November 25, 2007

Freedom of Speech

Now, this article pissed me off. Everyone with even a sliver of brains knows that Griffin and Irving are complete arseholes. But they have the right to debate their views as long as they do not break the law, by, say, inciting racial or religious hatred. I know it's a tired quotation trotted out every time this debate is had, but I'll repeat Voltaire in saying "I disagree with what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it". Not that I'm actually sure I'd die for Nick Griffin or David Irving particularly, but, depending on circumstances, freedom of speech probably is worth dying for. I don't believe in absolute freedom of speech -  laws that protect against incitement to racial or religious hatred, for example, are a necessity (though not where these apply to comedy, that's just idiotic). But it can be argued that these are not really laws against what you say, but laws against how you say it, marking the difference between self-expression and opinon proselytisation.

There are some laws which I find simply ridiculous. For example, in Turkey, there is a law about comitting crimes against Turkishness (Article 301), which has lead to the villification of great national writers like Orhan Pamuk. One must allow for criticism of a government, as long as it does not spill over into incitement to treason, which, sensibly, ought to be covered in any treason-based laws. 

Equally ridiculous, though for different reasons, are laws against the denial of the Holocaust. These laws are, to my mind, patently absurd: if people want to be idiotic and ignore (what most of us consider to be) factual evidence to the contrary, then let them. We don't punish people for saying they were visited by aliens, because we can't prove that they weren't, and that aliens don't exist. Similarly, we can't prove with exact certainty that the Holocaust is not, in fact, an extremely elaborate hoax, however unlikely that seems (and it does), nor can we prove that it is not being misused by certain peoples as a source of gain. We don't apply this law to the first World War, or the Boer wars, or the 100 years war, to 9/11 or Rwanda, or any other conlict or tragedy in recent memory, so why is the Holocaust so different? Even if we did apply them to such events, the law would remain as Draconian, idiotic and unnecessary as it is now.

As relates specifically to the article, this MP throwing hs toys out of the pram is ridiculous. I in no way support the views of either of these cretins, but I wouldn't mind seeing them destroyed on a debating floor. The MP writes: 

"Nothing which happens in Monday's debate can possibly offset the boost you are giving to a couple of scoundrels who can put up with anything except being ignored," he said.

"It is sheer vanity on your part to imagine that any argument you deploy, or any vote you carry will succeed in causing them damage.


"They have been exposed and discredited time and again by people vastly more qualified than you in arenas hugely more suited to the task than an undergraduate talking-shop, however venerable."

How fucking patronising and self-important can you be? It's almost like he has never heard of a process of attrition - it is entirely possible that under sustained pressure, one or both of these idiots may one day crack and give up their moronic views. But to assume that there is no point to such a debate before it has even occurred is ridiculous. It might well steer some people who were uncertain away from such lunacy when they see the arguments presented clearly, or, as is more likely, the demagoguery on display. Granted, it might push some people to support them, but if anyone has it in them to be a BNP sympathiser or Holocaust denier, better we know about it anyway than not. Otherwise we might mistakenly think we were engaging with rational and intelligent individuals. If they're that easily swayed, it's probably only a matter of time before they subscribe to some idiocy or other.

The position reminds me a lot of idiots like Jack Thompson (prominent anti-videogames campaigner), who is right near the top of my Most Hated list (and subsequently one of the principal reasons why I could never support Hilary Clinton, she being one of his biggest supporters). Jack takes a Tabula Rasa approach - he believes that there is no violence inherent within man, and that instead people are filled with the idea to go out and rape, steal, kill, or whatever, by games like Grand Theft Auto. I say bullshit. GTA is a cathartic process, a healthy channeling of aggression which is inherent within everyone, which would otherwise manifest itself in more damaging and disturbing ways. Even if there are people so impressionable as to take to the streets after playing GTA and go on a real life rampage, you have the same problem with the freedom of speech laws. These people were likely to get this informative input from somewhere eventually, be it film, television, music, art, even, dare I say it, literature. And until all those are banned, or about to be, any approach against video games specifically (probably because they are a famously interactive medium, in relative infancy compared to the other genres I've mentioned) is inconsistent and incoherent.

Ditto with drugs - alcohol and tobacco are two of the more damaging drugs, according to an actual updated, non Neolithic rankings system like the A B C Class system, (the new system can be viewed here), yet they remain legal while less damaging drugs are deemed high priority. Consistency is important for any argument, and if you're saying one can't allow the impressionable to come into contact with 'bad ideas', then you are left with no choice but to outlaw all ways in which they could come into contact with those ideas. Which, as far as I can tell, would be cutting off your nose to spite your face. Fuck the impressionable - this would be a classic case of levelling down, as you are significantly reducing the quality of life of the majority to cater to a few gullible, easily-led idiots. Violent games do not necessarily promote violence, drugs don't necessarily kill you, and racist wankers aren't necessarily invulnerable to criticism.

