Thursday, October 18, 2007

Freedom: even for the thoughts we hate

Before I start, I would like to make one thing very clear, I have no time, or sympathy whatsoever for racist scum like the British National Party and its supporters. Indeed, I would like to think of myself as a born free Englishman who has the right to say whatever I want, and as such, I must insist that under no circumstances should there be any restrictions on the rights of anyone to speak freely.

Unlike some left leaning political commentators in the blogsphere, who argue that they 'support free speech, but...' - my belief in the right to free speech is unconditional. That means there is no such thing as partial freedom of speech, or free speech for me, but not for them. As far as I'm concerned, free speech is not divisable - we either have it or we don't - and I say, we should have it all.

Don't get me wrong here, I'm not arguing that we should go softly, softly on the obvious nonsense espoused by racists, Holocaust deniers, or West Ham supporters. I do not adhere to the notion that we should take their pathetic views seriously. On the contrary, my defense of free speech means that we should have the right to ridicule or hammer our opponents in open debate - indeed, this is the whole point. It now appears that the greatest threat to our right to free speech comes not from the misogynists of the BNP, or Holocaust deniers like the discredited historian David Irving, the fiercest critics of free speech come instead from those on the left.

The left appear to be having a hissy-fit over the Oxford Union debating society inviting the leader of the BNP and David Irving to their 'Free Speech Forum', but the debate about free speech is not about the BNP or Irving, it's about our freedom to judge for ourselves - it's about our liberty to be able to listen to a debate and all the arguments, whether they are dumb arguments or not, we need this liberty in order to judge for ourselves - it is this freedom that the left seem to fear the most.

The worst thing about this whole affair is that the BNP and its supporters can now occupy the high moral ground and claim it is they who are the real champions of free speech. So yes, seeing Nick Griffin and Irving standing on a public platform arguing that 'no one can take their freedom away' is enough to make me puke - but those on the left standing outside the Free Speech Forum with placards demanding bans are in mine eye, even more sickening.

Outstanding photography by Sion Touhig/Getty Images

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At 1:07 AM, Blogger Roland Dodds said...

“Don't get me wrong here, I'm not arguing that we should go softly, softly on the obvious nonsense espoused by racists, Holocaust deniers, or West Ham supporters.”

Here Here! It is pretty sad that Harry’s Place has taken the stand they have…perhaps the reformed communists kept some of their old ways concerning this issue.

I personally feel that stupid ideas don’t need to banned or restricted, simply because they are stupid and will work against themselves. By restricting what they say, they allow them to be martyrs, and some folks will play into the idea that they are “speaking the truth” and the “big bad multicultural government” is out to suppress them. The only people who end up winning in this situation is groups like the BNP.

You know it’s a sad day when extremists are the ones who get to claim the high ground.

At 7:51 AM, Blogger James Higham said...

Not just left but right too, Courtney. The problem at Blogpower is that there are people who, if they were admitted, would clear out half the membership overnight. This is the dilemma with free speech and groups.

At 10:26 AM, Blogger Gracchi said...

Isn't there a difference though between advocating banning someone and advocating that this organisation should not host their event. Banning someone deprives them of their ability to speak and is against free speech but just not inviting someone is an exercise of freedom- that's what say the argument about the Oxford Union event is actually about- its not about the freedom to speak- its about the freedom for me to decide not to associate with various people.

At 11:03 AM, Blogger Roland Dodds said...

If I can jump into your question Gracchi, I see your point but I think the cause of Free Speech is best served when institutions like Oxford or Columbia invite controversial figures who may very well be idiots, racists, fascists and the like. I personally wouldn’t invite them to post at my blog, but at institutions like these universities, I think they owe it to their students and the world to host forums on topics most places would not even consider.

On that note, I think it is perfectly appropriate for people like the president of Columbia to condemn an individual at the event they were invited to. I say let people talk; at least at these events they have to answer actual questions.

At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I completely agree with Gracchi. We should never call on the state to ban the views of fascists or anyone; that would indeed be a threat to liberty. But that does not mean we should invite people to come and spout objectionable views to us. Calling on the state (or Oxford University) to ban Griffin is wrong, but arguing that the Oxford Union were wrong to invite Griffin is a correct strategy. Freedom of speech is one thing; freely giving out opportunities to racist scum is another.

Not that I really care what the toffs at Oxford get up to - although they are no doubt our future rulers.

At 11:25 AM, Blogger Courtney Hamilton said...


