laws were made by an elected government, a valid argument, that makes me glad I do live in The United Kingdom of Great Briton and Northern Island. Where I can say pretty much anything... I can can't I.


M said...

It might be interesting to watch Chanel 4 on Monday at 2000 hours, Dispatches; "Stealing your freedom". Chanel 4 might scare mounger a bit, but given that a new report says that most people walk to work in London and have their entire journey recorded. UK is the most watched society in the western world.

1:08 AM  
Pepperpot said...

Catholics believe in the Immaculate conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, if a cartoon satirist wants to draw a cartoon depicting the Mary having an affair with some Roman Centurion, then whilst I would be offended I certainly wouldn't expect everyone to agree with my upset unless they're also Catholics

BTW, the immaculate conception refers to the doctrine that Mary herself was without sin, not that Jesus was conceived without intercourse.


10:06 AM  
Dom said...

blimey a readership is building!

the protests in London etc. all went a bit far, and its difficult for non-muslims to understand. Perhaps though we should factor in to this our own apparent lack of religious conviction these days. Personally I am against freedom of speech in something as generic as a newspaper. Were the cartoons to be have been published in an anti-Islamic magazine then I do not believe there would be a problem as its readership would be expecting such portrayal. But the problem with allowing freedom of speech in all areas is that there is the propensity for the unexpected and the shock value of finding something published that immediately offends a third of the paper's readership, who had read scores of previous editions in the past with no such offence being incurred.

p.s. pepperpot: "OFSTED chicken" was inspired :)

12:09 PM  
Dom said...

This is also pretty relevant :)

1:38 PM  
M said...

Oi. Without Sin - i.e. no sex before marriage (a sin btw). Well I was taught immaculate conception was a Virgin birth, as I read today !

11:31 PM  
M said...

Dom - don't encourage this kind of chicken game, it's dangerous and people might get hurt.

11:41 PM  
Pepperpot said...

WRT the immaculate conception, I'm not kidding. See below.


6:51 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home