/rant 


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  1. It’s not about discussing freedom of speech in front of a bunch of over-privileged undergrads. It’s all about publicity for Holocaust denial and the BNP.

    25 Nov 2007, 22:26

  2. They make their own publicity, as do the BBC by reporting on it. Publicity isn’t the point of the debate, it’s a side effect, and furthermore, just because people hear about such beliefs does not mean they are going to be sucked in by them. Everyone knows why Hitler conducted the Holocaust, but just because his views, which most agree are disgusting, are well known does not mean people automatically believe them. Similarly, just because Holocaust Denial and the BNP will get publicity from this doesn’t mean they’ll automatically convert people. Even if they do, I already adressed that point above (about the impressionables). Presumably Oxford Union don’t endorse the views these two idiots hold, or that would really be newsworthy, and worrying – it seems likely to me that they’ve invited them in order to cut them down, as well as providing an open platform for them to peddle their filth, which they have every right to do.

    26 Nov 2007, 01:14

  3. How is that there’s so much fuss about the BNP’s, Irving’s and the Oxford Union’s rights and so little about Samina Malik’s ?
    Is it because she is from an under-race?
    The Oxford Union is promoting people who wish to create ethnic conflict. Take a look at the comments of John Russell towards the end of this blog entry.

    26 Nov 2007, 17:22

  4. I read his comments, and some of his arguments are sound, or approaching it, but I’m not exactly sure why they’re relevant. As for Samina Malik, she was thick enough to call herself a terrorist in the first place. She praised Osama Bin Laden and wrote about how she was veering towards martyrdom, which strongly implies, if it doesn’t downright lead to, the idea of a suicide bomb. If she’s been deemed to be inciting religious hatred (which Bin Laden does) or treason (again, which Bin Laden does), then there is definitely a sense in which she got deserved. As I stated in the initial post, one must not overstep freedom of expression into breaking the law, and laws against inciting treason, and racial and religious hatred are entirely justified, in spirit if not in detail. Furthermore, what you are lamenting here is the media’s choice on what to report and how to report it, rather than the issues actually involved. Malik’s case doesn’t impact on the original statement – Griffin and Irving have a right to talk about their views, the Oxford Union has a right to invite them to do so, and inviting them does not imply or necessitate any support for such views. Therefore, the resignation of the MP was ridiculous.

    27 Nov 2007, 00:28

  5. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/oxfordshire/7113984.stm

    Atkins has it spot on.

    27 Nov 2007, 00:30

  6. one must not overstep freedom of expression into breaking the law,

    The concept of freedom of expression was developed to stop the state persecuting those who voice disagreement. Whether non state bodies, like the Oxford Union, publicise a cause or not is another matter.

    27 Nov 2007, 15:38

  7. There is a world of difference between voicing disagreement and encouraging certain action, which is why criticism is permitted under any sensible system, but encouragement of discrimination is not. Furthermore, you seem to still be pursuing the mistaken theory that the Oxford Union’s main purpose in such a move was to publicise the causes of the two individuals involved. This is clearly far from the case, as they themselves have stated on several occasions – any publicity garnered, and as usual it has been almost entirely negative as regards their beliefs, is merely a by-product, and not entirely regrettable. As Atkins said, one of the best ways to destory these theories is to drag them kicking and screaming into the light to show up their inadequacies, rather than forcing them underground and thereby giving them some anti-establishment credibility. And you have yet to counter my point as to the nature of the impressionables in the first place…

    28 Nov 2007, 04:04

  8. Furthermore, you seem to still be pursuing the mistaken theory that the Oxford Union’s main purpose in such a move was to publicise the causes of the two individuals involved.

    It might not have been the main purpose but it was a major effect

    Whatever happened inside the chambers of the Oxford Union, in the wider world Griffin & Irving will use the event to lend credibility to their views. Under the banner of Free Speech, Griffin wants repeal of the laws against racial discrimination to be put back on the political agenda.

    As for the impressionables, firstly it’s not much comfort for those subject to violent racial attacks that they were injured by impressionables. Secondly people are not as immune from prejudice as they might like to think. Germany in the early 1930’s was the most educated society in the world, yet its politics was dominated by ideas often as bizarre as they were extreme.

    28 Nov 2007, 10:09

  9. But there is no possible credibility to a view that would remove laws against racial discrimination. And if there actually is, then it is only right that it be discussed, regardless of Griffin’s personal agenda.

