When the Western World was outraged by the acts in Paris, millions coined the phrase “Je suis Charlie” and took to the streets in support of those executed by extremists.
Months later, yes I still have the “Je suis Charlie” sign in the back of my car, but I still believe. Yes, I strongly believe in the right to one’s own views and freedom of speech. I might not agree with others ideas, I might find some of their ideas totally against my own beliefs and morals, but I still believe that people should have the right of freedom of speech.
I had a long talk with my mother the other day and her views where ‘interesting’. I was expecting her to agree with the right of free speech, but instead she sounded more like a politician.
“Yes, in theory some free speech, but…” and it was a huge but…. and here is some of the ‘exceptions’
- Freedom of religion – only allowed if not offending others and a ‘recognised religion’
- Freedom of speech – again not unless it conforms to what she thinks is ‘normal’
- Freedom of political views – again must conform to ‘expectations’
and so it went on.
So, I started asking her about is it right that women get to vote, she said ‘of course’, yet the struggle of women’s right in the UK, was not there until after the actions of the “suffragettes”. Led by Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, they employed tactics such as chaining themselves to railings to provoke an arrest, pouring harsh chemicals into mailboxes, breaking windows at prestige buildings, and night-time arson at unoccupied buildings. Many suffragettes were imprisoned in Holloway Prison in London, and were force-fed after going on hunger strike. – Hardly quiet and peaceful protests.
So, what SHOULD be deemed ‘acceptable’ free speech? If you start limiting free speech to any level, because if ‘may offend’ we may as well be in a totalitarian society and loose the right completely.
Who should be the ones to say what is and what isn’t acceptable ‘free speech’. Is there a true legal definition that those in power want, or is like pornography and people will say “I know it when I hear it”. If you say any subject matter is off-limits in ‘free speech’, do you say for example one is limited to speech only about what is legal? Gay rights for example – only legalised in this country last 50 years, these would never of happened if not for free speech.
If we ‘lose’ the rights of all free speech we are a doomed society. In Germany under the Nazi’s, censorship was implemented by the Minister of Propaganda, run by Joseph Goebbels. All media—literature, music, newspapers, and public events—were censored. Attempts were also made to censor private communications, such as mail and even private conversations. The aim of censorship under the Nazi regime was simple: to reinforce Nazi power and to suppress opposing viewpoints and information.
However, in complete contrast, modern Germany has one of the best records on freedom of speech. The Grundgesetz guarantees freedom of press, speech, and opinion. Censorship is mainly exerted in the form of restriction of access to certain media (motion pictures, video games) to older adolescents or adults only. Furthermore, the publication of works violating the rights of the individual or those considered to be capable of inciting popular hatred (Volksverhetzung) may be prohibited. Possession of such works such as Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, is generally not punishable however.
In the UK we do not have any explicit right to freedom of speech in English law. We do on the other hand have a long list of exceptions including threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour intending or likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress or cause a breach of the peace (which has been used to prohibit racist speech targeted at individuals), sending another any article which is indecent or grossly offensive with an intent to cause distress or anxiety (which has been used to prohibit speech of a racist or anti-religious nature), incitement, incitement to racial hatred, incitement to religious hatred, incitement to terrorism including encouragement of terrorism and dissemination of terrorist publications,glorifying terrorism, collection or possession of a document or record containing information likely to be of use to a terrorist, treason including advocating for the abolition of the monarchy (which cannot be successfully prosecuted) or compassing or imagining the death of the monarch, sedition, obscenity, indecency including corruption of public morals and outraging public decency, defamation prior restraint, restrictions on court reporting including names of victims and evidence and prejudicing or interfering with court proceedings, prohibition of post-trial interviews with jurors, time, manner, and place restrictions, harassment, privileged communications, trade secrets, classified material, copyright, patents, military conduct, and limitations on commercial speech such as advertising. Wow, Goebbels would have been so proud, and the government is now working on a bill to limit what we can and can not access on the internet from around the world, and monitor our activities, and communications. Wait wasn’t that what the Nazi’s wanted to do?
The liberal generalists who came out of the woodwork after the attack in Paris, chanting “Je suis Charlie”, in the name of freedom of speech, seem to of quickly returned there. Trouble is the mere thought of true “Freedom of speech” is not one which many Governments want. After all, suppressing the masses from having informed opposing viewpoints and factual information was not the way forward, in the eyes of the Nazi party, Communist party, Fascist party and now it would seem by the British Parliament.
Idealists such as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who was a leader of Indian independence, and believed in nonviolent civil disobedience, have long since gone, and in their place we are left with very few public figures who actually actively promote “freedom of speech”.
Our so-called ‘Democratic system’ relies on the elected MPs acting as representatives of the people. They should however be free to exercise their own judgment of what is best for the country, not delegates, bowed beneath the weight of their constituents’ petty local interests, or like lemmings and follow the party line in everything. Without Freedom of Speech, and the ability to use their own judgment, our elected MP’s become nothing more than ‘party members’, and the use of the Nuremberg defense, didn’t go down in history very well the last time.
Maybe George Orwell’s “1984” was prophetic, and this is where we are still heading for our future. I would just seem, he might have got the year wrong, and the three warring police states will turn out to be religious states instead.