"its not about the freedom to speak- its about the freedom for me to decide not to associate with various people."

Well, for now I would have to disagree with this part of your comment. Indeed, the NUS President argued that they would, in her words 'certainly oppose any attempt by Oxford Union to invite Irving and Griffin to speak'. Gemma Tumelty added that she would be actively 'campaigning to ensure that they are not given a platform'.

But hello, what on Earth is Tumelty, and people like her so afraid of? Words? Or the fact that someone might hear them and decide for themselves?

I don't think anyone is contesting your right to not associate with various people - what is being contested here is our right to listen to someone speak. Everyone, should, at the very least, have their say whether we agree with them or not - do you not agree?

So, for me, it does appear as if the fundamental right for someone to speak is being opposed.

The truth is, as Roland pointed out, we nothing to fear from open debate with such people, indeed, we have everything to gain, by publicly hammering their arguments out in the open.

At 2:00 PM, Blogger Matt M said...

Ultimately, it's up to the Oxford Union whether they want to allow the BNP to use their platform.

The BNP have a right to speak. Those who oppose them have the right to question and criticise what they say. That's what freedom of speech demands, in my opinion.

At 3:08 PM, Blogger Courtney Hamilton said...

Hi Matt,

"The BNP have a right to speak. Those who oppose them have the right to question and criticise what they say. That's what freedom of speech demands, in my opinion."

Of course Matt, and I agree with you totally - however, those who want to protest and criticise outside the forum do not want the BNP to say speak in public - period. This is the aspect of their campaign that I find unpalatable and anti-democratic.

At 3:25 PM, Blogger Courtney Hamilton said...

Hi Bob,

"We should never call on the state to ban the views of fascists or anyone; that would indeed be a threat to liberty."

I'm 100% in agreement with you on that.

However, as I mentioned before, the likes of me and you should have absolutely nothing to fear from the scum of the BNP in an open debate. Together, I'm sure we would have more than enough arguments to hammer them back to the gutter where they belong.

At 9:23 AM, Blogger Longrider said...

Courtney - yes, you have nailed it. It is a point oft missed, that we should have unconditional freedom of speech - and that means hearing things that we may find unpalatable. With that, though comes the responsibility to deal with the consequences. Also, there is no obligation to provide a megaphone - which is what graatchi is saying. But those who call for a ban are not merely seeking not to provide the megaphone, they want "unacceptable" speech strangled at birth.

At 10:50 PM, Blogger Cheezy said...

Wise words, Courtney. I always cringe whenever someone like David Irving is publically 'banned' from speaking somewhere.

Let the freaks say their bit... and then let the rebuttal slay them.

At 4:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more, freedom of speech must be upheld no matter what the speech maybe. If it something that crude then it should be easy to dismiss through debate.
I was researching for something on my blog and came across your site, it's really good and thought I'd add it to our blogroll. Feel free to recipocate!

At 4:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more. If something is to be said under the right to free speech then that should cover everything. If something is that bad then it should be easy to dismiss their argument with debate. Indeed, if this were to happen then it would expose them for what they are.
I came across your site Courtney whilst researching something for my blog and really like it, in fact I've added it to our blogroll (feel free to reciprocate!).
Keep up the good work.

At 11:57 AM, Blogger Daniel of "Daniels Counter" said...

Hey I better wish to see the sorryful pricks than having them hidden in a ratholes. So freedom of gathering and speech and boy will we be listening to their words and actions... and react!

At 8:27 PM, Blogger James Higham said...

I think this could end up being quite a definitive post. The issue is real, especially with the blogosphere being Prodi-ized and it needs to be as people say.

However, I come back to our dilemma at BP of what to do about a new member who would cause half the membership to walk out. We lose 35 good guys and gain one Irving.

At 11:07 PM, Blogger Courtney Hamilton said...

A couple of thoughts on BP:

BP now appears to reflect the political outlook of it's current membership - and judging by the remarks about the blog BNP and Me, BP is in danger of becoming highly intolerant towards ideas they have serious reservations about.

Who knows, maybe you need to start another BP? A Real BP, so to speak. A BP that states that it has an open membership policy, and once a member, they should (at the very least) show genuine tolerance towards those who hold opposing views. Like I said in my post, this doesn't mean going softly, softly with their views, it means at least allowing them the liberty of having their say, so we can read or listen to it for ourselves.

