This follows hard on the heels of the student jailed for tweeting something vile and racist
about Fabrice Muamba, a boy jailed for putting something sick and disgusting
on Facebook about April Jones and Madeleine MacCann, and a young man
sentenced to community service for posting something on Facebook celebrating the deaths of British soldiers in Afghanistan.
In none of these cases was it claimed by the prosecution that the offending comments amounted to incitement to violence or any other criminal act other than giving offence and/or insult. The tweet about Muamba was, conceivably, an act of racial discrimination but that was not the prosecution’s case. The boy who posted vile stuff about April Jones and Madeleine McCann was possibly guilty of the crime of harassment (against their parents), but again, that was not the charge; it was brought under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003
, which outlaws ”send
[ing] by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive
or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character” (my emphasis -JD).
The religious lobby (spearheaded by the Muslim leadership, happily followed by Christians and all other mainstream religions) has succeeded in establishing the giving of “offence” against religion as a crime. The Blair government, in desperate need of Muslim support following Iraq, brought in the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations, 2003
which make it an offense to “discriminate” against anyone on grounds on their religion – unless the ‘discriminator’ is itself a religious organisation! This sort of nonsense has been further perpetuated by the rise of identity politics and relativism on the so-called “left.”
Those of us who support free speech and insist that it is a fundamental component of the great progressive heritage
of the Enlightenment (of which Marxism is a product) are, these days, constantly having to rebut
those who seem to think that free speech doesn’t
include the right to give offence or to be stupid and wrong (in which case, what DOES it mean?) or who muddy the waters by suggesting that expressing offensive opinions is the same thing as an act of violence or discrimination. Some of the people who seem unable to comprehend these fairly simple distinctions do seem to be a bit thick
, and generally fall into the “liberal”/relativist catagory.
But others are clearly engaged in a superficially coherent, thoroughly reactionary and (usually) religiously-based attack upon freedom of speech, using the fundamentally dishonest ‘argument’ that supporters of free speech are positively in favour of some (imaginary) “duty to be offensive.”
A further argument (usually implied, rather than openly stated) is that freedom of speech is the product of a particular form of liberal politics, very often derided as “bourgeois,” “European”, or “Western”.
Mehdi Hasan, a smooth operator and practiced dissembler, came out with the following (below)
reactionary and intellectually bankrupt excercise in obscurantism at a recent debate
Mehdi Hasan, political director of The Huffington Post UK, called for a crackdown on the culture of Islamophobia and argued freedom of speech was not an “absolute right” during a debate on Thursday.
Speaking opposite Times columnist David Aaronovitch at a HuffPost/Polis debate, on the right to offend, Mr Hasan argued free speech was being “fetishized” and claimed many free-speech campaigners in the west were guilty of “brazen hypocrisy.”
“We have a civic duty not to offend others,” he told the a packed audience at the London School of Economics.
“How can you construct a civilised, cohesive society if we go round encouraging everyone to insult each other willy nilly?
“Yes we do have a right to offend but it’s not the same as having a duty to be offensive. You have a responsibility not to go out of your way to piss people off.
“I have the right to fart in a lift, but I don’t do it because it is offensive.
“Some people want the right to be offensive but then get cross when people are offended.”
[NB: Peter Tatchell on the Barry Thew case and "the right to be offensive" here]