March for Free Expression

The next phase

Thursday, March 02, 2006

What do we want?

The purpose of this campaign is not just to make a public show of our feelings, but also to make a difference, to bring about real change. In our statement of principle, we said:
We assert and uphold the right of freedom of expression and call on our elected representatives to do the same. We abhor the fact that people throughout the world live under mortal threat simply for expressing ideas and we call on our elected representatives to protect them from attack and not to give comfort to the forces of intolerance that besiege them.
This will need to be fleshed out and a concrete set of proposals produced.

Please use the comment function here to make suggestions and debate what these proposals might be.


Blogger Dangerouslysubversivedad said...

Well I would say as a starting point that you need to draw a very clear line between the concepts of 'expression' and 'incitement to violence' - after all if you stand for total unfettered free expression such as we saw outside the Danish Embassy recently then by definition you give our elected representatives nothing to actually DO because you are implicitly saying that calling for violence is just another form of Freedom of Speech.

1:05 pm  
Anonymous wolfy said...

First priority must be to stamp out islamic killing contracts.

Imagine you took a dislike to someone and announced publicly that you would give money to any comer who killed that person. Quite rightly your feet wouldnt touch the ground. You'd be in clink double quick.

As we all know, certain Islamic clerics feel quite free to issue so called fatwas calling for the killing of people who have offended them or their religion. These fatwas are quite simply common gangster style killing contracts which so far have escaped the law completely. It is not beyond the abilities of our politicians to get together with organisations such as Interpol and the International Court of Justice to produce suitable international arrest warrants for the criminals involved. It might be impossible to serve these warrants in countries like Iran but at least the perps would know that they are on wanted lists and that if they ever stepped out of their sanctuaries they would be clobbered hard.

1:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Threats as freedom of speech is a grey area but even that is very clear on the concept of 'reporting' threats. The people calling for death outside the embassy were liable but the media printing photos of those banners were obviously not. Yet in the case of the cartoons we are being given this idea that the media are somehow liable for reporting the story and that showing photos of the original newspaper was wrong! This is very dangerous social idea. I've personally heard people say "Well where can I see these cartoons, which website?" - the media clearly didn't report all the facts. What if Abu Ghraib had been reported like this?

If you make a threat on a banner you are confessing to the police that you are about to kill someone. They will not arrest you for that banner, they are not going to censor the wording of the banner in the police report, they just have reasonable suspicion that you will commit murder and they are stopping you. If you displayed a banner that said "Abu said 'Kill those that insult Islam' but I do not agree" - that is freedom of speech, but the complication comes when that is used as a tactic to protect yourself from arrest but still be able to threaten people.

2:58 pm  
Blogger Voltaire said...

That's a good start: posts addressing domestic and international aspects of the campaign.

Incitement to violence is an offence under any circumstances, although the burden of proof is, apparently, high. The banners mentioned do not seem to me to need to fall foul of a restriction of freedom of expression to be the subject of criminal investigation, and therefore there need be no such restriction. Whether an ambivalently worded banner constitutes an incitement should remain the province of the courts.

The second suggestion seems to be a call for a change in foreign policy.

In part, this could be a determination to use extradition treaties, where they exist, to bring to justice anyone, even clerics, who call for, or offer bounties for, the murder of citizens of this country.

It could also extend to an international commitment, somewhat analagous to, or an extension of, the remit of the Internation Court in the Hague, to bring to prosecution any people not covered by extradition arrangements who seek to commission or incite murder. The satisfaction of such warrants could, as is the case with Serbia today, be a prerequisite for inclusion of the country harbouring such individuals in international organisations and arrangements.

3:09 pm  
Blogger Voltaire said...

A quick note: this campaign is not just about the attacks being made against freedoms, including that of expression, by Islamists today. It includes situations like the siege of a play in Birmingham by Sikhs, as a result of which the play was forced to close. The police and politicians did not give sufficient support to the law abiding theatre company and audience. It also includes concern about groups like Christian Voice, who seek to restrict speech along different lines, and to impose a theocracy in the UK.

Surely one point we might raise is that the authorities do not need to keep announcing new laws, but rather to enforce effectively existing ones.

3:27 pm  
Anonymous Steve said...

What annoys me is the attempt by religious groups to take the law into their owmn hands and force everyone else to change. If I want to go and see a play that is my business. Just because someone has deeply held beliefs it does not give them the right to impose those views on me.

What we have seen in the Cartoon Wars is this tendancy transferred to the international stage. An organised campaign of intimidation aimed at forcing a country, Denmark, to change its laws and to bring in oppressive rules against its journalists.

Both are attempts to use religion to undermine the rule of law.

Our politicians have been lukewarm in their opposition to this. No-one stood up for the Birmingham Rep last year and no-one has come out unequivocally i support of Denmark's stance.

If I have any demand at all, it is that our leaders show the sort of commitment to free speech that we have seen from some politicians in continental Europe.

6:15 pm  
Blogger Juan Golblado said...

