The boast of modern democratic societies is that they uphold the principles of freedom of speech.
“Can the mind really control matter?
Or have we construed the phrase to flatter
The vanity of the conscious mind
Which fears the cosmos will leave it behind?”
From Showcase Mein Itna Tho Godown Mein Kitna? By Bachchoo
The boast of modern democratic societies is that they uphold the principles of freedom of speech. These don’t extend to incitements to crime. In contemporary free societies, which define some forms of misogyny, homophobia and racism as hate crimes, there arise some difficult questions.
Leaving these three categories aside, what is the law to make of religious dissent? Are Protestants committing a crime if they assert that the Pope is an imposter? Am I guilty of hatred if I say I don’t believe that God has sons and urge followers, on Twitter, say, to deny the possibility of virgin birth? (Not being a twit, I don’t do Twitter!)
Christianity has evolved with very broad shoulders and any such assertion will not lead to being burnt at the stake. Other religions have not achieved this goal of tolerance.
An Indian publisher withdraws a historical, critical book on Hinduism, not because the Indian State bans it, but through fear caused by the fury of Hindu readers who disagree or object to parts or all of the text.
Then there is the case of a world-renowned writer whose book led to his being condemned to death for writing fiction which was derided as being insulting to the Prophet Muhammed. The late V.S. Naipaul called it “an extreme form of literary criticism”.
There has never been any foolproof way of policing thought — articulation in one form or the other is nowadays held to be the evidence or the proof of unacceptable opinion. It’s true that in the past people have been persecuted and even put to death for what they “might believe” or hold sacred, but today the other great presumption of “innocent until proved guilty” should hold. Alas, in certain bigoted sections of society, no such principle obtains. People are punished by accusing and deranged mobs.
These thoughts are occasioned, gentle reader, by two episodes in Britain’s contemporary doings. Boris Johnson, on assuming the office of Prime Minister, appointed as his chief aide a fellow called Dominic Cummings. I won’t be conveyed to the Tower of London for saying here that this person strikes me and millions of others in Britain, and even abroad, as what we call a “weirdo”. One of his traits is an attempt to control the policies and workings of government.
In this mode he, it is thought, persuaded Boris Johnson to tell Sajid Javid, the chancellor (finance minister) he had appointed, to sack all his advisers, experts and aides. This service would be provided by the aides and experts of Boris Johnson himself. In other words, the chancellor will have only the advice that Dominic Cummings sanctions. Sajju didn’t like it, had the spherical guts to say it was not what any self-respecting minister should or would accept, and there and then submitted his resignation.
But that was and is only the beginning of Weird Dom’s doings. He sent out a public message saying he wanted to recruit to No. 10’s team people who were “misfits and weirdoes”. One of those who applied, presumably accepting this description of himself, was Andrew Sabisky.
On his appointment, it was revealed that Sabisky had written an article which said that black people had inferior IQ to whites. He also opined that the law should enforce compulsory and permanent contraception on women from the “underclass” to prevent the growth of such a class in the country. This is all good Nazi stuff and may fit perfectly into the plans that Dominic Cummings has for Britain’s immediate future. But should they be the principles by which Boris Johnson and his government operate? Judging by their own expressed opinions, it is possible that one or two of Johnson’s present Cabinet are of the mindset that would perhaps secretly entertain these views. Alas, we can’t today act as thought police and demand their quick execution.
Sabisky didn’t just think these things, he wrote them and as the outcry that followed his appointment broke, he resigned. No doubt he will be appointed to some far-right thinktank as an innovator and will insist that Mein Kampf be introduced as a compulsory text in all primary schools.
The second peculiar instance is the case of Harry Miller, a former policeman, now a businessman who was visited by police and accused of a non-criminal hate incident. Harry had used Twitter to express his opinion that people who changed their gender through operations, hormones, etc were not in reality transformed into men from women or women from men. Based on scientific evidence, he, at times provocatively on Twitter, opined that you were born with your gender and though you were free to think what you liked and had the protection of the law from discrimination, the reality was that men with surgically shaped vaginas or hormonally induced breasts still weren’t women.
The opinions got him arrested and a “non-criminal hate incident” was recorded against him. In court he testified that his opinions had provoked his opponents to record an anonymous online video threatening to kill him and rape his family.
He sued the police and the judge hearing the case said that he was entitled to his opinion, the police were wrong and that we didn’t live in an Orwellian state in which opinions which didn’t instigate hatred were free to be expressed.
Judge Knowles ruled that the police in the UK were not the Stasi or the Gestapo and should not behave as such. The instructions on “hate incidents” should be reviewed. Going further, he said there existed a right to express opinions freely but there was no right to be offended. I agree.
I hope the cooks in the Tower serve a good Dhansakh.