Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Mob rule trumps free speech

The disgraceful scenes at the Oxford Union last night are a salutary reminder of the decay of free speech in this country. Not only the illiberal ‘hard Left’ [what a misnomer!], Islamist and Zionist protesters – a curious coalition – and their rowdy hangers-on, but the mainstream political parties and the various semi-official organs of Political Correctness such as the ludicrously titled ‘Equality and Human Rights Commission’, pay lip-service to freedom of speech as in duty bound; but in practice they attack and undermine it wherever it clashes with their own opinions and prejudices.


If we are to continue to be in any sense an open democracy and a pluralistic society, free speech should be sacrosanct and indivisible. But it is far from being so in the mealy-mouthed Britain of today, where unpopular and obnoxious opinions are not merely frowned upon and derailed from public expression – increasingly and ominously by scenes such as last night’s gratuitous violence at Oxford – but are curbed by an ever growing array of new laws against ‘hate speech’ deemed offensive to those criticised.


This attempt to shelter the allegedly ‘vulnerable’ from honest criticism as well as from poisonous prejudice strikes me as totally undemocratic and wrong.


The traditional principles of free speech are crystal-clear. If it has any plausible meaning, it involves the right to say publicly whatever one wishes to so long as you do not directly incite violence and breaches of the peace, or libellously defame another’s character. As Voltaire is alleged to have said, “I detest what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it”.


Saying it lawfully, of course, does not extend to group demonstrations intended to provoke violence and counter-violence, such as the fracas at the Oxford Union last night. Like Evan Harris MP, I am astounded that the police allowed demonstrators to scale the walls and gain uninvited entry to the Union’s private premises, and even more astonished that the police then washed their hands of their duty to remove the intruders on the pretext that it had become a ‘civil’ and not a ‘criminal’ matter. Something distinctly fishy there, which calls for a public enquiry.


Having spent most of my life actively campaigning for gay rights, often against viciously hate-filled opponents, I am the last person to wish for sexual minorities – or any other minority – to be abused, mistreated and discriminated against. But I am far from convinced that criminalising the verbal expression of ignorant prejudice and even hatred is the wisest way of dealing with bigotry. What counts is the battle of public opinion – the candid convincing of hearts and minds – and this is never won by curbing freedom of speech. On the contrary, it is only by exercising the fullest freedom of speech without fear of legal restraint or physical violence that honest, sincere, open-minded people will reach sensible conclusions based on factual evidence rather than on lies, prejudice and fiction.


Unfortunately, so many of today’s political and social arguments are less and less reality-based. In the scary atmosphere created by the government’s over-hype of the terrorist threat, the distinction between fact and fiction is increasingly blurred until it no longer seems to exist for many people, even including front bench spokespersons.


If the charge against David Irving is that he denies facts for which there is copious and convincing evidence, the proper way to demonstrate this is by demolishing his arguments – as was conclusively done in his unsuccessful libel action against Deborah Lipstadt – not by rioting against his freedom to speak. If the British National Party’s views are wrong-headed, obnoxious, and fuelled by hate, the proper way to combat them is not by denying them platforms and rioting which lets them pose - with a smidgeon of justification – as aggrieved martyrs; it is to out-debate them.


But if the self-styled anti-fascists – who all too often act out a passable imitation of fascist street thugs – prefer the sort of behaviour they perpetrated last night, it is they, and not their enemies, who are among the worst betrayers of our hard-won democratic freedoms. Whether knowingly or not, these misguided people are contributing to the destruction of our increasingly fragile open society.

14 comments:

Emmett said...

THE Critical content of the BNP hocus-pocus /is/, like it or not, the material fact that some folk positively can NOT 'do difference'. I have seen this stuff over and over in my life, and it is as much a physiological circumstance as a matter of nurture; and so, somehow, these devils too have to be accomodated. Their objective distress otherwise becomes petrol flang on the fire of the hatreds cleverly farmed by the adventitious, as we see now also in Saxony & Thither Germany.

a.f. said...

