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11 January 2009 @ 04:09 pm
Whatever happened to Free Speech?  
While Voltaire probably never wrote : I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it, we grew up believing it and felt comfortable and safe in our own country.

Then 20 ago Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced a death sentence on Salman Rushdie for 'insulting' Islam with his novel The Satanic Verses and things have never been the same since. Any book, play, opera or piece of visual art work with reference to Islam will probably never be shown (see yesterday's Guardian for more on this). Some right-wing Christian groups have tried similar protests and 3 years ago we came within a single parliamentary vote of a law (the Religious Hatred Act) that would have meant imprisonment for seven years for using insulting language (even if the insult was unintentional and referred to an established truth).

In August a customer who bought a book for teenagers by Jacqueline Wilson in her local ASDA store managed to get the whole lot removed and destroyed then later reprinted to replace what she considered to be an offensive word - 'twat' was altered to 'twit'.

Today we learn that St James Palace has had to apologise for Prince Harry's using racially offensive words in a 'secret video obtained by the News of the World'. Obviously taking after his grandfather who - in 1986 when speech was freer nevertheless made headlines by telling a British student during a visit to China: ''If you stay here much longer, you will go home with slitty eyes.''

To preempt any possible misunderstanding I do not admire or agree with these royal sentiments but I hate the way that self-appointed guardians of public morality can make a pious song and dance about it.

There is a lot to be said for tolerance, for allowing others to express unpopular or minority viewpoints without imposing a literary fatwa. I think this applies to what we write here as well. I've kept on line journals for a number of years and nowadays feel less confident about taking an unfashionable stance on  religion, morality, sexual orientation, feminism or parenthood. But sometimes you have to stick your neck out. I recall Martin Niemoller's poem

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
 
 
 
Catpain Blackuddercharlycrash on January 11th, 2009 05:25 pm (UTC)
I object to the Harry thing because I'm paying for his upkeep. It's not unreasonable to ask that if anyone sucks up that much public capital purely be being lucky enough to be born into a certain family they should be a paragon of behaviour. If they don't like it, they're perfectly free to reject any claim to the throne, inheritance and a wage out of the public purse and get a real goddamn job like the rest of us.
anghara13anghara13 on January 11th, 2009 08:41 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry, are the armed forces not enough of a real job for you? This guy, however stupid his choice of language and personal habits has actually been on the front line (yes yes, endangering his entire unit, heard that one) fighting for a cause. OK, so not one I agree with, but that's another debate entirely.

I want to know how you can say he doesn't do a real job, when the rest of our forces are out there, doing exactly the same job? Are they not really working either???? Just leeching off the rest of us?
Catpain Blackuddercharlycrash on January 11th, 2009 08:51 pm (UTC)
There's a difference between a Windsor doing a bit of tokenistic knocking about in the armed forces for a couple of years to keep the proletariat from the gates followed by being on the gravy train for the rest of their lives and having a proper job.

Somehow I doubt Harry is being given the most high-risk assignments. Not when there's a ready supply of Jocks and Geordies who are actually doing something other than playing soldiers to soak up the shrapnel instead.
anghara13anghara13 on January 11th, 2009 10:53 pm (UTC)
Of course, there are always soldiers to do the dying, and officers to do the surviving, it's been that way since man invented fighting for more than one on one. And you know what, if the front line isn't risky enough for you? Maybe you should join up.
Catpain Blackuddercharlycrash on January 11th, 2009 11:45 pm (UTC)
My surname isn't Windsor. I'd be with the rest of the IED fodder.
eulipious on January 11th, 2009 05:33 pm (UTC)
Some tight wing Christian groups ....... that would have meant imprisonment for seven years for using insulting language (even if the insult was unintentional and referred to an established truth.

Just out of interest, and because I'm perplexed. Which Right wing Christian groups and which protests? Jerry Springer?

and re the religious hatred act do you mean 'even if the insult was unintentional BUT referred to an established truth? Is so what sort of established truth?

Otherwise I'm with you all the way. I hate political correctness and think minorities should have minor rights - it would keep them interesting. Today everything is allowed except thinking and speaking for oneself.

Benbenicek on January 11th, 2009 06:26 pm (UTC)
Minor rights? Fascistic doctrines always employ the argument that they are defending the rights of an ethnic, political or religious majority against undermining by some minority (Jewish, immigrant, gay, atheist, 'red', counter-revolutionary etc.)