I very much agree that a useful focal point would be to call on the gov. to enforce existing laws rather than pass new ones. My understanding of the law suggests that some important ones are not being enforced. Two examples are the incitement to violence outside the Danish embassy and the actual violence in the Birmingham Rep. The perpetrators got away with it in both cases.

I think this is muddled thinking, though:
Incitement to violence is an offence under any circumstances, although the burden of proof is, apparently, high. The banners mentioned do not seem to me to need to fall foul of a restriction of freedom of expression to be the subject of criminal investigation, and therefore there need be no such restriction.

This same logic could be used to say, "the cartoons are an offence against the law proscribing incitement to hatred" and so should be the object of a criminal investigation.

Making something illegal removes the protection of freedom of expression from it.

So that position does not protect freedom of expression. I think we cannot escape the need to define the limits of freedom of expression. And I think we should define the limit at incitement to violence, not at "incitement to hatred". It seems to me we should also take the time to define all the limits, including things like libel. And this should be stated in clear unequivocal terms.

It will surely be quite an effort to draw the right line in the right place so a maximum of people are satisfied with it. I don't know how soon we should hope to do it. It's a tactical call that will be decided as we see how the ground lies.

I for one, though, want to demonstrate in favour of freedom of expression whose political limits stop only at incitement to violence.

As for going after the issuers of death-threat fatwas, that is not foreign policy in itself though it obviously would have an effect on foreign policy.

I support going after them. I think it would be an excellent move, just the right message.

6:19 pm  
Blogger Juan Golblado said...

It seems to me that the central point we have to overcome is illustrated in this extract from a piece the BBC website published about the Behtzi affair shortly after the play was cancelled.

If you had to write a theatrical pitch for what Birmingham has just witnessed over the play Behzti, you could do it in seven words: Play offends community, community protests, play cancelled.

But that simple three act performance conceals a far more complex drama about how we all share the same space in a pluralistic society. Can we really say what we want? Should we say what we want?

Never mind their nonsense about "the community". That is another issue. What I want to focus on is "Can we really say what we want? Should we say what we want?

That last question, the "should" question, is the one I want to eliminate from law.

What we are up against is a very large part of the British population, evidently a majority of the chattering classes, who place more importance on offending people than on speaking one's mind.

They think discussion should be constrained by "respect for" people's own definition of what offends them. But the law can not be allowed to determine that.

Offence should not be a legal matter.

7:13 pm  
Anonymous Sagunto said...


"We hold these truths to be self-evident".
You must have heared that one, once upon a time...

Isn't it obvious the claim concerns constitutional freedom, therefore you don't have to state: 'within the boundaries of the law' everytime?

12:34 am  
Blogger TomPaine said...

In traditional common law, two agents may be victims of offense: the state or the individual. That is the difference between criminal and civil trials. In the US, we have expanded upon this by including ethnic groups as victims, in the form of hate crime legislation. In lieu of organized ethnic agents, the state tries the accused in a super-criminal trial. And current jurisprudence has ruled that "ethnicity" is a construct of the accused; that is, if you claim someone is a black person and injure them because of it, then the state has the right to try you on behalf of all black people, even if the victim is not a member of some organized ethnic cohort.

What I'm getting at is that hate crime legislation should be implemented elsewhere, to give that added oomph to any criminal proceedings of those who would threaten someone because of the identity of the threatened. It sends a message to would-be intimidators that the state is on the lookout for them and is ready to punish them. What also needs to be done, especially here in the US, is to shape jurisprudence such that the courts do not treat hate crimes as only protecting minorities but also majorities, and indeed, everyone who can be threatened because of who they are.

This may be a bitter pill to swallow for egalitarians and libertarians, but hate crime legislation has proven to be a powerful tool in the States for deterring xenophobic crime.

9:06 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Freedom for apostates in Saudi Arabia and buildings for worship of other faiths, as we have allowed mosques.

9:38 pm  
Anonymous PJ Denyer said...

Juan Golblado said...

"I think this is muddled thinking, though:
'Incitement to violence is an offence under any circumstances[edit]'

This same logic could be used to say, "the cartoons are an offence against the law proscribing incitement to hatred" and so should be the object of a criminal investigation."

Sorry Juan, I have to disagree. Placards calling for the beheading or hanging of the cartoonists or bombings are an unambiguous incitement to violence, to say that the cartoons themselves 'incited' violence is to play semantics, it is true by the dictionary definition of the word 'incite' but not by the legal definition which demands an intention to incite violence, to convict this intention needs to be very clear, since I feel few of use would deny that beheading or hanging someone is a violent act, a demand that this be done is clearly incitement.

I notice that one of the 'grey areas' of freedom of speech has not yet come up, the imprisonment of David Irving. In my opinion no-one should be imprisoned for holding an incorrect opinion, the fact that he was financially and academically ruined for spouting such complete rubbish shows that they are not needed anyway, there are much better ways of dealing with patent falsehood than 'thought police'.

12:42 pm  

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