The reason I thought that BP exists is so smaller blogs can come together and talk about themselves, the blogshere and society, within the context of a ready-made 'democratic' online 'community' - but, being tolerant is not a criteria for becoming a member of such a 'community'. As long as that is the case, dubious bloggers like the BNP & Me will always be a dilemma for such groups.

To me, BP has failed in 35 (good guy) ways, the toleration test.

At 11:48 AM, Blogger James Higham said...

Courtney - have to get your navigation sorted out, man, through MyBlogLog.

At 9:36 PM, Blogger Sean Jeating said...

Reading this post and the following comments a while ago; reflecting; Returning today to re-read.
This is one of the best posts/articles on this subject I "stumbled over".
Thanks for making my brain dancing. :)

At 7:17 PM, Blogger All-Mi-T [Thought Crime] Rawdawgbuffalo said...

nice blog folk im gonna add u to mine so whe u ca chk meout sometimes, it sounds lke the UK go the same problems whe have over in amerikkka

At 2:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Left simply don't understand freedom. For them it is all about freedom with the confines of the greater good, which kinda misses the point.
Many have raised the subject of the Oxford Union, but when they do have not actually tackle the issues of why they should be defeated with debate. All this does is publicise the BNP and the far right.
Their policies are pathetic and would never stand up toargument, I quite like their idea of moving a ready and waiting BNP government to Croatia while the UK destroys itself, then step in to mop up. Okay...

At 7:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What, bad spelling?

At 5:53 PM, Blogger Incitatus4Congress said...

I agree with the sentiments of this post. The words "Free Speech" would ring rather hollow if the Union was actively censoring what it considered to be fringe elements. I applaud them for firmly demonstrating that those words belong in the title of that particular forum.

Censorship, legal or otherwise, often lends itself to intellectual laziness. At the very least, giving the bonkers fringe a platform will provide them with rope to hang themselves. On the other hand, on the rare occasions when a particularly charismatic speaker of some obnoxious group or other actually demonstrates a sufficient grasp of rhetoric as to present an argument that, to a layperson, might seem ostensibly legitimate, it is important that the opposition is sufficiently versed and experienced in such arguments as to pick them apart and display their inadequacies in a public forum.

This cannot be done if the opposition simply fold its arms, thrusts its chin in the air, and declares that it is above debating with such groups and characters (usually in the bizarre and baseless hope that this response will somehow make the dirty savages and their unwholesome fringe beliefs disappear).

At 12:47 PM, Blogger Ellee Seymour said...

Merry Christmas wishes to you and your wife.

At 1:07 PM, Blogger Daniel of "Daniels Counter" said...

Hey long time no write! What's happening!?

At 10:44 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Certainly the state should not censor fascists. But if the German social democrats hadn't respected Hitler's freedom of speech so much... So I'm anti-censorship and pro-giving fash the boot. A lot of people are safe in their homes at night because the brave men of Anti-Fascist Action smashed street-level fascism in the decades running up to the 90s. From thousand, the NF was reduced to the 20 odd members it has today.

So while liberals can cringe behind an unwillingness to accept that life sometimes comes down to boots and fists, and that freedom aint free, they are only free to do this because brave guys have risked their necks to keep you lot out of concentration camps and fascist prisons!

At 8:41 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Anyway, the BNP seems to be fracturing due to the Griffin "surveillance freak" scandal. The same thing happened to the NF and they re-focused on street politics.

At 12:00 PM, Blogger CFD Ed said...

If you try to stop people like the BNP from expounding their views or just try to out shout them then it actually gives them a hint of credibility. Given that their views are so full of holes they are easily torpedoed by logic. Surely it must be obvious it would actually be more effective to tear them to pieces verbally and destroy their arguments.

They should be opposed, but those who would ban them from simply expressing their views are no friends of freedom, or free speech, for who draws the line?

If it is OK to suppress, or censor, even stupid objectionable views, then what others may be next and what other groups?

…And Daniel, careful. By just looking at the BNP you may be being distracted - Have you looked at New Labour recently?

Fascism – ‘the third way’ (sound familiar?) under Mussolini was originally about control , not by the State owning the means of production, but by regulation. About the state allowing property to be retained privately but rigidly controlling and regulating both it and the citizen by laws and regulations.

At 2:35 PM, Blogger ModernityBlog said...

quick point:

Irving is NOT a historian, anymore than the bloke that pulls his own teeth out with a set of pliers is a dentist

he's an author, a fascist propagandist and nothing more


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