Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Free speech

There is a row in the UK at the moment about freedom of speech. Two incidents have triggered it. The first was the decision of the BBC to invite Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party, to appear on their flagship political program, Question Time, and the second was an article in the Daily Mail about the death of a pop singer.

The British National Party (BNP) is the spiritual descendant of Oswald Moseley's pre-war fascists. They wish to preserve Britain from immigration, particularly from those whose skin is of a darker hue. They draw their support from the white working classes who have traditionally supported the Labor Party.

Overt racism is, of course, denigrated in Britain and the BNP have tried to distance themselves from that charge. Recent mass immigration to Britain has come from Poland, the Baltic countries, Romania and Bulgaria, all countries with white populations (though Romanian gypsies, a persecuted people in their own country, are somewhat swarthy). There are certainly racists among BNP members, though their electoral support - they have two members of the European Parliament and many local councillors - does not imply more than a million racists in England. They have been campaigning on the dilution of British "Christian" heritage and the intrusion of traditions from other countries, particularly Muslim countries.

Certainly a large number of immigrants have entered Britain, putting strain on the NHS and education system. Many of the immigrants have been illegals - Commonwealth citizens outstaying their visitor or student visas, Afghan and Iraqi men hitching a lift under trucks on ferries and trains from France, Chinese peasants packed 57 deep into secret compartments in trucks, and many foreign nationals taking part in fake marriages to British citizens. Although the number of black and Asian immigrants does not constitute anything like the proportion of non-whites to be found in America, being less than 10% of the population, they tend to be concentrated in certain areas, particularly in London, around Manchester and in midland industrial towns like Leicester.

With the recession it has been fairly easy to blame the immigrants for difficulties in finding a house, large classes in schools where few speak English, loss of jobs, and long waiting times in hospitals. The Unions are in decline and the Labor Party is in disarray. Consequently, many of the white working classes find the BNP an attractive home.

Another factor has been the pushing of political correctness by New Labor. To be blunt, the working man has been given to making offensive jokes against foreigners, homosexuals, vicars and Manchester United supporters ever since I worked in a factory some 50 years ago and probably before that. I honestly don't believe he meant any harm by it. Anybody from the Indian subcontinent was called "Paki" to his face, any Afro-Caribbean individual was called "Darkie", any Scot "Jock", any Welshman "Taffy" and any Irishman "Paddy". Though not that common, anyone from Eastern Europe was known as "Boris". These were terms of affection. I realise that in other strata of society these words may be offensive, but to be culturally sensitive you have to be sensitive to all cultures including that of the white working class. It is this neglect of this political base by New Labor that has allowed the BNP to flourish.

Apparently the singer from Boyzone was in a homosexual relationship. He died at a very young age on a Spanish holiday island from pulmonary edema. This is very unusual, though one does see it in young athletes because of an unsuspected cardiac condition. Given the reputation of pop singers one would immediately suspect that drugs might have been involved and as I understand it the toxicology report is not in yet. The Daily Mail columnist, Jan Muir has caused offence by suggesting that the man's lifestyle precipitated his early death. I have no idea whether she is right as I know nothing about his lifestyle. He does not seem to have died from AIDS or hepatitis, two diseases commoner among homosexuals, and I have no idea whether he fitted into the stereotype of people in his profession in overindulging in drugs and alcohol. However, writing an article in Britain's most popular daily newspaper that besmirches the reputation of a popular entertainer who has just died was, as Sir Humphrey used to put it on 'Yes Minister', courageous.

Stephen Fry, the comedian and presumed polymath, who himself has had an irregular lifestyle, has orchestrated a protest on Facebook to try and get Jan Muir dismissed (though the Daily Mail is probably revelling in her notoriety). Some 21,000 letters of protest have been received. Peter Hain, ex-minister in the Labor government who came to fame as a protester against Apartheid in South Africa, and himself forced to resign over financial irregularities, has been campaigning to get the BNP uninvited from Question Time. It would be surprising if either of them succeeded. The principle is one of free speech. In the UK no-one is prevented from speaking their mind unless they incite violence. Even minor violence is tolerated (viz. the recent occupation of a coal-fired power station by green campaigners). It is generally thought that unsavoury people will condemn themselves out of their own mouths.

One of the tenets of the politically correct is that a racist or homophobic remark is regarded as such if the object of the jibe feels offended by it. This is such utter nonsense as to be untenable. People take offence at imagined slights. There are many things that offend me but no-one is prosecuted. One law for one section of society and a different law for another? It won't do.


Burke said...

I believe that many, perhaps most, disputes over free speech here in America are really disputes over the use of so-called "public property." Should some group be free to protest at a public place of some kind, etc? Should children be free to pray in public schools being a biggie here, as another example?

The solution is to abolish most public property. If you think about it, it's just loot, anyway. The govt seizes wealth from people who produce it and uses it to create things "for all of us," which is what "public property" is.

In fact, the whole idea of "public property" is a contradiction, the right of property being a right held by individuals against all others, against the "public."

There is a reason for the right of property. People live by producing wealth, and they have the right to use that wealth for themselves. The right to live entails the right to property.

So, morally most fights over free speech (and virtually everything else that is "public") are really just squabbles over loot. Such people may as well be train robbers arguing over who has the most "right" to the money they stole.

Is my view radical? Yes, but then when and where have conventional beliefs ever been completely or even marginally rational?

Here in America shortly after the Revolution was the best of times, I believe--the only time in history when a nation was *founded* on the idea of individual rights.

But then I'm an arrogant American who did not vote for Obama.

Anonymous said...

Be prepared for more and more of this political correctness. You just have to look at the United States. It is racist to celebrate Columbus Day and it has been removed from most state's list of holidays. It has just been removed from California.

I wish I could share your optimism, but all indications are that you are just behind the US.

I wonder when you will have your first black prime minister.