I'm not sure denying the BNP a platform and the accompanying prestige of the Oxford University Union is akin to a denial of their right to free speech. A persuasive argument against is made by Mr Riley.

Nor am I convinced that debate leads to truth finding. Debate is a great way to pose and sparkle with rhetoric. It can make for an entertaining confrontation (see Ahmadenijad at Columbia University), but Irving's work is rightly considered crackpot and marginalised because of his faulty and selective research that was solely motivated by his antisemetic prejudice. Giving him this kind of marketing opportunity at this stage in his discredited career was a severe misjudgement on the part of the organisers of the debate.

anticant said...

Riley's argument doesn't clinch the matter for me. Nor yours. If all ideas that are considered crackpot by sensible you and me were denied space in the media or debating halls, there would be a deafening, and most welcome, silence. The contention that 'dangerous' ideas are bound to corrupt through repetition is patronising and elitist. It assumes that the vulgar plebs are too stupid to make up their own minds, and must be protected by the superior mandarins.

The fallacy in all this is that the Nazis didn't come to power in Germany through winning the intellectual argument. They came to power by means of violence, street thuggery, intimidation and murder. True, they won one election - but only because the democratic parties had made such a confounded mess of things.

Emmett said...

THIS Is a many-sided sort of affair....

I Remember what my old Dad said to me that he had seen at Bergen-Belsen in 1945, and of course something vile and hideous had happened; and, it took place moreover on a monstrous scale: people fell dead in their newly-cleaned clothes, whilst thanking my father and his mates for their deliverance; and, were I met with Mr Irving, I should then -- and, in my Dad's memory! -- very likely be inclined to offer him one on the snout, hmm?

BUT, The thorny problem of the Nazi butchery of defectives, Poles, Jews, Gypsies and Russians in the 1940s is that it is /not/ the only horror of this sort going on in the World; and, as is the case with the many who may claim at least Jewish ancestry, I am alas /not/ impressed with the Zionist preening over the 'uniqueness' of the historical experience of Jews. The 'copyrighting' of the 'holocaust' is, in the last & most objective analysis, just adventitous: for were it not for the Hitler-horror, the Zionists should then have been harder-pressed indeed to put across their Settlers & Red Indians swindle, in Palestine.

MOREOVER, It is the vile that begets vileness, advention adventitiousness:

THE Human problem, OUR problem, our COMMON problem, is this opportunism in all quarters; and, a plain antidote is needed. Therefore, to allow Mr Irving to exhibit his opportunistic & ungenerous views, and caper in a better-than-usual class of forum is specifically /educative/; and, given the fact that already what was formerly 'public opinion' has deterioted, in solipsism & 'blogging', into a load of factitous /opinions/, I cannot agree, that Mr Irving had ought not to have been invited to hang his face out over this particular board & dish.

IN Closing, I do concur with anticant, about the late-historical problem of self-styled state-liberallist & non-productive, professionalist, 'elites'; and; the other non-sexual personalities, who infest and refuse tobacco & port & chesse & fat beef everywhere; and, healthier-than-thou, mock & goad & regulate into rage & murder the sneered-over & looked-down-upon masses. This disgusting and expensive, non-perspirant self-adotrative class of trained state liberals & general subsidised nincompoops betray on all occasions the compulsive vanity of a privileged order, trying hopelessly to cement their thefts & 'stop' the terror of Time. Unconsciously, then, they are revealed rrom their actual behaviour to be a lot of positively murderous sercret pessimists. Certainly, theirs is /not/ now the atmosphere of the american 'New Deal', for example....

BUT, Alas Aunty, it is only too true also, that when a load of crap is repeated often enough, it DOES infect and rot the common mind.

anticant said...

Further to that, Emmett, I shall resist the temptation to name names, but several "respectable and respected" religions and political/social creeds spring instantly to mind......

a.f. said...

Last time I checked it wasn't forbidden to print a Nazi rag and distribute it to households.

Nor is it forbidden to maintain a Nazi website.