    It may not be much comfort, but because of their nature, the impressionables were likely to end up in that mindset sooner or later, simply because they are so easily led. If there are any number of possible and realtively equally likely causes that could have made an impressionable violent (films, TV, video-games, a stint in the army, a stint in prison, demagoguery like Griffin’s), then it is hardly rational to blame the particular cause that happened to push them into that mind frame. Maybe if we had an education system that taught people to think for themselves more, they wouldn’t take up the spoonfed propaganda lifestyle. And no, people aren’t immune from prejudice – it is, in fact, a basic human reaction. By which I mean that in it’s basic etmyological form, it is to pre-judge, and we all judge people all the time, based on any information, which includes visual such as race, clothes, haircut etc. The important distinction to draw is that it is one thing to make a judgement, it is quite another to assume it is correct and therefore to act on it. As long as we are always willing to revise our judgements, we can overcome prejudice. The problem comes in people like Griffin assuming that their gut reactions and snap judgements are already justified, possibly from bad experiences, and therefore encouraging others to act similarly. But, to come full circle, those susceptible to such action were always likely to come to it through one source or another. To come back to education, and address your point on Germany, how do you define ‘most educated’? Statistically they might have had the highest number of achievers proportional to their population, but what they were achieving and what they were taught are paramount in coming to any understanding of how they came to such twisted conclusions…

    28 Nov 2007, 11:30

  10. I came across the opinion of the famous political philosopher John Rawls regarding Germany between 1870 & 1945
    “a country where reasonably favourable conditions (for democracy) existed – economic, technological and no lack of resources, an educated citizenry and more – but where the political will for a democratic regime was altogether lacking” (Justice as fairness, 2001 : p101)

    Do Irving and Griffin have the political will to support a society where all have equal basic liberties? While Irving and Griffin’s right to free speech was defended by the state on Monday night (and the state is the key actor when you are talking about freedom of speech), should the Oxford Union have provided them an opportunity to pose as victims?

    29 Nov 2007, 21:01

  11. I don’t think the union made them out as victims – it was the protestors who awarded them that status, by behaving like idiots and chanting for the death of the head of the union (“kill trill” or something like that). Reminds me of the way the wankers in Sudan are currently behaving, calling for the teacher’s head. What’s more, I deplore democracy. It’s an idiotic and ridiculous system, to my mind, and far from ideal. Which is not to say that I don’t believe in accountability. but just because conditions were right in Germany for democracy doesn’t mean the people should automatically have leapt for it. That democracy is the best, or even the realistically best/most practical system, is a galling assumption made day in day out unthinkingly by a great many people. Ivring and Griffin probably do, in a sense, support equal basic liberties – Irving I’m not sure about, but Griffin would deport all the ‘non-Brits’, and then all the Brits would be have equal basic liberties (one would hope). I don’t see how the particulars of their views are relevant – what matters is that they were shown up in that room, and it was the media and protest reaction that victimised them and offered legitimacy. If you saw Question Time yesterday, they covered the topic very well, and I couldn’t have agreed more with Alan Duncan in his views on the subject.

    30 Nov 2007, 19:15

  12. Griffin would deport all the ‘non-Brits’, and then all the Brits would be have equal basic liberties (one would hope)

    Just like what happened after Hitler had deported the non-Aryans from Germany (sarcasm).

    The truth is that the first people put in the concentration camps (or murdered) were the Nazi’s political opponents.

    01 Dec 2007, 10:40

  13. Reductio ad Hitlerum, wonderful.

    We don’t know whether Hitler would have implemented equal liberties once his ideal state had been realised. It’s not impossible or even improbable that he would. And as I said in the previous post, the particulars of their views seem pretty irrelevant to the actual debate.

    01 Dec 2007, 14:19

  14. It’s interesting that the OU invited Griffin and Irving, notorious anti-semites, brandishing the “free speech” card. Just a little while earlier the OU had disinvited Norman Finkelstein, the son of Nazi Holocaust camp survivors, for “repugnant anti-semitism”. Wonderful.

    20 Dec 2007, 18:31

  15. James

    What possible justification do “religious hatred” laws have? Religion is not like race, religion is nothing more than a set or arguments, which some may or may not agree with. Google Rowan Atkinson (who has a better grasp on these matters than his real-life bumbling vicar namesake) for more eloquent arguments than I’d manage.

