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Mick Temple's Blog

WHEN FASCISTS TRY TO STOP FREE SPEECH

30-11-2007

Does free speech extend to everyone, even those whose views we find extremely offensive. Mick Temple argues that it applies especially to them.

On Tuesday my newspaper – the impeccably politically correct Independent – ran a front page picture of protesting students outside the Oxford Union attempting to stop David Irving and Nick Griffin from speaking. Its front page headline screamed THE UPRISING AGAINST FASCISM.

On only a very few occasions have I been tempted to write to a newspaper - I’ve always considered it to be the preserve of those with a political axe to grind (or of course, the green ink brigade). But I was very close to writing a letter condemning the sub-editor (and of course editor) who sanctioned such a ridiculous headline.

The headline should have read FASCISTS TRY TO PREVENT FREE SPEECH.

The irony of a debate on ‘free speech’ being targeted by protestors who threatened the organisers with physical violence – ‘Kill Tryl’ they chanted outside – was commented on by some of those reporting the event.

But of course, the protestors themselves who declared, ‘yes, I believe everyone should have the right to express their opinions, but not those opinions, because they’re abhorrent and I don’t like them’ – seemed totally unaware of the illogicality of their stance.

If you believe in free speech, it has to be for everyone, even those whose opinions you detest. The BNP is a lawful (if awful) political party which, whether we like it or not, represents the views of many people.

David Irving is a widely discredited historian who served a prison sentence for the most ridiculous crime imaginable – Holocaust denial. For perhaps a few decades of post-war reconstruction such a crime might have served a purpose in helping to rehabilitate Germany into the human race – but any crime which involves imprisoning someone for denying an historical event belongs through the looking glass.

I could deny, like some Germans still do, that England won the World Cup in 1966 –if I did I’d be branded a fool, but no government would be mad enough to try and lock me up.

A right to free speech (which by the way we don’t have in this country) does not, of course mean the right to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre when there is no fire. But we already have laws in place against, for example, incitement to racial hatred – I’m not happy with the way these laws have been interpreted, but they exist to prevent Griffin and his goons over goose-stepping the mark (at least in public).

We must allow all views into the ‘public sphere’ no matter how reprehensible we find them. Otherwise, they fester underneath the surface of society and explode in violence and hatred.

I can’t be hurt by the words of people I disagree with. If one day I ever have to fight physically against fascism I hope I have the courage to do so – and that applies to whichever direction the fascists are coming from.

What are the limits of Free Speech – if any?

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