There are somethings so fundamental to our way of life, and the functioning of our society that without them, it will cease to function. The freedom of speech, or communication, is one of those things. If and when a state proscribes what to say and what not to say; it prescribes thought. We cannot function as a society if our thoughts, on what we feel is right and wrong, cannot be expressed in words so that they can be disagreed with or influence others. If so, we will not know what the truth is, what is useful and what is harmful to us. This is all, seemingly, self-evident. However, when Jacqui Smith, the Labour Home Secretary, prevented Geert Wilders for coming to the UK she was doing more than stopping another human-being entering a country. She was proscribing his ideas, and precluding his thought and views AND, more importantly, preventing us from thinking the same. How dare we hear and thus possibly think those things? It is strange today that politicians have usurped such power. Through fear and complacency of our electorate, us, politicians have enacted laws (whether to deal with terrorism or public order), that allow them to proscribe what is right and wrong- through precluding thought and speech. Why, so unreservedly, have we given away this important right, won historically with such difficulty, so cheaply?
This is, partly, because we don't recall or know what type of a state controls ideas. Ask anyone who lived in Stalin's Russia, Mao's China or any American, who was left-leaning (irrespective of degree) during Joseph McCarthy's witch-hunts. The autocratic government sees the controlling of ideas as the first-step in maintaining absolute power. This month a small theatre in London is showing a piece starring Corin Redgrave as Dalton Trumbo. It depicts the actions of the 1947 'HUAC' or House of Un-American Activities Committee (not to be confused with McCarthy's attempts to imprison communists). This committee sought to destroy the careers of those who were thought to be Communists. But these were not Communists who were trying to take-over the US. Frighteningly, they were writers. Those whose views were impalatable and of concern to those in power were put on a blacklist. Those in power felt that the opinions of the blacklisted were a security risk and thus had to be made unlawful. (Like the Nazis, and other autocratic regimes those that founded HUAC failed to see that there is a illogicality in this approach and something important missing. This is whether those proscribed opinions though a threat to existing power (including existing structures or institutions of a state) could still 'legitimately' change power. (It is in precluding the idea, that the nature of these measures is autocratic. As it is the autocratic Government that precludes and usurps the exercise of choice of political ideology through the exercise of its authority).
I can thing of nothing more frightening to a liberal mature democracy who values the expression and reception of ideas as one of the key ways of human evolution than 'HUAC'. 'HUAC' created a blacklist of those opinions that were considered 'dangerous'. These approaches do not have the necessary mandate, or when they do, the mandate is sought through scaremongering of the people or qualified through their fears. One doesn't need to ponder whether the current Government has a 'blacklist'. In the Anti-Crime and Terrorism Act of 2001 the Government has given itself (due to the climate of terrorism) the power to proscribe organisations due to their ideology. Note, that according to this act a nursing organisation going on strike, thereby risking the lives of their patients, can be proscribed. It is frightening to see quite how powerful a piece of legislation this is. Here the Government has given itself the power not only to create a blacklist, but also to enlarge it as it sees fit. Who knows when this Act will be repealed, if ever. The public by and large has said nothing. It seems to think that to save lives it is ok to turn 'a little autocratic', as one girl told me. 'Why then did we fight the Nazis and not just join them?' I replied. This kind of usurpation of power must need a democratic mandate. I am not sure I want to live in a state that fights for terror most effectively, when it is being autocratic. To the current Home Secretary public peace is more important than the cost of policing-riots or a public march that arises from airing a view-point. That is not democracy, but dictatorship arising out of fear of losing control. If that is the case than the Labour Government is taking us backwards in time through the development of democracy and the modern world. No one should forget that recently in the early 17th C Galileo was bullied in front of a powerful inquisition for daring to say that the Earth moved around the Sun. The US Government failed to see the glaringly obvious, that by trying to proscribe the Communists it was emulating Stalin. People say 'but people get offended by some views, so those views should not be aired'. Is it not the responsibility in a mature democracy of those whose powers of reason are above the passions of taking offence to teach the others to 'offer the other cheek'? Or should we worry as Jacqui Smith and the 17thC Papacy did about public unrest and loss of authority due to the launching of an opinion? That response is a mark of Governmental failure; where a Government has to proscribe views it has lost control. This continuous enervation of our democratic society, feasibly deserves a national no vote against Labour in the next General Election. Another irrelevant thought comes to me here. This conduct by the State fosters lack of toleration amongst our people; it tells us not to tolerate the views of others, the state may even step into defend us from being offended. So many youth violent crimes occur due to 'he/she was disrespecting me'. It is surprising from this view why the Government is giving into possible violent reaction to Wilders.
The freedom to impart and receive ideas was placed specifically in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights. This followed a harsh reflection on the dangers of book-burning and its relationship with totalitarian regimes such as that of the Nazis. Now within these sentiments is a reason why Geert Wilders maybe wrong to call for the banning of the Koran. More pressingly, however, there is a similarity, a frightening, one that is over-looked. This is between his views towards the Koran and the Home Secretary's decision to ban him. Both I submit are wholly misconceived and wrong.
Copyright Birkenhead Society.