    21 Dec 2007, 17:21

  16. Religion is far more than ‘a set of arguments’. Faith is beyond and separate from logic, and therefore you can’t attack it from logical premises, because a) it’s not going to work, as they operate in different spheres, and b) that’s hypocritical unless you’re going to look at all basic assumptions (like trusting ones sensory apparatus, or inductive logic) with the same kind of scorn. The only way that religion could be considered a set of arguments is if all the evidence were freely sensible (not as in good sense, but as in available to the senses) and available. This is clearly not the case since God, if he does exist, falls into the category of the supersensible (beyond the senses), the very thing which we cannot directly access, or which, even if we can, we cannot communicate to one another properly. Faith can be based on rational and logical premises, but is itself, by definition, a break from logic, whereas an argument is a formation of logical principles from a premise to a conclusion. So, in fact, if there is one thing religion is NOT, it is a ‘set of arguments’.

    Furthermore, who is to say that religion is not like race? You speak as if man has an automatic and overriding power over his beliefs, which I would wholeheartedly refute. We say it’s not fair to discriminate against races because one cannot choose the race one was born into. But while one can choose some, and indeed most, of one’s beliefs, can this be said of all of man’s beliefs? Almost certainly not – you can explain with fully functional logic and evidence to a child, for example, that there is no such thing as the boogeyman without successfully ridding them of their belief in such a thing. And yes, such a belief would be irrational, but as the above argument from faith shows, irrationality is not a problem for the believer, because logic cannot reach or explain everything, certainly not with certainty. Hence the difference between belief and knowledge – knowledge is defined as properly justified true belief. Since it seems we can never be certain of God’s existence (proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing), or, even if we can, we can’t properly justify that belief to anyone else, since it will be based on our own subjective, incommunicable and unverifiable experiences, it seems that belief is bound to be innately personal, even if shared, and can never really stray into knowledge.

    But, to return to the more immediate point, if I believe that there is a God, that is, at least on some level, a profoundly different belief to the belief that the sun will rise tomorrow. The latter is based almost entirely on empirical data, and is a product of inductive logic (the sun has risen before, so it will rise again), whereas the former is based on supersensible data which I could not accurately communicate to you, or anyone. It is not a belief that can be successfully challenged by purely sensible empirical evidence, nor by logic as logic stands, as there is no common basis for logic to argue from. In fact, one could probably demonstrate, by reference to the problems of the principle of induction, that there is no good reason to believe the sun will come up tomorrow. However, this wouldn’t stop you believing it would, despite the logic against such a belief. It’s not a belief you can choose, it’s a belief that is either honed into you, or is based on gut instinct, some contact with the supersensible which you can never satisfactorily communicate.

    21 Dec 2007, 17:54

  17. Religious hatred laws – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incitement_to_religious_hatred – are there to protect people who do not necessarily have control over their beliefs (which can equally include all of us). They are laws about threatening people, which fill an apparent legal loophole that was there before, and can now no longer be exploited. Religious hatred laws should not affect entertainment, that much is patently obvious (though nor should religious hatred be able to brand itself as entertainment to escape the force of the law). But the laws themselves are, in my eyes, entirely justified, protecting as they do both religious and non-religious people (“religious hatred” means hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief. – this would therefore include those not holding a particular belief). It is not a question of the arguments involved and their correctness or justification, it is a question of protecting people from a threat.

    21 Dec 2007, 17:54

  18. James

    Your argument fails at the last: “it is a question of protecting people from a threat”

    If they’re being actually threatened, existing law will cover it. There’s no need for a separate category of offense related to religious belief, which will be open to abuse. (eg the recent attempt at criminal blasphemy prosecution v Jerry Springer: the Opera, or the current harassment of Mark Steyn eg http://cricketandcivilisation.blogspot.com/2007/12/freedom-of-speech-and-definition-of.html)

    For the earlier arguments, see: http://cricketandcivilisation.blogspot.com/2007/12/atheism-discuss.html

    21 Dec 2007, 20:02

  19. “religions are not like race, no-one chooses her or his race, but one is perfectly free to choose any religion that one wishes. Religions in the final analysis constitute ideas and arguments, and should be open to counter-arguments accordingly, however badly or rabidly made.”

    I’ve already set out why I think this is wrong. If it is, the first cornerstone of his argument collapses.

    “The case should, accordingly, have been thrown out at the first opportunity.”

    I agree entirely. But then, I don’t think the article, as the summary of it has been set out, at all incites religious hatred. It is stating logical conclusions based on factual data, which, while not entirely agreeable, are nonetheless not calling for the extermination of Muslims.

    “that multiculturalism is a bad idea, that Muslim radicals threaten liberal western society and that this threat is manifested among other things by large scale Muslim immigration to Western countries, a high birthrate amongst the Muslim community and the refusal of that community to integrate into Western society.”

