Contrary to the lunatic gibberings of the climate alarmists and pandemic panickers, neither climate change nor the Wuhan virus are the defining issues of our times. The great issue of our times is free speech.
Free speech is the fundamental value of liberal democracy. Civil rights, women’s rights, voting rights – all of them necessarily depend on free speech. Even science, supposedly the be-all and end-all of policy (“Follow the science!”), depends absolutely on free speech: any idea that can not be openly and freely debated is not scientific.
Yet free speech is under threat such as it has rarely faced since the Enlightenment. All across the world, authoritarians, despots and inquisitors are mounting existential challenges to free speech. Quite often, the very organisations and publicly-funded bureaucrats explicitly charged with protecting our rights, not to mention the politicians entrusted with shepherding democracy, are at the vanguard of attacks on free speech.
The legend of Speakers’ Corner holds that all lawful opinions, however eccentric, may get a hearing. Atheists, evangelists, Marxists, Irish Republicans and ideologues of every other stripe have been holding forth in Hyde Park for more than a hundred years. In 1999, Lord Justice Sedley said that Speakers’ Corner “demonstrates… the tolerance which is both extended by the law to opinion of every kind and expected by the law in the conduct of those who disagree, even strongly, with what they hear.”
Well, nowadays it does not always work like that. A Christian evangelist has been stabbed while wearing a Charlie Hebdo t-shirt. Last year the woman was escorted out of Hyde Park by the police after threats were made against her life by Islamic firebrands.
Hatun Tash is a Christian convert who fled Turkey to escape persecution by Muslims. It seems she picked the wrong place to get away from violent Islam. It’s not the first time she has been attacked at Speaker’s Corner. Twice last year, Tash was physically attacked by Muslims. Instead of prosecuting Islamic violence, though, London’s police have forced Tash to leave the one place in Britain where people’s right to free speech is supposed to be sacred.
London’s execrable mayor, the loathsome Sadiq Khan, naturally chimed in with the standard, mealy-mouthed “yeah, but, no, but, yeah, but…” tacit defence of the violent and intolerant. Who, in this case, as so often, are almost certainly and no doubt just coincidentally his co-religionists.
As you know, freedom of speech is a principle that I hold dear, waffles Khan. But… I support the rights of police officers to remove individuals in order to prevent a breach of the peace.
Like the police, instead of removing those who would breach the peace, Khan clearly wants to punish speakers who have committed no crime. This is a clear enabling of and pandering to the “Heckler’s Veto”. If you defend the Heckler’s Veto, you do not “hold free speech dear”.
Increasingly, the British state is coddling and tacitly encouraging the violently intolerant.
This case reminds one of recent events in Batley, where a schoolteacher who had shown his students a cartoon of Muhammad was forced into hiding with his family. They are still there now[…]
Kurt Westergaard, the Danish cartoonist whose drawings of Muhammad inspired worldwide protests in the mid-noughties, passed away. There were howls of derisive laughter in some quarters — such as from the self-styled counterterrorism expert (of all things) Dr Tallha Abdulrazaq who posted “lol good riddance” — though it seems a bit odd to consider it a major “own” when someone you hate dies in their sleep aged 86.
But it might not have been so. Westergaard was assaulted by an axe-wielding intruder in 2010. That was no isolated case. Salman Rushdie faced a fatwa, and dozens died because of it. Theo Van Gough [sic] was murdered for directing Submission. Twelve people were shot in the Charlie Hebdo offices. Samuel Paty was beheaded for showing cartoons of Muhammad. A young American woman named Molly Norris organised an event called “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” and, following threats, was ordered by the FBI to change her name and go into hiding. She is still there now.UnHerd
No society that really “holds freedom of speech dear” would tolerate such constant and violent threats to free speech.
But instead of protecting the principle of freedom of speech, the gutless and the authoritarian are more and more punishing the freely speaking. If Twitter mobs won’t destroy the life and livelihood of free-speaking Kiwis, the New Zealand government will send the goon squad to their door and do its best to throw them in prison.
Meanwhile, the violent, bigoted and illiberal are praised, hugged and mollycoddled.
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