Take this case: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/jan/09/atheist-bus-campaign-asa

Doubtless the complainants claim that they represent the majority religion in the UK and that the 'atheist bus' undermines or offends the national religion.
eulipious on January 11th, 2009 06:52 pm (UTC)
Are you drawing breath. I'm not sure what point you are making or what fascistic doctrines you are alluding to. Could you elucidate?
Benbenicek on January 11th, 2009 07:16 pm (UTC)
Nazism, Vichy France, The KKK, The Taliban, Al Quaeda, Khomeni, Christian fundamentalism, Stalinism, McCarthyism, the BNP......(exhales, at last). All claim to be fighting for the (their) majority against contamination from outsiders and/or deviants of some description.

eulipious on January 11th, 2009 07:40 pm (UTC)
Right. Yes, I think we all realise that. But as we know that they are not a majority, especially within democracies does it matter? Only fools and other fanatics of opposite persuasions are concerned. Freedom of speech allows extremist, totalitarian groups to place a noose round their own necks.
Benbenicek on January 11th, 2009 07:54 pm (UTC)
I think we agree! The point I was fumbling my way towards earlier is that 'equal rights' are necessary to ensure that freedom of speech and non-violent action. The moment we baulk at the sight of any minority, however bizarre, tiny or irritating, enjoying equal rights then we are drifting towards the idea of 'majority rights' (not to be confused with representative democracy). Even attempting to define that 'majority' is prescriptive and flirts with totalitarian doctrine.
eulipious on January 11th, 2009 10:35 pm (UTC)
I concur.
ijournalerijournaler on January 11th, 2009 06:30 pm (UTC)
These comments/claims were taken (on trust`) from the Guardian article referred to above. The full context is as follows -
In the 20 years since the fatwa, the parameters of cultural debate in Britain and elsewhere have undoubtedly narrowed. If the Islam of Khomeini and other fundamentalists has played a key role in redefining what is and is not acceptable, then it is not the only factor. Other religions have also got in on the censorship act. In 2004 the play Behzti (Dishonour) was cancelled at the Birmingham Rep after a riot by Sikh protesters on the opening night. Christian groups too have taken to organising more intimidating protests - though with less success - against shows and productions they deem offensive.


To some extent this sensitivity has been achieved by coercion - the fatwa model. But there has also been a more voluntary adoption of multicultural manners, chief among which is the duty not to offend. And where that has failed, the government has shown itself all too willing to step in with proscriptive legislation. Three years ago we came within a single parliamentary vote of being saddled with a law (the Religious Hatred Act) that meant you or I could be imprisoned for seven years for using insulting language, even if the insult was unintentional and referred to an established truth.
I haven't had time to research them further!



eulipious on January 11th, 2009 06:56 pm (UTC)
Ahh I understand. I do dislike equal rights. Once I was an outlaw, an outsider, a person of mystery embraced or spurned as such. Now in our democratised, homogenous society where everyone has their rights pinned on their lapel I and others like me are just another consumer group.

Someone told me they were getting married yesterday. I said 'You never told me you are Gay!' But then why should they?
Benbenicek on January 11th, 2009 07:33 pm (UTC)
You appear to dislike equal rights for romantic reasons. I can sort of understand that. I remember hearing a of a Dutch comedian who complained that he just couldn't bring himself to smoke dope any more because legalisation had taken all the excitement out of it.
eulipious on January 11th, 2009 07:42 pm (UTC)
I sympathise with the dutchman. So much is passe now and everybody is just another consumer group or 'niche' group as the saying has been coined.
Benbenicek on January 11th, 2009 07:59 pm (UTC)
Are LJ users a niche? I think we might be.
eulipious on January 11th, 2009 10:35 pm (UTC)
Yes and some LJ users are a niche within a niche.
Carefully, Correctly Wrongdiffrentcolours on January 11th, 2009 05:43 pm (UTC)
When they "came for" these various groups, I don't think they were giving them a telling off for using inappropriate language, though. Sometimes you need to have a sense of perspective.
Libby: seriouslibbi on January 11th, 2009 06:14 pm (UTC)
Quite.
ijournalerijournaler on January 11th, 2009 06:33 pm (UTC)
Yes, I see what you mean - I was eliding two ideas here. I was trying to say that if you get into the habit of never being controversial and always playing safe then when an occasion arises where outspokenness is requires you may find you've lost the habit, or worse still, the courage.
Libby: Treelibbi on January 11th, 2009 06:13 pm (UTC)
While I agree that people have to learn to be tolerant and not oversensitive I don't believe insulting others is an important point of free speech.

Harry is supposed to represent the UK and the commonwealth. If he behaves in a way that insults people he is supposed to represent then they have a right to tell him he is being a jackass. He has a right to get drunk and high and be a normal young man and others have a right to disapprove of his behaviour, particularly as we (including all us pakis, kikes and yids) pay for him.