    If that is all he said, then there is no incitement to religious hatred in there. He is not attacking Muslims because they are Muslim, or because they are different. He is criticising a particular element which is all too happy to take advantage of various benefits the West has to offer without making any effort to integrate themselves. The same criticisms could be made of any group, religious or otherwise, which performed the same actions. Therefore, if a law against incitement to religious hatred is being applied in such a scenario then either it is being wrongly applied (and hence should have been thrown out immediately), or the specific wording of the law itself is wrong. This does not, however, invalidate the intent of the law, which is to cover a gap.

    “If they’re being actually threatened, existing law will cover it. There’s no need for a separate category of offense related to religious belief, which will be open to abuse”

    Existing law does not cover all of it, or the law would have been thrown out for redundancy. If you support racial hatred laws on the basis that one’s race is beyond one’s control, and you accept that there are some beliefs over which people do not have control, then it is incongruous to not also support laws which protect people from religious hatred, hence why it is the “racial and religious hatred act”, both forms of discrimination together. The fact that it’s open to abuse is a problem not inherent within the system or intent of the law, but within the particular wording, hence the amendment of 2005 which “removed the abusive and insulting concept, and required the intention – and not just the possibility – of stirring up religious hatred.” I think you’ll find the Jerry Springer suit, which was patently ridiculous since, as I’ve already stated, entertainment is a fundamentally different ball game, was based on pre-existing blasphemy laws, which are indubitably outdated and redundant, unjustly prioritising, as they do, a particular religion over others. Hence the two examples of abuse you’ve given are one due to misapplication of the law and the other not relevant.

    22 Dec 2007, 00:41

  20. James

    “Existing law does not cover all of it, or the law would have been thrown out for redundancy.”

    Would that Parliament worked in such a logical manner!!!

    ““religions are not like race, no-one chooses her or his race, but one is perfectly free to choose any religion that one wishes. Religions in the final analysis constitute ideas and arguments, and should be open to counter-arguments accordingly, however badly or rabidly made.”

    I’ve already set out why I think this is wrong. If it is, the first cornerstone of his argument collapses.”

    It isn’t wrong at all. People change their beliefs all the time. That’s why monotheistic religions have been historically so anxious about apostasy and conversion.

    “This is clearly not the case since God, if he does exist, falls into the category of the supersensible (beyond the senses), the very thing which we cannot directly access, or which, even if we can, we cannot communicate to one another properly.”

    Take out god and put in flying spaghetti monster, or any other thing your imagination can dream up, to see how vacuous this argument is.

    Indeed some find it impossible to change their beliefs, that’s not the point. Belief is all it is, not something tangible like skin colour/race. It can be open to ridicule etc provided it doesn’t stray into such things as harassment which is covered by the general law anyway.

    There are countless historical examples of religions trying to invoke the power of the state on their behalf. We don’t need to give them any more encouragement. Steyn would be on shaky grounds in Britain under this law; maybe he’d be ok but that’s not the point.

    22 Dec 2007, 23:35

  21. There’s a big difference between attacking a system of beliefs and attacking the people who hold those beliefs.

    In the former case some of the beliefs are listed and an argument made as to why they are bad or stupid. In the latter case it’s all about bullying or intimidating the people themselves.

    Racism stands on two legs, firstly on the categorisation of people and secondly on the promotion of wild and hate-filled claims about the people populating these particular categories. Often the taxonomy is weird making it difficult and arbitrary to place people. For example. under South Africa’s apartheid laws, people considered as Japanese nationals were declared as “white” but those considered Chinese “coloured”.

    Antisemitism and Islamophobia are related to racism, but instead of using a taxonomy based on skin colour or other outward appearance they are based on religious belief.

    24 Dec 2007, 10:24

  22. James

    The distinction isn’t so clear in practice. If I rubbish scientology as the demented ravings of someone out to filch money from his supporters, it isn’t being very kind to those who hold such beliefs. Would I be up before the beak if I did so?

    Richard Dawkins isn’t very kind to those who follow religions. Should he be a criminal, whatever one thinks of his beliefs?

    I would be interested in an example of conduct supporters of this law think would be captured by it (and should be captured by it) but who would not be criminals otherwise.

    26 Dec 2007, 20:39

  23. It is true that many people do include a lot of abusive baggage in their arguments, as perusal of most web forums demonstrates. The answer to that is surely for people to reduce the levlel of hatred and abuse in what they write – the end of a career for many journos ?

    27 Dec 2007, 10:31

  24. Scientology is not a religion James.

    27 Dec 2007, 23:18

  25. James

    Nicely dodging the main question, Hamid, but you’ve raised a further problem with the act – defining religion. Often scientology DOES claim to be a religion – mostly when it suits for political/legal purposes.

