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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Free Speech vs. Hate Speech

Frank Sensenbrenner sees the triumph of subjectivism in the British legal system. The victim’s perception of the nature of a crime now replaces analysis of the objective facts.

It seems that in David Blunkett’s Britain, it has become a greater crime to offend the opinions of a select class than to infringe upon their rights. Natalie Solent recently reported on Robin Page’s arrest. Mr Page, a reporter for the Daily Telegraph, was arrested for inciting racial hatred after stating that rural individuals should have the same rights to legal protection for traditional events as other minorities, such as blacks, Muslims, and gays.

At the heart of the subject is the definition of inciting racial hatred. A libertarian perspective would conclude that inciting racial hatred would be advocacy for direct action to deny liberties and rights to a certain race or group, as opposed to merely voicing bigoted opinions. No matter how repellent one’s opinions are, if one is only disparaging certain groups, as opposed to suggesting criminal action against them, it is free speech. After all, no one is forcing anyone who might be offended by free speech to listen to it. Most of history’s famous human rights campaigners such as Martin Luther King, Steve Biko, and Mahatma Gandhi used the same construct as Mr Page. They did not advocate hostilities against their oppressors, but demanded equal rights. Today, suggesting similar ideas is racial hatred.

There is deep hypocrisy in the enforcement of the Public Order Act in this context. While Mr Page stewed in prison for advocating equality, Sheik Abu Hamza and his cohorts preach the slaughter of infidels on the streets of London and by main landmarks. Surely proposing murder is a greater crime than proposing equality? Just a look at Al Muhajiroun is bad enough. While Mr Omar Bakri Muhammad is certainly free to preach whatever he likes behind closed doors, to allow him to advocate crime in public is too far.

In addition, the Public Order Act may go too far. According to an official government website, racial hatred is defined as threatening, abusive, or merely insulting behaviour. Also, was looking at what laws enshrine hate crimes against gays, and it looks even worse in that respect. According to Rainbow Network the perception of anyone that a crime was a homophobic or racially motivated attack is enough for it to be deemed so.

Therefore, Samizdatistas de Havilland, Carr, Cronin, Micklethwait & Amon, I look forward to seeing you as a fellow defendant versus The Crown when they get around to prosecuting the Samizdata Team for hate speech, as I’m sure there’s some idiot in Islington who’d deem Samizdata ‘hate speech’.

Frank Sensenbrenner

9 comments to Free Speech vs. Hate Speech

  • A Non

    At this rate the EU is going to qualify for “Oppressive Regime” or “Axis of Evil” status and we can all go and claim political asylum in the “Land of the (more) Free”

    A Non

  • zack mollusc

    Oooh! The uk an axis of evil, I like it!
    “Dear Mr Bush, here in the uk we are oppressed by a farcical regime intent on seperating church and state. Please get your armed forces to liberate us and install a u.s. style government.

    p.s. we have some oil.”

  • Joe Kaplinsky

    “While Mr Omar Bakri Muhammad is certainly free to preach whatever he likes behind closed doors, to allow him to advocate crime in public is too far.”

    Would you allow him to publish a book promoting his views? What is the alternative – to submit all books to a government censor for approval?

    I would allow him to advocate crime in public, too.

    A significant part of the case for free speech turns on the distinction between speech and acts. There is a difference between saying “Kill the infidels!” and actually killing infidels.

    If others chose to follow Omar Bakri Muhammad’s suggestions, that is their choice and they must take the consequences. They are not robots, and the speaker cannot be held directly responsible.

    The law of conspiracy is certainly important. But I am sceptical about all laws against incitement. Restrictions on speech must be drawn very narrowly – shouting “string’em up” in front of a lynch mob, perhaps. The standard of ‘clear and present danger’, tightly interpreted, might provide a starting point.

  • Mark

    Or, in John Stossel’s words, “If words are the same as bullets, then words can be answered with bullets.”

  • I’ve posted this before,to Peter Cuthbertson, but it’s untrue to say that Muslim extremists are not being prosecuted under this act. One example is below (I’d also not how light the sentence is), In this particular case, The defence was that all the text concerned was a direct quote from the Qu’ran and as a religious text, and not the words of the distributor, it could not be said to incite racial hatred.

    prosecutions are relatively few, because the main targets tend to be non-British citizens, so they are prosecuted/detained under different acts, rather than the incitement charge.

    Clearly, this doesn’t addres the civil liberties questions, but there’s a perception that the state is only acting against “whites” and this simply is not the case.

  • Anthony

    “According to Rainbow Network the perception of anyone that a crime was a homophobic or racially motivated attack is enough for it to be deemed so.”

    Sensenbrenner is too meek. The information he found at Rainbow Network comes from “guidelines set by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO)”, and they are rootless and arbitrary in the extreme. The Rainbow Network article on “Homophobic Crimes” has this:

    “What makes a homophobic crime or incident? The ACPO report states: ‘To report or record an incident as racist or homophobic, evidence is not needed. Evidence is not the test. Perception on the part of anyone is all that is required.’ So if you consider it to have been homophobic, that is enough. The use of the word incident is also significant; a crime need not have been committed.”

    Evidence is not needed to inflict police investigations on other people, and at the “perception of anyone” is enough.

    There really cannot be such things as “hate crimes” without creating crimes against speech; properly speaking, we should call them speech crimes. We should be unwilling to surrender control of our own words to the world’s governments. In control of our expression, they have ownership of our very souls.

    It will do little, perhaps, to say this, but something has to be said in this graveyard of left-wing ideas:

    For those ready to lob charges of homophobia against people alarmed by the illiberal shape hate crimes have taken, I am homosexual, but I have no desire to turn the tables on my heterosexual peers, or attempt to redesign how people think their thoughts. With the support of Government, we may harass people; we may terrify them into a newer, narrower conformity. We will not change minds. All we will do is shrink the circle of free inquiry, which cannot exist without its abuse, and as that circle closes it will close around us.

  • Dale Amon

    I also agree that one must have a legal chasm between “speech” and “acts.

    I’m glad Anthony made his statement; in the world we live in it is only safe to attack the insanity if you are a member of a protected minority. Then they can’t go after you for hatespeech and all you have to worry about is old fashioned hatred from your own (like the scorn being heaped on Condi and Colin in the US from their “own”)

    I expect the law will have an unintended consequence. The very fact it has narrowed our liberties means the exercise of such speech now makes one an outlaw, and that is what teenagers aspire to.

    So look for more and more of the “banned words” from the kids, in underground rock and so forth. Unfortuneately these things can get out of control, which is why it takes a total moron to vote for such a law. They will create what they wished to outlaw. The Law Of Unintended Consequences.

  • Ian

    Anthony’s comment is fantastic.

    When I comment here, I just tend to put down the first words that come into my head. Nothing anyone could take exception to, but nothing anyone would take notice of. Nice to have a gay man around here who thinks…

    Also, great email address. Is there a Harmodius? 😉

  • A Fellow Sheep

    As an American, I enjoy reading about you Brits loosing civil liberties accumulated over a millenia.

    But are Libertarians the answer? Armchair philosophers, quiet and reasonable people.

    I wonder if the liberties of American survive as a result of people like me (similar to many of you), or rather from the gun-toting, unreasonable, extremists of the Right — and perhaps also of the Left.

    If so, perhaps Libertarians of Britain should reach out to the remnants of such folk in your land. Look in crowds of soccar rioters or pro-hunting demonstrations. Give them a cohenent basis for their rage.

    I don’t know if this meaning crosses the Atlantic, but find in your group people like Sam and John Adams — rigid, smart, determined agitators to build and direct popular fury.