**** Censorship (free speech for the repugnant)

from connexions.org

from connexions.org

Those Muslims, eh? No respect for free-speech. Three of them were remanded last week for supposedly fire-bombing a publisher who planned to release a book about the Prophet Mohammed’s young bride (amusingly, a Danish publisher is considering publishing it). Luckily, Christians like Mary Whitehouse, Christian Voice and Jerry Falwell have tirelessly campaigned for free speech over the years, so secular society doesn’t assume all religious folks are censorship-crazy.

Ahem. Well, maybe not. But let’s be fair: it’s not just religious people attacking free speech.

Last week saw an Austrian teacher arrested at Heathrow airport for the crime of holocaust-denial. This is not a crime in Britain, but it is in Germany, and it is a crime of expression. Last week also saw UK legislators trying to ‘clamp down’ on websites ‘promoting’ suicide. More emotively, last week a man was found guilty of possessing child pornography, when what he possessed was in fact pornographic cartoon images of children, rather than images of real kids.

from usebrain.files.wordpress.com

from usebrain.files.wordpress.com

Of course, it’s hard to sympathise with these ‘censorship victims’. But, as Muslims living Britain are told, ad nauseum, freedom of expression and conscience are fundamental to this society’s ability to have different world-views peacefully coexisting. Tolerance does not equal agreeing.

We are right to be angered at Muslim extremists fire-bombing publishers. We are right, too, to think cartoon child-porn is vile and unhealthy, and even to monitor those who consume it in case they translate their fantasies into reality. But we cannot condone imprisoning someone for the content of their fantasies any more than we condone committing arson based on disagreeing with the content of books. We are correct to fight (metaphorically) for the right to life and to disagree with those who think life so worthless that it can and should be flippantly thrown away, but when we support the prosecution of those who express views in favour of suicide, we reject their right to find meaning in their lives by exercising free will in forming opinions, however distasteful or wrong. We demand, in effect, that they become clones of ourselves and our ideas in this area.

It is hard, possibly personally dangerous, to argue against legislation that limits the freedom of perverts, nihilists and Nazis. But we must have the courage to do so, without condoning what they believe. We must be willing to endure the criticism and judgment of decent people who fail to see that eroding free expression opens the back door for tyranny. We must tirelessly remind ourselves and others that free speech is there to protect unpopular ideas, not those held by the majority, so that no popular movement can ever drown out the voice of dissent. The consequence is living alongside those we find disgusting. And that is tolerance.

Christians would do well to remember that many of our own beliefs are offensive to many people, and that it would only take a change in the wind for the back-door legal precedents currently applied to others, to be turned on us.

Chomsky on censorship and holocaust denial:

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