    Again, though, answer the question – what conduct does the Act seek to prohibit that wasn’t already an offense? Should it do so?

    Again, too, if I attack beliefs then I am implicitly attacking those who believe them. Should I be a criminal thereby?

    28 Dec 2007, 10:59

  26. There’s a big difference between saying
    “Christians drink the blood of babies at their gatherings”
    and
    “Jesus Christ was a political leader, much the same as any other”
    The former is a statement both wild and insulting, which could be disproved, while the latter is a much more serious attack on Christian beliefs. Religious groups do try to confuse the two types of statement, as the more rational are more disturbed by the latter sort of statement.

    28 Dec 2007, 13:51

  27. You asked two questions James.

    The distinction isn’t so clear in practice. If I rubbish scientology as the demented ravings of someone out to filch money from his supporters, it isn’t being very kind to those who hold such beliefs. Would I be up before the beak if I did so?

    English law doesn’t consider Scientology a religion and never has. Luckily, the recent actions of the German government makes it unlikely that the EC will consider Scientology a religion (at least in the near future). Which means that if you rightly rubish scientology as the ravings of someone out to filch money, you would not “be up before the beak”. And what’s wonderful, even if you did, you would be able to directly evidence what you said with the man’s own writings and casettes. Wonderful!

    And your second question:

    Richard Dawkins isn’t very kind to those who follow religions. Should he be a criminal, whatever one thinks of his beliefs?

    Is just silly. Noone is suggesting Richard Dawkins “should be a criminal”. I don’t think his writings incite hatred for people who hold faith.

    Now on to your newer question:

    Again, though, answer the question – what conduct does the Act seek to prohibit that wasn’t already an offense? Should it do so?
    Again, too, if I attack beliefs then I am implicitly attacking those who believe them. Should I be a criminal thereby?

    1) Read Schedule 3 of the Act.
    2) No. Essentially if your intention is to “stir up hatred” of persons holding a religious belief, then your actions may be criminal under the act. Attacking Islam, for example, does not do such a thing.

    And straight from Shedule Part 3A 29J of the Act (presuming we are speaking of the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006):

    Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system.

    And George has made a sensible comment in 26.

    29 Dec 2007, 01:25

  28. James

    I did read it:

    “29A Meaning of “religious hatred”

    In this Part “religious hatred” means hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief.”

    “29J Protection of freedom of expression

    Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system.”

    Boy o boy some lawyers will have fun with those two sections!! In no way is my central question answered …

    Dawkins has been threatened with prosecution in other countries I believe, though I may be wrong.

    What’s George’s point?

    29 Dec 2007, 18:10

  29. A person convinced that
    “Christians drink the blood of babies at their gatherings”
    might well be inclined to do nasty things to Christians.
    A person convinced that
    “Jesus Christ was a political leader, much the same as any other”
    would surely not be moved to much.

    On the other hand people who believe in religion would be more disturbed by the suggestion their their beliefs are silly than by easy to disprove insults. So they will try to confuse the two sorts of statement, but I hope a court would distinguish between them.

    29 Dec 2007, 18:24

  30. James

    But why should either statement lead to criminal charges?

    30 Dec 2007, 21:18

  31. I agree that the second shouldn’t, but the first should.

    Sometimes it’s argued that the state should wait until violence has been committed before taking any action. But it’s unlikely that the state could find and punish every act of violence and even where it could, retribution is no real compensation for the victim. How can the state compensate a murder victim? Prevention is better than cure.

    There are also negative consequences of “hate speech” which lie outside the narrow confines of law. If you believe that Christians drink the blood of babies, you are hardly likely to befriend them. If the anti-Christian rhetoric is widely believed, its quite likely that the state will become less than vigorous in attempting to pursuing the perpetrators of crimes against Christians. Laws might even be introduced which persecute Christians. There are plenty of examples of the state turning a blind eye to violence done to people considered as inferior. The situation in the ex-slavery states of the USA after abolition provides one. For a few years after the end of the American civil war, freed slaves did have civil rights equal to other Americans. But covert actions by white supremacists, some of whom combined membership of law enforcement agencies with Klu Klux Klan membership, effective removed such rights from many African-Americans.

    31 Dec 2007, 10:41

  32. James

    Pretty far feched, I have to say, with respect. Who is going to believe such nonsense, let alone act on it? Any discriminatory legislation would be held inconsistent with the Human Rights Act in short order. THat’s my point – the existing law is sufficient. This law has been brought about by pressure groups such as the MCB. It’s totally unworkable anyway, as I said in 28.

