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Harry's Place » Judge at Passover: “nobody” saw Raed Salah blood libel sermon as harmful.

Harry's Place is an interesting site, full of diverse opinions around a narrow point of view. Its strapline ("Liberty, if it means anything, is the right to tell people what they don't want to hear") appeals to me, but little else does. Frankly, though I hope I am wrong, I suspect most Harry's Placers don't think liberty does mean anything much - at least not where free speech is concerned.

The linked article is a classic example of the tone of the site. It is a po-faced discussion about, essentially, whether a poem was anti-semitic or not. Now savour for a moment the emotional responses that produces in you. Anti-semitism is a disgusting notion, yes? You feel angry at the thought of it and yearn in your gut to suppress it. Now that you think about it, you probably feel the same about racism and other idiotic means to make the ignorant feel strong, don't you? Thus far I commend you.

In the wake of that horror that was the Shoah, our grandfathers and fathers - feeling, perhaps for the first time, the revulsion you just experienced - became fair game for those selling the very snake oil of thought control that had been the Nazis' key product. In many countries (notably Germany) the first response to an evil regime that had penalised people for contrary opinions and banned books hostile to their world view was to penalise people for contrary opinions and to ban books hostile to their world view.

If only nasty people like Wagner had not held such horrible views, reasoned the snake oil salesmen, nasty people like Hitler could never have acted on them. Anti-semitism became, not a disgusting doctrine espoused by idiots, but in some places a crime and in others a civil wrong. Thus an "industry" (if work without positive result can be dignified with that name) was born.

Leave aside for the moment the fact that Hitler, by his nature, was not much interested in the rights or wrongs of popular thought. The real problem with the Holocaust (and I really can hardly credit that I feel the need to write this) was not the nasty thoughts but the nasty actions.

I am surrounded by people who think my self-made well-offness makes me a host to be bled by parasites. Does that hurt me? Not a bit. Just across my borough border is an enclave of Middle Eastern types who think me an inferior being; an infidel or kufar. Does this bother me? Not a lot. Those views, to the extent I hear them, are useful data to be stored for reference. For example, when choosing whom to invite to my home. Only if the holders of these wicked opinions ACT upon them, shall I care.

This commonsensical approach used to be that of all free societies. But no longer. Someone asked me recently what I had noticed most on my return to the UK after 20 years abroad. I replied, to stunned silence, that "the police now seem more interested in what people say than in what they do."

Call me old-fashioned, but if a drunk reveals the depth of his foolishness on Twitter (or on its analogue predecessor, the lavatory wall) I don't think he should be banged up. In the far less likely event that he plucked up the courage actually to assault someone he doesn't like then I think he should be banged up and the key thrown away, regardless of his ideological motivations (or lack of them).

I am not crusty enough to think everything old-fashioned is right, but I am also not daft enough to think that everything old-fashioned is wrong. If our laws were fashioned more oldly, I think we would find a good reason to deport Raed Salah - and many of his noxious ilk. It is their new-fashioned form, based on a recipe including lots of snake oil, that reduces some of us to analysing crap poetry in search of bad reasons.