THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
More skirmishes in the Battle of Ideas
Compulsion works

A Guardianista gets it, up to a point

It's elementary - I'm not a racist | Comment is free | The Observer.

It's remarkable how clearly all Guardianisti understand the concept of free speech, when it's their own right to opine at stake. Speak up, speak up they say. Let a thousand flowers blossom, let a hundred schools of thought contend. Until they use one of their free speech safewords, such as "racist", "islamophobe", "sexist", "homophobe", "climate change denier", "smoker*" or, of course, "right wing".

Victoria Coren, however, is to be commended this once for getting it absolutely correct;

Last week, a caller to the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 said that Andrew Mitchell should be jailed for swearing at the police because "there is too little respect for them".

As someone who remembers from childhood the timid, furtive voices of east European cousins on the phone – those few who had survived the concentration camps – who dared not speak freely from behind the Iron Curtain because they feared being tapped and followed, I am extremely offended by the suggestion that my own beautiful British society should become a police state, in which rudeness to these authority figures is punished by incarceration. But do I think the caller should be jailed for offending me? No, I think there should be no such thing as a speech crime. However foul a thing you want to say, you can say it freely as far as I'm concerned. And I'm including the skinheads who shouted "Yid" at me during my grandfather's funeral.

Yet, even if you believe that offensive remarks should be proscribed by law, what about remarks that are misunderstood as offensive? It's nigh impossible to speak without any risk of misinterpretation, especially when mobs are out there looking to be outraged.

You don't have to support the campaign to reform Section 5. But one day, your teasing dig in a colleague's leaving card will be taken the wrong way; or your mobile phone comment will be misheard by passers-by in a crowded street; and then they will come for you.

Well said, comrade. As I pass my weekend ruefully at the Battle of Ideas, I wish I had a time machine to take so many of your readers for a little holiday in the old Soviet Union. Or even to my time in Warsaw or Moscow in the years that followed Communism's collapse to meet so many of those I knew there with clear memories of the old days and deep contempt for the truly racist idea that socialism can be made to work by superior Westerners, without a KGB or Stasi emerging.

h/t Tim Worstall

*usually rendered as "tool of Big Tobacco"


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