March for Free Expression

The next phase

Friday, March 10, 2006

Why Are We Here?

Why do we need to organise a grass-roots campaign in Britain, in the 21st Century, to defend freedom of expression? The answer is that we have been let down not just by our political establishment, but also by some of the NGOs that, nominally, exist to defend human rights.

So it is interesting to note which organisations have declined to support us and, where they have given reasons, why.

Starting next week, we will be publicising this aspect of the campaign. A hideous paralysis has gripped some of the most influential organisations. Even though in some cases they have supported identical campaigns overseas, they cannot bring themselves to do so in Europe.

We stand beside groups in every country of the world that seek to defend or, depressingly often, win that most basic of human rights, without which there can be no other rights or freedoms: the right to free expression. But we cannot do that unless we have that right ourselves.

Waffling about how, on the one hand, they support free speech but, on the other hand, free speech shouldn't be exercised is just drivel. Either you support free expression or you don't.

We do. They don't. And maybe some of them have reached their sell-by date.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is an NGO?

3:59 pm  
Anonymous Diderot said...

i) In 2004 there was no one in the UK to defend the Bzheti play;
ii) Most human rights organisations are bound by a smug anti-US consensus that excuses pretty much everything that doesn't fit into that worldview.

4:00 pm  
Blogger Voltaire said...

NGO = Non Government Organisation such as, to pluck a name almost completely at random, Amnesty International.

4:06 pm  
Anonymous James said...

I'd like to know which pro-freedom of expression NGOs are self-censoring.

4:56 pm  
Anonymous Sagunto said...


There's i.m.o. only one way to adress the ongoing issue of political motivation: pro free speech is about a fundamental INDIVIDUAL right, within the boundaries of the law.

You incessantly refer to all kinds of organizations and political parties, thereby reinforcing the impression of some that this rally is indeed about politics and group-demands.
Why that much attention for org's; NGO's; political spokesmen, when a fundamental right is about individual civillians?

You keep on explaining a problem you y'rself have, in part, created.
Same goes for the statements on islam, because you seem reluctant to state the obvious: that islamism is at the core of the Moh.-toon controversy.
That, and (at least as important) the dhimmitude-beyond-belief of the British press and politicians.
Be nice to muslims (until they prove to be jihadists) doesn't mean, I hope, that the doctrine of islam and certainly islamism can't be firmly criticized (like Bertrand Russell did) during the Trafalgar-rally?

Kind regards from Holland,

P.s.: where do I find the download-site where the banners should be available? Lost my "legolize" pdf :-)

5:08 pm  
Anonymous diderot said...

Good point! Leave the chattering classes to their dinner parties, it's about what we want it to be, not hoping some mealy-mouths buy into it.

6:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, bollocks to them. We need people with proven records of action here. Can't someone get Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali to give messages of support?

7:03 pm  
Blogger Juan Golblado said...

I understand the desire to ignore what the pseudoleft establishment is doing. But there are an awful lot of decent people who consider themselves on the left, and I'm unwilling to give up on them. But I recognise that those who don't identify with the left have plenty of other freedom of speech tradition available on the right and elsewhere.

As to which pro-freedom of expresison NGOs are self-censoring, Index on Censorship ran a front page article on their website after Theo van Gogh was murdered saying that he had it coming. A big stink arose and the chairman of Index, Jonathan Freedland of the Daily Groan, replied that to fire the person who wrote that article would itself be censorship, which is a very dishonest thing to say.

I am delighted that perhaps saner voices reign now at Index, given that they have given space to advertise this demo, but don't be surprised if the pro-censorship branch of Index on Censorship rears its ugly head at some point.

I don't know if Freedland is still chair, but Rohan Jayasekera, who wrote and stridently defended the attack on van Gogh, may be gone from there. On the other hand, their shorlist for freedom of expression awards is not very encouraging. They project an anti-American political agenda rather than freedom of expression primarily.

Index has one of the MoToons on its site, a cute one Mo himself, for which I salute them and have hope yet. But they made a point of giving a voice to Idiot Jack of Granta who criticised the cartoons before they even existed. He actually made a point of criticising the portrayal of Mo in the wake of the riots against the production of Behtzi at the B'ham Rep. So anybody who goes out of their way to giving him a voice is not acting in support of freedom of expression.

Sorry for the long rant.

I couldn't help but notice that Index has not endorsed the demo. What about Article 19?

7:28 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what exactly is your aim then? Demonstrating your oppinion, or protesting particularly aginst laws? (eg religious hatred)

Do you want absolute fredom of speech (eg inciting murder, or racist speach), or partial? And why do you draw that line where you do?

Philosophy Forge | The Atheist Newsletter

1:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In answer to "where do we draw the line?" it should be that anyone can say what they like provided they dont call for violence. Different states have different laws about what you can and cannot say. There is enough of that and probably some of those laws should be repealed. Clearly some politicians think that their citizens are so childish that they are going to be swayed by racist or retro rantings. How arrogant and insulting is that?

3:12 pm  
Anonymous landofeasyjet said...

IF you don't all stop arguing the toss about who is right or wrong, you will leave the Great British Public with only one option. That will be to support the Right-leaning politics.
There is only one main opponent of freedom of Speech outside the new Orwellian Labour Party ( and I feel like I am insulting Orwell to say that)
Name the Beast.. That beast is Islam...
Moderate, radical, or just plain stupid.
Come to my town of luton (where the 7/7 bomber's friends all live and see how long you will survive if you speak freely.
Wake up folks, the clock is ticking and both liberals , gays, hedonistic potsmokers, rockmusic fans and even your little kids unclean PIGgy-banks are all endangered species.
Act now or it will eventually be sorted out in blood and fire as the opposites meet.
I am afraid to say that Enoch Powell will be proved right. Blood will run on the streets of England and a lot more than did so last July.
Speak up now or wait until the crap hits the fan.
The pen is mightier than the sword, but only if we defend the right to use it freely.