Let them build and run their own platform and compete with other ideas on that basis.

You seem to conflate any refusal to offer an extremist position a prestigious platform with censorship.

I think your analysis of Hitler's powergrab is rather limited, but that's another matter. I realise there is only so much you can say in the limited confines of a comment box.

anticant said...

Whether I agree with the Oxford Union's decision to invite Griffin and Irving is one issue. As a matter of fact, I don't - it was a typical student publicity-seeking stunt.

Whether self-styled "opponents of fascism" should then be allowed to turn the event into an ugly bear garden is an entirely separate issue, and I hope we are in agreement about that.

Hitler etc. - of course one can't debate it adequately on a comment thread.

Emmett said...

IN Terms of a strict market-analysis, the 'web' indeed offers soreheads of every description an outlet; but, again, we run into the historical problem of public /versus/ popular opinions & moods:

AS Matters now stand, objectively, public opinion is increasingly conflated (/NB/) with professional argots & cant; and, there is no incumbency on the middle power-echelons to take up anything from 'below', from popular sources, in mediating competing policy-theories, either to senior managers or an increasingly-bewilderd elected 'leadership'. Still less do any of the well-fed & -clad, and motored- & flown-about, mid-level state-therapeutic satrapy need to discuss /with/ publics any of the managerial quotidien business that impinges from every direction. This is the organised system of state irresponsibility in full bloom. Individually, this sort of hermetic isolation of the different mental contents in an individual would be of course at least neurotic; and, likewise, it could herald another gun-outrage at the post office or school. The analogy, as well as clear, /is/ amply sufficient:

PEOPLE Altogether do better, individually /and/ socially, in direct daily contact with one another & to the maximum degree that each individual can stand it, /QED/.

a.f. said...

Whether self-styled "opponents of fascism" should then be allowed to turn the event into an ugly bear garden is an entirely separate issue, and I hope we are in agreement about that.

Yip. The rule of law should guarantee freedom of association in this case. The local police seems to have failed in their duty here.

Emmett said...

/THESE/ Post-modern police are a detestable lot of cookie-pushers & public-funding hounds....

WHAT Is needed is something like Mr Jack Vance's IPCC, or Interplanetary Police Co-ordinating Company -- the IPCC is way cool & just tools in & out of these crooked local jurisdictions, kicking arse & taking names. I bet /they'd/ give 'Sir' Ian Blair a ride in the Fexelburg Hammock...they ARE awfully experienced at sorting out woskers!

Emmett said...

AUNTY, I should like to shift gears a tad....

WOULD You, or one of the staff, please summarise to us the current state of the war-power under the English constitution? I think that the monarch no longer retains prerogative, although it seems not to have been ever formally ceded to the legislature. But, what are the effective constraints on the prime minister, front bench & cabinet? What is the essential role, if any, of both your houses; or, any committee of the /whole/ Parliament?

anticant said...

Declaration of war is by the Royal Prerogative, on the advice of the Privy Council [which effectively takes the Prime Minister's advice]. The government has recently said that it will introduce provisions requiring a formal Parliamentary resolution before British troops are sent abroad for combat duty [see White Paper CM7170, "The Governance of Britain", July 2007: 1. 'Limiting the powers of the executive'.]

Emmett said...

THANKS Lots! I am re-reading a 1946 printing of Chas. A Beard's popular account of american government, /The Republic/, and contemplating a blast or review, or something....

THESE Pinheads of mine here to-day are, if anything, more pointy than preceding generations; but, I suppose that's one of the /fallacies/ too: everyone likes to think their own shower the most bastardly yet; the young to be 'all' little dastards; and, the contemporary sewer of mis-government to be a WHOLE load of the thieving sons-of-bitches, unforeseen & un-beforeseen!

anticant said...

Of course, warmongers don't bother about a formal declaration of war now anyway, as national sovereignty doesn't matter any more in these days of pre-emptive 'liberal intervention' [how Hitler would have laughed at that one!].