Your reference to Martin Niemoller's poem is interesting. Telling someone to apologise for being offensive is not the same as being a Nazi/wishing to exterminate everyone who does not agree with you or share your race.

I think too many of the Royals and their ilk are arrogant, inbred cunts but I don't judge them all by the bad behaviour of some and I don't think it is my right to call them that to their faces without justifying it or apologising for my sweeping and offensive judgement of them.
ijournalerijournaler on January 11th, 2009 06:41 pm (UTC)
I quite agree that being insulting is not the same as free speech and that the Royals should have a responsibility commensurate with their position so there probably is a different issue here. What annoyed me about the Harry thing was first that the remarks were made on what was said to be a private video (and how many of us would like our private remarks made public) and scondly the outrage was from the News of the World , a paper which I find hypocritical and opportunist.

Re the Niemoller, as I replied to a previous comment - I was eliding two ideas,and trying to say that if you get into the habit of never being controversial and always playing safe then when an occasion arises where outspokenness is requires you may find you've lost the habit, or worse still, the courage.
Libby: Social workerlibbi on January 11th, 2009 06:56 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, a private conversation/recording should be just that. Harry has a right to his privacy and his colleague shouldn't have betrayed that unless s/he felt it was for an important reason. The fact that it came out in the News of the World (and I agree again with you about that paper) suggests that it was opportunism rather than duty which motivated him/her to sell the story.

I also agree that we should be brave enough to speak up about things and that if we are too scared to voice our opinions we won't be able to when it really is necessary.
ijournalerijournaler on January 12th, 2009 10:32 am (UTC)
Thank you, it's nice to be agreed with! Unsurprisingly there's a lot more about the Harry video today - I don't know it you follow the Guardian on line but I thought today's article was quite balanced.
DCradiantsoul on January 11th, 2009 07:30 pm (UTC)
It is possible though that Harry will one day be a king. And in that case his "little paki friend" might be expected to die for him. It strikes me that Harry's part of the deal is that he accepts he has a much smaller private sphere than the rest of us.
eulipious on January 11th, 2009 07:43 pm (UTC)
OH who cares? Being King doesn't add up to much these days.
Benbenicek on January 11th, 2009 07:55 pm (UTC)
Oh god, I concur!

Surely that's the beauty of constitutional monarchy. It doesn't matter.
eulipious on January 11th, 2009 10:36 pm (UTC)
Qite, absolutely and Amen.
ijournalerijournaler on January 12th, 2009 10:37 am (UTC)
As I just replied to another comment above, I think the article entitled "The trouble with Harry" in today's Guardian discusses this in a fair way.
zephret on January 11th, 2009 08:59 pm (UTC)
The whole Salman Rushdie affair seriously pissed me off, and considering the effect it's had, it's a hitorical milestone.

I fucking hate Islam. I'm sorry, but I despise it and anything ever associated with it. (This hatred extends to many other things also, so don't think I am solely an islamophobe.)
eulipious on January 11th, 2009 10:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing with us.
ijournalerijournaler on January 12th, 2009 10:49 am (UTC)
Hating Islam
I think we are going to have to find some way of living side by side with Muslims as there are now about 2 million in Britain. The Banning of Satanic Verses did us all a disservice as it gave the impression that all Islamists were extremists and in fact pushed more of them together under this collective banner. As Andrew Anthony wrote in Saturday's article
Muslims in all their myriad variety and differences have morphed, or been corralled, into a unitary socio-economic-cultural block. To take vocal exception to one aspect of Islam or one particular leader or sect is, almost by definition, to be an opponent of all Muslims. The Satanic Verses affair was the first test case in Britain of Muslimhood - many were to follow - in which the mark of a true Muslim was to be in favour of banning the novel, and the distinction of an even truer Muslim was to be in favour of killing Rushdie.
The situation has got more grave with the fighting in Gaza - British Muslims feel very strongly that not enough is being done to stop it.
anghara13anghara13 on January 11th, 2009 11:36 pm (UTC)
There comes a time when "political correctness" tends to go out of the window and sheer monetary gain takes over. I suspect this is what happened here, and although the incident in question is three years ago, the mere fact that it is dear deluded Harry saying it makes it worth a lot of money and a lot of hoohah!

At the end of the day, I have trouble convincing my son who is eight that the word 'nigger' is not something he wants to be saying anywhere near any person of colour. Because regardless of the fact that slavery has been abolished, and that they are no longer considered even remotely inferior, that one word has the power (of their allowing it to) to make them feel their history is their present. Sheer stupidity if you ask me, but then again, most every race or creed has some trigger that causes a similar reaction.