9:51 pm  
Anonymous Alan said...

I still am unsure about what you guys can hope to achieve from this. I understand you want to keep your freedom of speech, but I'm sure practically all of you don't want that to be absolute. Things like verbal child abuse, incitement to murder.. should all be illegal. What I think you mean is that you want freedom to critcise beliefs, ideas, and actions.

But we still have that right, so you can't be complaining about the law. Instead, perhaps you are complaining about the violent reactions to the Muhammad cartoons, and the media not printing them, but neither of these are freedom of speech. You can protest against Muslim violence if you want, but your not going to change opinions because they are mostly accepted to be wrong anyway. And newspapers actually have the right to self-censorship under freedom of speech. If you want to offend Muslims with some cartoons then print them yourselves.

I think you guys need to make it crystal clear what you are protesting for.

9:32 pm  
Blogger Voltaire said...

Alan, we have a statement of principle (in the sidebar). There is no more, or less, to it than that.

I've no idea what you mean by verbal child abuse, but I believe that prosecution for incitement to murder (or to burglary) depend on things like intent (did they mean it or was it hot air) and likeliness of outcome. In other words, not the mere expression.

As we said in an earlier post, the Danish cartoon affair absolutely was the spark for this, but we were also worried by Christian Voice's attempts to censor the BBC and by the closure of a play in Birmingham.

It's a bit silly to flourish self-censorship (born of fear, resulting from violence and intimidation) as the successful exercise of a right.

This really is very simple. We do not think anyone should be threatened, hurt, killed or imprisoned just because of something they said, wrote or drew.

7:11 am  
Anonymous Sagunto said...

It's good & comforting to realize that - should ever the time arrive when freedom of expr. is stifled beyond mere words (not only de facto by "right to selfcensoring" [sic!] but actually de jure) - there will always be someone left like Alan who'll raise his voice on behalf of us blasphemers here, though I suspect he'll be raising his voice behind bars by the time he'd think it appropriate to speak up.
Sleep tight Alan c.s. :-),

7:52 am  
Anonymous Grahame Wells said...

Surely the point of this demo should be to seek to preserve the right to express a valid point, albeit offensive, against the 'censorship' of intimidation by threat of violence? Isn't this the point rather than defending some concept of 'anything goes'? I don't agree that the same principle as appertained in the Jerry Springer Opera case operates here. Some things are offensive just because they are utter vilifications designed to offend rather than making a valid point and thus unacceptable in a society which seeks to respect people.
We accept this principle in dealing with racist remarks - we allow censorship in that arena and in fact call for it and enforce it with sanctions. For religious people their faith is as fundamental an identification as race and can supercede race(it truly represents what they are)- it is not merely some abstract idea to them. Challenge and mock in the context of making a valid point; don't just heap crap on something dear to people (a la J S opera). I think it's OK to call for obvious vilifications and gross misrepresentations in the public (and therefore shared)arena(like the BBC)to be stopped BUT without threat of violence. This latter threat is what makes the Islamic(and it does seem to be general)response unacceptable. It is very unhealthy for fear of lethal reprisal to muzzle free speech. Perhaps the cartoons shouldn't have been published but the response is the more unacceptable.
Why does the demo's umbrella have to sound so anti-religious - making out that religion in general is the enemy? Many religious people are concerned with freedom of speech too but it's hard to march under your banner - maybe you don't want us as bedfellows? Communist countries with atheism at their heart didn't encourage free speech any more than any theocracy. So history doesn't give atheism much to crow about either in that respect. Naturally you will distance yourself from such repressive regimes as I would myself from Talibanism. I feel strongly about this Danish issue - can you not just demonstrate for the narrower principle?
Congratulations on your courage in any case and for doing something!

7:02 pm  
Blogger DaveA said...


A well reasoned point, but unfortunately defining stuff as offensive and therefore unnacceptable is exactly the start of the slippery slope. No one can define what is offensive. What we do have is laws, which cover what racists have to say, but those laws aren't there because what they say is offensive, they're there to protect people from violence and discrimination.

No, people are allowed to be offensive, and the only responsibilities they have are to a) not break the law, and b) look stupid if they can't back up what they say.

4:37 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Graham, you have made a strong point, but I agree with Davea and I have to stress that I am a Christian. The rally is not against religions by definition and I do believe that any religion is able to defend itself without recourse to jurisdiction / hate laws or ... violence. "True virtue is not afraid of satire" nor criticism. If someone vilifies or mocks my faith I offer counter-arguments (as faith despite the implications of the word should not be blind and irrational) or I simply walk away if the intention of my partner is just to offend. It is not worth my time. If, however, one throws a tantrum, goes rioting, issues threats or demands respect for their religion then the message they send is that their beliefs are fragile, that they can easily be discredited or that they simply condone that sort of behaviour. If the latter is the case then what does it say about this religion's moral code? It is all a matter of common sense and assertiveness.
This is why I agree with Davea.

Polish Solidarity with Denmark

5:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Respect has to be earned.
This was to be my punchline.
Grahame, we hope you will join us!

7:58 pm  

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