    As for rather distant historical analogies, you might also mention the House Un-American activities commission, an example of state power overused, of which I would say this act is another example.

    There’s a load of religious hatred spouted at certain Mosques around the place. There is a load of counter-material elsewhere. I don’t see a pressing need for the intervention of the criminal law

    01 Jan 2008, 15:30

  33. No-one in this country would believe it about Christians, but some might believe something just as bad about Muslims. The argument is much the same as the one about the “Race” relations act, with the difference that religion has much more of a reality than “race”.

    01 Jan 2008, 19:01

  34. James

    Ah, the elephant in the room at last. The likes of the MCB wanted this law because they were concerned about what some write about Muslims. Others wanted it because they were concerned about hate speech in mosques. I still think the existing law is fine and neither of those two should be pandered to. Eg Salman Rushdie. The agitators for his murder should have been prosecuted for incitement to murder. Abu Hamsa was/is being prosecuted for some of his antics. I don’t see that the likes of 7/7 or the murder of Theo Van Gogh would be prevented by this law.

    “religion has much more of a reality than “race”“

    Er no, religion is made up stories, it doesn’t have any “reality” at all. People should remember what Yasser Arafat said: having a war about religion is like having an argument over who has the best imaginary friend.

    03 Jan 2008, 18:29

  35. Er no, religion is made up stories, it doesn’t have any “reality” at all.

    I don’t think Georges was commenting on the content of religious belief, but on the ability of being able to point to something concrete like a religion as opposed to a “race” which is rather vague.

    03 Jan 2008, 22:13

  36. James

    Indeed, but even then it’s not so clear – you dismissed scientology as a religion, but it is at least arguably so. How do you define ‘religion’ (leaving aside whatever is the current technical legal definition)? Belief in ‘god’? or ‘many gods’? Or just ‘supernatural’? Or just ‘something’? Or number of followers? I would say that gives rise to as much room for dispute as over ‘race’

    04 Jan 2008, 21:19

  37. James, thanks for covering the arguments in favour of freedom of speech.
    We are still waiting for a coherent argument in favour of restraining it. The “harassment/threatening behaviour” argument, as you correctly point out, is covered by existing law against this type of thing. The opposition is skirting between two different definitions of the same act. In answer to our “er, why criminal charges for speech?” question, they change from defining it as “speech”, to “harassment”. If we were talking about harassment, etc., we would have asked about that, presumably. Totally different discussion, unrelated to a freedom of speech discussion.

    With regard to the “hate/murder/RACISM!” (and indeed the outrageous mention of “treason” by Kent, I think) arguments, it can be easily reduced to “I don’t like it”. There’s another thing going on here though. Through the addition of the “racism, etc.” tag, those in favour of restraining freedom of speech think they have made it something more than an “I don’t like it” claim. I don’t deny there are legitimate reasons for standing against racism in itself, but most of those reasons can be applied to situations where the freedom of speech is not ever in doubt, not up for discussion. Why are they not applied? Because Riches, et al. don’t want them to be applied there. For example, on these blogs and amongst the student population here I hear a lot of “chav, etc.” name calling. I might have missed it, but I don’t remember a significant movement against that kind of behaviour for it’s offensiveness, it’s aim of division, it’s hate, it’s oppression. Add to the list as you like from your “what’s wrong with racism” list. Pretty similar. But it’s ok, because one set is upper-middle class Warwick students, the other are certainly not. Fine. Try and apply the reasons for opposition to racism to limiting of free speech, there’d be a shit load of silent people round our campus and all over the country. So the legitimate reasons for opposition to racism can not be your reasons for limiting speech on that issue, otherwise you’d be happy for it to be applied properly.
    this leaves us with two options. it’s opposed because,
    1. you don’t like it
    2. you want to be seen not to like it.
    Both are pretty deplorable.
    In any case, if you are talking about freedom of speech there is not a leg to stand on. Once it’s established – quite easily, I must say – that any reason you come up with in opposition to racism is not being applied universally (and so the argument is reduced to the above), the conclusion is obvious. You are not in favour of freedom of speech. James and I are. Riches and Kent are not. Simple. Two positions. Fine. But just admit it. If you are for restriction of freedom of speech for the things mentioned, you are not in favour of “freedom of speech” at all, so why not give up the whole pretense.
    the arbitrariness of anti-freedom arguments is summed up well by Kent’s singling out of comedy from the “necessity” of anti-”hatred” laws.

    Of course James is correct that there is no justification for anti-treason or anti-incitement laws. The former isn’t even a discussion, but see above about “I don’t like it” arguments (I don’t like anti-statism, or anti-nationalism, so let us….). Kent’s computer game analogy suffices for the later.

