Freedom of Expression

The Independent is on the offensive

The Independent has a number of interesting articles and letters in it today:

Johan Hari: Despite these riots, I stand by what I wrote

Last week, I wrote an article defending free speech for everyone – and in response there have been riots, death threats, and the arrest of an editor who published the article.
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If, after all the discussion and all the facts about how contradictory and periodically vile their ‘holy’ texts are, religious people still choose fanatical faith, I passionately defend their right to articulate it. Free speech is for the stupid and the wicked and the wrong – whether it is fanatics or the racist Geert Wilders – just as much as for the rational and the right. All I say is that they do not have the right to force it on other people or silence the other side. In this respect, Wilders resembles the Islamists he professes to despise: he wants to ban the Koran. Fine. Let him make his argument. He discredits himself by speaking such ugly nonsense.

The Independent leader

Lord Pearson of Rannoch must be feeling pleased with himself. The UK Independence Party peer’s invitation to the Dutch politician Geert Wilders to attend a screening of his offensively anti-Islamic film, Fitna, in the House of Lords was intended as a publicity generating act of provocation. It has achieved both publicity and provocation. And Mr Wilders did not even need to set foot in Parliament.

But free societies are bound to throw up such explosive battles between closed minds from time to time. The real question is where the Government’s responsibility lies in situations where the principle of free speech appears to conflict with the imperative to guarantee public safety. Was the Home Office right to ban Mr Wilders from entering Britain?

The answer is no. Freedom of speech and freedom of movement are principles that we tamper with at our peril. Mr Wilders’ opinions are certainly odious, but a free society that allows us only to say things that will not offend others is not worthy of the name. The law passed three years ago outlawing incitement to religious hatred was a mistake for this very reason.

And the letter by Michael Bywater deserves praise for catching the spirt of our times, at least since the Russell Brand affair.

Oh, to hell with it. Everyone: I apologise for everything.

But still he comes under attack from Eccy de Jonge.

Michael Bywater should apologise for writing, “Your a twat”, a phrase I find particularly offensive. It’s “You’re a twat.” Idiot. (Sorry.)

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