THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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January 2015

Of Cowardice in the face of unreason

Our cowardice helped to allow this attack | The Times.

I am coming out of retirement as a political blogger for one day to say, firstly, that je suis Charlie
I want to add my small voice to the condemnation of the murders in Paris yesterday. I want to express my disgust with the apologists at the BBC and elsewhere implying that the victims brought it on themselves. I want to express my contempt for British publications that have consistently refused to publish the kind of "provocative" material for which these French heroes of freedom were killed. I want to pay my respects to the publisher of Charlie Hebdo, Stephane Charbonnier, who - asked about his publication's provocative approach - said that;
I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees.
RIP Charb. RIP your colleagues who died with you in the cause of free speech. RIP the French policemen who died protecting freedom, rather than - like many of their British colleagues - seeking to suppress "offensive" speech.
Britain is on the wrong path in this respect. Three years ago, asked after twenty years away what had most changed in Britain while I was gone, I replied that the police now seem more interested in what you say than what you do. I stand by that contemptuous assessment. The French have their political correctness too, but have so far been truer to Voltaire's dictum that
I disapprove of your views but would fight to the death for your right to express them
They are now paying the price for that and I salute them.
Only the libertarian blogosphere in Britain has consistently maintained that freedom of speech is indivisible; that there is no right not to be offended and that "hate speech" is a noxious concept. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, there is some hope that we can form a broader front around those ideas.
This morning in The Times, David Aaronovitch (a Marxist leader of the National Union of Students in my days as a student politician, but now a mainstream Labourite) expressed my view perfectly. In fairness to the man he has long been sound on freedom of speech if nothing else. He wrote, as no right-wing politician would have dared write in recent years (emphasis mine);

The problem is, you may think, that even though the vast majority of Muslims would no more kill a cartoonist than a Methodist would, they still don’t quite get our commitment to freedom of speech. When they complain about insults and say they’re angry about this or that being published and want it banned, then they create the permissive fluid in which the violent zealot swims. 

So we need to be clear, for everyone’s sake, and at the moment we are anything but. This is the deal for living together. The same tolerance that allows Muslims or Methodists freedom to practise and espouse their religion is the same tolerance that allows their religion or any aspect of it to be depicted, criticised or even ridiculed. Take away one part of the deal and the other part falls too. You live here, that’s what you agree to. You don’t like it, go somewhere else.

To tell immigrants to go home if they can't or won't live to the standards of our civilisation would, until yesterday, have been denounced as "racist"; as unacceptable "hate speech" in the context of our multicultural society. That is nonsense on stilts and always was. There is nothing racist in holding new arrivals to the standards of the nation they are choosing to join.

We are a tolerant and welcoming people. Anyone of any colour, ethnicity or religious faith, can live among us as a free man. We will defend his right to express any view he pleases, including the view that such freedom should not exist. After all we have long done so for revolutionaries advocating the same view for other reasons. But until his revolution succeeds or his views prevail in Parliament, we expect him to live to our standards. If he finds that offensive, tough luck. The exit is open and there are lots of countries subject to Sharia law, so bon voyage.

Aaronovitch even calls for a European version of the "glacial clarity" of the First Amendment to the US Constitution; 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

I could not agree more and Aaronovitch is clever enough to understand that all the stupid laws around "hate speech" must fall in consequence. He openly condemns British publications, like his own, that have submitted to Muslim intolerance and refused to publish with Charlie Hebdo's daring;

...that logic leaves the likes of Charlie Hebdo, who are more reckless or more committed to freedom of expression, looking like eccentric and isolated stand-outs in a sea of slightly shamed discretion. We who don’t publish what may offend Muslims but would offend no one else, act in in effect to abnormalise what should be normal — we help to make peculiar that which should be banal.

We have operated a Muslim double standard and in so doing we have gently connived in turning Charlie Hebdo and others like them into targets. Paris says we must stop.

He is absolutely right. We need to unblock the arteries of free speech in Britain before our body politic dies.