by Mark Steyn
Steyn on Britain
February 9, 2015
Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University is nobody’s idea of a right-winger. He voted for Obama, and supports almost all of his policy goals (if not his extra-constitutional methods). But, unlike most of the left, he’s still prepared to defend free speech against what he calls Charlie’s False Friends:
For civil libertarians, it is clear that when leaders insist that they “Stand with Charlie” it does not mean actually standing with free speech. To the contrary, the greatest threat facing free speech today is found in Western governments, which have increasingly criminalized and prosecuted speech, particularly anti-religious speech. Once the defining right of Western Civilization, free speech is dying in the West and few world leaders truly mourn its passing.
Around the world, speech is under attack under an array of hate speech and anti-discrimination laws… The result is a growing, if not insatiable, appetite for speech regulation that only increases after violent responses to controversial publications.
The most recent tragedy in France follows an all too familiar pattern from publication to prosecution. Consider what happened in 2005 with the publication of the Danish cartoons and the global riots leading to the murder of non-Muslims and burning of churches and homes. The West rallied around the right of free speech, but then quietly ramped up prosecutions of speech. It happened again in 2012 when a low-budget trailer of a low-grade movie was put on YouTube. The “Innocence of Muslims” trailer was deemed insulting to Mohammad and Islam and led to another global spasm of murder and arson by irate Muslims. Again, Western leaders professed support for free speech while cracking down further on anti-religious speech. Even in the United States, President Obama insisted that the filmmaker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula had every right to make the film. However, the next image that the world saw after that speech was filmmaker being thrown into a police car in handcuffs for technical violations of a probation on unrelated charges…
Professor Turley then lists a round-up of state assaults on freedom of expression from around the so-called free world, including my own difficulties in Canada. I doubt Turley agrees with a single one of these hatespeechers (including me) on the merits, but he recognizes that the point of free speech is for the speech you hate. If you don’t believe in free speech for those you hate, you don’t believe in free speech at all. And then he adds:
These cases represent more than a lack of support for free speech. They represent a comprehensive assault on free speech. Indeed, one of the world leaders proudly proclaiming support for free speech in Paris has banned the publication of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan called the use of the prophet’s image on the magazine an act of “sedition and provocation.”
Well, Turkey is hardly anyone’s idea of a crucible of liberty. But what are we to make of England, mother of the free? The other day Wiltshire Police went to a local newsagent and demanded that, in the interests of “community cohesion”, he hand over the names of every customer who bought a copy of Charlie Hebdo:
Mrs Keat, a self-confessed news junkie, ordered the magazine from a local newsagent in Corsham, Wiltshire, a week after the 7 January attacks in Paris. Two days after she bought her magazine, she learned that an officer had been back to ask for the names of the buyers.
The names and addresses of the buyers were added to an intelligence note and fed into a police crime and intelligence system, police confirmed. The force deleted the note after details of the visit came to light in a letter that Mrs Keat wrote to The Guardian and warned of the potential ramifications after seeing an advert for Je Suis Charlie badges…
What really is the difference between Charlie Hebdo‘s killers and Wiltshire Police? The anti-Charlie crowd made it clear years ago that they knew where the offending cartoonists were and one day they would get them. The Wiltshire Police are not so subtly telling Charlie‘s English readers that they know where you are – just in case one day they need to get you:
“Wiltshire Police would like to apologise to the members of public who may be affected by this. Information relating to this specific incident has been permanently and securely disposed of,” it said… “Wiltshire Police are confident that the police officer’s intention was purely around enhancing public safety and ensuring that the newsagent was advised appropriately.”
You can get away with anything when you smother it in blather about “enhancing” public safety and “advising appropriately”. But the fact remains that, a few days after the hideous opportunist Cameron was marching under the #JeSuisCharlie banner in Paris, his coppers were ordering newsagents to cough up the names of anyone who bought the magazine. This is Mother England in 2015: You can still read samizdat literature, but your name will be entered in a state database.
Equally disturbing was a recent English court judgment re the Home Office ban denying Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller entry into the United Kingdom. Their Lordships’ appalling decision essentially extends the heckler’s veto to Her Britannic Majesty’s immigration policy:
A British Court of Appeal handed down its judgment dismissing our appeal challenging our ban from entering the United Kingdom. The key element of its decision is its emphasis on the fact that “this was a public order case where the police had advised that significant public disorder and serious violence might ensue from the proposed visit.” In writing that judgment, Lord Justice Tomlinson (with whom Lord Justice Patten and Lord Justice Floyd agree) has only made it clear that the British government has decided to set aside established law and the freedom of speech in order to appease violent Muslims.