    Sometimes I despair that these things are being talked about in the terms put forward by Riches et al. but oh well.

    09 Jan 2008, 21:41

  38. I hesitated before coming back to this debate as I haven’t given much thought at all to “religious discrimination” and certainly didn’t want to get involved in the minutia of laws. I’m more interested in justice.

    I certainly don’t think that the state should attempt to prevent people from feeling insulted. But it should be concerned about incitement to violence. Even then I consider there to be a difference between the usual boorish journalistic excesses and inflaming a situation which has already lead to significant civil unrest if not murder (e.g. recent events in Kenya). I would prefer a law which wasn’t based around notions of race or religion but around whether there’s a serious problem of violence aimed against a group, irrespective of the criteria used to place individuals in that group.

    I don’t think Freedom of Speech is a holy commandment which must always be adhered to. Those who do should surely be for the abolition of laws against slander and libel as well as those against incitement to violence.

    Within the British context, the demand for Freedom of Speech arose from an “unholy” alliance of religious sects and political extremists. They wanted to be able to criticise the establishment of King and Church free from the threat of imprisonment or execution. It was the case of the weak trying to articulate an opposition to the strong. Like so many arguments it has been hi-jacked by the powerful to justify persecution of the disadvantaged. Nevertheless it remains an important weapon for the weak to defend themselves from the powerful. It certainly shouldn’t be curtailed just to prevent insults, but it should be curtailed if it incites others to do violence to the disadvantaged. General laws about incitement may be sufficient when the people subject to the violence are not also the subject of sustained violence and discrimination, but where there’s a real danger of systematic violence (such as “race” riots) more specific laws are necessary. That’s the basis of my support for the Race Relations Acts.

    10 Jan 2008, 18:41

  39. I’ve just noticed that not only does Vincent Carroll-Battaglino put me in the same boat as Jimmy Kent with regard to Freedom of Speech, but also thinks that he is agreement with James about anti-incitement laws. Yet VCB writes (comment 37):

    “there is no justification for anti-treason or anti-incitement laws”

    while James writes (comment 34)

    “The agitators for his murder should have been prosecuted for incitement to murder”

    10 Jan 2008, 18:51

  40. James

    Actually I do agree with VCB’s general points about freedom of speech. There are several threads running here. One is whether any such laws (incitement, hate etc) should be enacted at all. That’s a big question, and I didn’t attempt to tackle it in a few short posts. There certainly is a strong argument that there should not be such laws.

    I was in fact trying to confine things (in order to avoid having to write a general pol phil essay) to a couple of points about the religious hatred act above. First, that religion is not the same thing as race.

    Secondly, and this is directed more at the minutae of the law which you understandably want to avoid, there are many existing laws abridging freedom of speech and action which are sufficient on any view (and already go too far on VCB’s view) and so the new Act was not needed. A clear example of religious hatred would be the Rushdie affair – not what he wrote himself, only the ayatollahs could possibly think one should have criminal laws governing the content of novels like the Satanic Verses, but the reaction thereto – with people such as the late Dr K. Siddiqui (the chap who tried to set up a ‘Muslim Parliament’) always calling for Rushdie’s murder. There are existing laws under which he could have been prosecuted, namely incitement to murder. Whether there should be such laws is another question (VCB would say no), one which I wasn’t attempting to ask let alone answer. No-one was able to give an example of conduct which was not banned before the Act was brought into force and therefore justified the Act itself. JK made the rather naive argument that Parliament would have rejected it “for redundancy” if the existing law already covered conduct which the act is designed to meet, as if the present gvt cared about piling useless legislation upon useless legislation in a populist fashion.

    There was a further point with regard to the Act itself, namely that anyone charged under it will throw up a freedom of speech defence expressly preserved by the Act (see post 28 above). The Act bears all the hallmarks of rubbish legislation brought about by a perpetually meddling government which is trying to be all things to all men (and women, and deities for that matter). So it brought in the Act to appease the pressure groups such as the MCB and put in the bit about free speech to keep everyone else happy too. Result: no-one will be happy.

    10 Jan 2008, 21:41

  41. I for one think we should send David Irving and Nick Griffin to Coventry.
    I’m a David Irving denyer.
    Surely they could have found some people with views worth debating or some intelligent people worth listening to. I also hope they weren’t paid for their appearence as they’d be making money from their convictions.

    16 Jan 2008, 19:44

  42. What’s Coventry done to deserve David Irving and Nick Griffin?

    18 Jan 2008, 11:06

  43. This :P

    18 Jan 2008, 14:28


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