Freedom of Expression,  Law,  Media,  Stoppers,  UK Politics

Rationing Freedom

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown isn’t happy with the fact that people who hold political opinions different from hers are still allowed to publish them on the internet:

We don’t yet have a really effective way of restraining material promoting racism, sexism, violence (except against children), homophobia, and other group hatreds.

She’s right about that, but one reason for this state of affairs, it would seem to me, is that it’s extraordinarily difficult to define any of these terms. Is Sasha Baron Cohen’s latest film Bruno responsible for promoting homophobia or is its purpose to have a laugh at people who are uncomfortable with homosexuality? I’ve  read reviews suggesting either. Should it be banned just in case? How many people would need to be offended first? Who knows.

What about racism or sexism? Who would patrol the limits of acceptability? Who actually could? What happens when prevailing opinion changes with the times? Is cracking down on this sort of thing a good use of public money? You can see the problem, even if Alibhai-Brown refuses to. I won’t even touch on the practical problems of enforcing such a Ruritanian statist fantasy.

The Independent columnist sets sets out her stall in favour of state censorship more fully here.

It must come if we are to make the best use of this amazing technology and not let it pull us down to a barbarism posing as freedom.

The funny thing is if Alibhai-Brown’s authoritarian wishes came even partially true she would be in real danger of being hoist high by her own ill-conceived petard. How would she defend herself from a charge of promoting violence against women if someone decided to take her twisted fantasies of carnage (reproduced below) at face value? Here, for readers who may have missed them the first time, are her thoughts on the slow return to order and normality in Iraq:

 “The past months have been disquieting and challenging for many of us in the antiwar camp. I know and am ashamed to admit this that there have been times when I have wanted more chaos, more shocks, more disorder to teach our side a lesson … “

More chaos? Mosques blown up with their worshippers trapped inside slowly bleeding to death. More shocks? Marketplaces previously packed with people trying to make ends meet ripped apart by shrapnel-packed explosives. More disorder? Unveiled women attacked in the street, beaten up, raped, tortured and killed.

Oh, that, says Yasmin airily defending herself. I didn’t mean it, it was just an off-the-cuff fantasy. And I am ashamed of my unpleasant thoughts.

“The decent people of Iraq need optimism now not my distasteful ill-wishes for the only hope they have for the future.”

Well, that’s all right then. As long as it’s only people with truly ugly thoughts who aren’t allowed to publish them.