Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Freedom of Speech, Within Limits

The Guardian has an interesting item about free speech and the right to be boorish. No, they're not defending the crude norm of their discussions of Israel. This time the shoe is on the other foot. A British Islamist with an impeccable accent by the name of Anjem Choudry has cooked up the idea of protesting the UK's participation in the war in Afghanistan and particularly the high number of civilian casualties there by having a procession with mock coffins in Wootton Basset, the town through which the biers of many fallen soldiers are marched. So the demonstration is sort of like pissing on their funerals.

Predictably, everyone is furious, from the prime minister through the Home Secretary Alan Johnson who apparently has the legal tools to block the demonstration, through 120,000 Facebookers who have banded to express their anger, all the way to the more mainstream Muslim Council of Britain, many of whose members probably agree with Choudry's politics but whose officials fear the tactic is all wrong.

You really ought to watch the short interview with Choudry. He's clearly a charismatic chap.

I've been saying for months that the societies whose soldiers are fighting the just war against the Islamists need to be taking a closer look at how they're waging it and how many civilians they're killing. So I'm warily on Choudry's side that someone's got to raise the issue. (I doubt there's much else we can agree on).

Banning freedom of speech is necessary sometimes. There's the principle of shouting Fire in a crowded theater, of course, but there are also operational matters at time of war which clearly don't need to be public - and even at time of non-active war, come to think of it. There's direct incitement to violence: there have to be limits on that, though they need to be monitored carefully.

Is being rude justification for being silenced? I think not. Even when it's extreme rudeness, beyond any plausible lines of discussion. It looks like the British consensus sees it differently than I. In the UK, being rude can get you silenced, if your rudeness is directed at the right (wrong) target. You can't offend Muslims too much, and you can't offend fallen soldiers. Israelis, Americans, Russians, MPs, fox hunters and zoo visitors, however, are all free season. It's a democracy, after all.


NormanF said...

Treason should definitely be banned. This is an act of lese majeste, an insult to the King. In an earlier time, Anjem Choudry and his compatriots would be swinging from the gallows. The UK is too decadent to give them exactly the justice they deserve.

sammy said...

I'm surprised at Jews opposing the notion of demonstrating about civilian deaths in war. Do you really think civilian deaths in war should be ignored? Thats the kind of stuff holocaust deniers do.

Gavin said...

Sammy. Perhaps you could enlighten me. I don't see any Jews opposing the notion of demonstrating about civilian deaths here. Would you care to read what Yaacov wrote again and quote the relevant text that made you reach that conclusion, I'm struggling to understand how you interpreted his comments that way.

Thanks, Gavin.