Tag Archives: free speech

Opinion: Does the Prime Minister really care about free speech?

The Prime Minister is concerned that Leveson’s “essential” legislative underpinning for press self-regulation would cross a line. “We should be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press”, he stated, saying that we should be proud of our “great tradition” of freedom of speech. But the UK has many laws that restrict citizens’ free expression and which we should be deeply ashamed of. Will the PM be campaigning to end these?

There’s ‘Section 5’, under which – for example – a 16 year old was summoned to court for holding a placard saying, “Scientology is not a religion. It is a dangerous cult.” Thankfully, after pressure from MPs and the Reform Section 5 campaign, the Home Office consulted on the law and – separately – the Lords will tomorrow vote on amending it. Reformists (including the Deputy Prime Minister) can presumably count on the PM’s support!

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Opinion: Criminal laws are freezing out freedom of speech

Much has been made of the “chilling effect” of British defamation laws on public debate in recent years. Given that backdrop, the lack of furore over our criminal, as opposed to civil, regulations of speech is rather difficult to understand.

Quite arguably, the chilling effect of these so-called ‘speech offences’ has been even more pervasive, akin to a Siberian winter at times, due to the woefully inadequate safeguards and catch-all wording that characterises almost each and every one of …

Posted in Op-eds | 13 Comments

Opinion: Fitna

What is the matter with Chris Huhne? On the great freedom-of-speech versus right-to-offend argument, he has always struck just about the right note – for instance, on Holocaust denial and the Danish Cartoons. But now his judgement appears to have deserted him when last week he backed the decision of the British government to exclude a Dutch politician for the unforgivable crime of saying something nasty about Islam. Coming on the twentieth anniversary of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the timing could hardly be worse.

There’s really nothing quite like a religious question to upend our political and moral intuitions and reduce any sort of reasoned argument to rubble. So it was that Chris declared Fitna to be “definitely inciting people to violence,” on the Today programme. Definitely inciting people to violence? It is true that the 17 minute film does contain endless incitements to violence. The trouble is that all the incitement is coming from the mouths of Muslim clerics. It is also true that these images are interleaved with some fairly offensive written statements. But they are mostly quotations from the Koran. Could it be that Chris got a bit confused?

Jo Swinson fared a little better on Any Questions by distancing herself from Chris and acknowledging that Fitna did not in her view incite violence. But then she drifted off into some fairly banal platitude. “Any text can be twisted,” she said. “If you want to pick and choose, you can actually create something horrific out of any text that you like.” Any text, Jo? I’d love to see a version of Fitna based on the Liberal Democrat constitution. You could juxtapose a statement about freeing people from poverty, ignorance and conformity, with some beard and sandals imagery maybe. Enough to incite anyone to violence, I’m sure you’d agree. Could it just be that some texts are in fact nastier than others?

It’s a common objection of course – that the offending quotations have been “taken out of context.” But what I’d like to know is precisely what context would make all the misogyny, homophobia, and violence contained in our various sacred texts acceptable? If we wish to read either the Bible or the Koran “in context,” then it might first help to understand who wrote them – to wit, primitive men who would be completely outshone in knowledge and understanding by a modern twelve-year-old with access to Wikipedia. No, the people who are truly taking the holy books out of context are called Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc. who claim that these writings are the “word of God” – whether it be that they believe this literally or in some ambiguous manner.

I don’t think I much care for Geert Wilders. His political hero is Margaret Thatcher – that is rarely a good sign. His perfectly reasonable desire to move freely between nations is undermined to some extent by his own anti-immigration politics. He should know that you can’t defeat an ideology by erecting physical barriers and pulling up the drawbridge. Calling for the Koran to be banned is totally daft. It would be quite impossible, even assuming such a thing were desirable which it isn’t. But I do share one thing in common with Wilders, namely that I am not prepared to read the Koran and pretend that it means the exact opposite of what it says, for the sake of some political expediency.

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Was Chris Huhne right to say Geert Wilders should be banned from the UK?

As the BBC reports:

A Dutch MP who called the Koran a “fascist book” has been sent back to the Netherlands after attempting to defy a ban on entering the UK. Freedom Party MP Geert Wilders had been invited to show his controversial film – which links the Islamic holy book to terrorism – in the UK’s House of Lords.

But Mr Wilders, who faces trial in his own country for inciting hatred, has been denied entry by the Home Office. He told the BBC it was a “very sad day” for UK democracy.

Interviewed on this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today …

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Evan wins Secularist of the Year 2009

We may be only five weeks into 2009, but Lib Dem MP Evan Harris has already won an award – Secularist of the Year. The BBC reports:

The Liberal Democrat was named joint winner, with Lord Avebury, for their work in abolishing the blasphemy libel law in England and Wales. Dr Harris called the law “ancient, discriminatory and illiberal” as well as not compliant with human rights and against free speech. The offences of blasphemous libel and blasphemy were abolished last summer. …

Dr Harris has also campaigned to separate religion and the state claiming the current system has a number

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