In the end, it is my view that we are all the same, human. It matters not whether we have a colour, a creed, a historical background of any kind, or a current chip on shoulder attitude about any of it. We are all still human, and in that case, all still fallible, prone to human error, and occasional bouts of silliness.

I resent the fact that I can not speak freely in my own country because others who now call my country their own feel that my words belittles them. Hey guys? Got a problem with me being ENGLISH, then you know where the borders are, go cross them. I go to a muslim country, I obey their dress codes and laws, I expect the same courtesy when they come to my country.
ijournalerijournaler on January 12th, 2009 11:39 am (UTC)
Thank you for your comment and the points you make. I was interested you said that your son had picked up (what might be thought) an offensive word: I think all children experiment with mildly abusive language as they need to explore boundaries of acceptability. They also use them fairly fearlessly. When I was a child we called one another 'fatty','piggy', 'cretin' or 'titch', sometimes as an insult and sometimes as an affectionate nickname. As adults we have learned to be more respectful but we need also to be less 'sensitive' in seeing insults to our person in what others say, probably more willing to laugh at ourselves.

We are definitely ENGLISH and people who chose to live here should surely adopt our rules rather than vice versa.
(Deleted comment)
ijournalerijournaler on January 12th, 2009 11:41 am (UTC)
Thank you, welcome and well said!
anghara13anghara13 on January 12th, 2009 08:10 pm (UTC)
I would add the qualifier that I find very few words to be truly offensive, but rather, the speaker, when using tone and inflection, can make them sound so.

The word in question is an historical term, descriptive only in that it is a corruption of the spanish word for black. It can not, in and of itself, be considered to be offensive, unless one reads into it the connotations of the preceding centuries and how it was used in those times, along with how this particular sector of the global population was viewed.

If today's rappers and musical 'artistes' can de-sensitise the use of this word, then I say yes, more power to them! Because I am fed up with trying to gag my son when he says it, just in case some overly sensitive little soul hears it and belts either of us one!

Re the welsh comment? I'm often accused of being tight with money due to my Scottish Heritage, and a racist because I always say I am English, not British.
ijournalerijournaler on January 13th, 2009 02:42 pm (UTC)
As you say few words are offensive in themselves, it's the context that makes them so. The troublemakers that do the case of free speech such a disservice ignore the associations intended by the speaker. An extreme case was the obscenity trial in 1960 when Penguin first published Lady Chatterley's Lover D.H.Lawrence had used four letter words in their original meaning rather than as swear words - it cost the defence fifteen thousand pounds to prove the book had literary merit.
Kiran: [Stock] I can fly if I want to.xkiranvx on January 12th, 2009 08:25 pm (UTC)
Do you know what I find most irritating about all of these PC debates? The vast majority of ethnic minorities in this country don't even know about these so-called outbursts of rage that we supposedly feel until they hit the papers in the morning - reported, may I add, by our white counterparts in Fleet Street.

Unfortunately I can't choose where I am born. I can't choose that I was an indian girl born in Essex. However, as a hardworking law-abiding and loyal Brit who has always thought of this country as my home, I am fast getting tired of all of the ethnic minority bashing every time one of these little shit-stirring debates come up.

Believe it or not, we don't all have a problem with the indigenous population and our life's ambition is not to piss you all off. Be proud of who you are, fly your nation's flag and celebrate your British/English heritage. We're not bloody stopping you - the media's shit-stirring is.

As for this particular debate, I think Harry ought to remember that his "little paki friend" is putting his life on the line for this country too and deserves the utmost respect for it. Sure this was all said in jest, and even if it wasn't Harry is entitled to his own private opinions, but believe it or not for some of us ethnic minorities, this is the only home we have ever known, and we are just as protective of it.
anghara13anghara13 on January 12th, 2009 08:36 pm (UTC)
Thankyou. Because I haven't heard anyone speak out about this from any form of minority other than outraged!! It is so refreshing to hear a sensible point of view!!!!

Multi-cutltural Britain, yes, multi-ehnicity, yes, and give it up for tolerance and acceptance, neither of which get a good hearing in this terribly Politically Correct day and age!
ijournalerijournaler on January 13th, 2009 02:56 pm (UTC)
I echo anghara13 's thanks for your comment. I absolutely agree that the protests come from the media - scurrilous newspaper reporters just waiting for an opportunity to protest. One day they claim a particular social minority is insulted or marginalised, the next that the same minority is a threat and cause of unrest - anything to stir up dissent and sell newspapers. I'm sure that anyone born and brought up in this country feels as British and patriotic as we, the descent and peaceable majority.