No serious person thinks Spencer and Geller are any threat to “public order”. They speak without incident all over not only the United States but also the Dominion of Canada, and without unduly stressing the Queen’s Peace. So, if they can’t speak without incident in the United Kingdom, that is a reflection not on them but on Britain. What Lord Justice Tomlinson means by the prospect of “serious violence” is that, if you’re booked to give a speech in Oxford and some Islamic grievance-mongers threaten to go bananas over it, your speech has to be forbidden in deference to the crazies. The decision thus incentivizes those who threaten violence. As Laura Rosen Cohen likes to say, “security concerns” are the new “shut up”.
And, if you think David Cameron’s ministry has grown far too comfortable with using state power to restrain the opinions of a free party, wait till the other fellows take over:
The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, will on Monday unveil a strategy to tackle the UK’s soaring rise in antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia and abuse of people with disabilities. The package includes making homophobic and disability hate crimes an aggravated criminal offence, ensuring that police treat such offences in the same way as racist hate crimes.
Cooper will outline changes to the criminal records framework whereby such offences will be clearly marked on the criminal records of perpetrators. Currently, records checks do not highlight homophobia, disability or transgender identity as a motivating factor in a conviction, and do not automatically appear in police data used for vetting applicants in sensitive vocations, such as those working with vulnerable people, including the disabled.
Labour’s move comes as a new breakdown of police figures reveals an escalation in hate crimes since 2012, with a steep rise in abuse reported by the transgender community alongside the well-documented rises in antisemitism and Islamophobia.
As that grab-bag suggests, right now the leftie sexual identity groups are happy to make common cause with the Islamocrazies because they’re both about shutting people up. For example, the feminist comedienne Kate Smurthwaite is already in Britain so, unlike Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, she can’t be turned back at Heathrow. But she apparently holds insufficiently “respectful” attitudes to “sex workers”, so she had her speech at Goldsmiths College canceled because of – what else? – “security concerns“. The topic of her talk was, of course, free speech.
Professor Jonathan Turley says:
Western leaders have increasingly spoken out against the dangers of free speech. For politicians, free speech is an abstraction, the consequences of free speech tend to be more tangible in the form of riots and murders.
You don’t have to be a politician to think “free speech is an abstraction”. Robert Spencer might want to give speeches about Islam, and Mrs Keat might want to read Charlie Hebdo, but most people don’t want to give any speeches at all and are content to read Hello! or People or whatever’s filling the rack where Charlie Hebdo used to be. In some ways, it’s the easiest right to surrender, particularly to regimes that smother the expansion of state regulatory power in soothing twaddle about “enhancing public safety” to protect “vulnerable people”.
Speaking of “vulnerable people”, how about this headline from The Daily Mirror?
Child sex abuse gangs could have assaulted ONE MILLION youngsters in the UK
That’s according to Rotherham Labour MP Sarah Champion. Who knows if it’s true? On the one hand, Britain is so alert to “paedos” that, if some cheesy old Radio One disc-jockey is alleged to have grabbed the passing breast of a 15-year-old teenybopper on “Top Of The Pops” in 1973, he’ll be dragged through the courts and publicly ruined. But vast, systemic, industrial-scale 21st-century paedophilia by Muslim grooming gangs aided and abetted by law enforcement and local government will be ignored and hushed up – essentially in the interests of (what was that expression again?) “community cohesion”. It turns out free speech isn’t that “abstract”. When you so hedge in free expression with political correctness, you make it impossible even to raise certain subjects, and thereby facilitate real, non-abstract evil. The loss of free speech brings other losses, too.
Yet, looking at the ease with which governments of some of the oldest, freest societies on earth are shackling and restraining the right to speak, to read, to think, the obvious question to ask is what rights will they go after next? After all, if 300 years of free speech can be rolled back in the interest of “enhancing public safety”, why not property rights, due process, freedom of association, freedom of religion or even (gasp!) sexual liberty? Why think that statist restraints on core liberties will confine themselves to just one right?
~Mark’s book on this subject, Lights Out: Islam, Free Speech And The Twilight Of The West, has never been more timely. Personally autographed copies are exclusively available from the SteynOnline bookstore, and, for instant gratification, non-autographed eBook editions are available from Amazon.com and other outlets.