Wednesday, November 29, 2006

When offense becomes an offence

One of my friends bought me a book: 'Freedom of Expression is No Offence'. I thought "Why is that even a debate? There's no law against saying things other people find offensive, surely?".

It appears I was optimistic. Things took a step in the wrong direction in the last couple of days, with the police approaching the Attorney General for the right to ban offensive remarks during protests.

Banning the statement of opinions that might cause offence?? And enabling the Police to decide when something is sufficiently offensive??

While I have the utmost respect for the police, I am certain they are not the people to defend civil liberties, protect democracy or defend other freedoms. That's the job of the politicians, on behalf of the citizens. The Police have become increasingly powerful in an - I'm ashamed to say - Labour administration. Remember the idea of a 90-day detention rule?

Back to causing offense. Understand: I'm not in favour of 'Kill those who insult Islam' placards. But that's not wrong because it causes offense: it's wrong because it incites violence, that being a criminal offence.

Let's leave aside causing unintentional offense. I reserve the right to cause intentional offense to anybody I deem deserves it. If somebody says to me "The moon is made of cheese", I should say to them "The moon is a rock.". Perhaps they are offended by my lack of respect for their view. I don't care. They are wrong and I am right.

By the same token, I must allow someone to say to me "You are homosexual. So I hate you". I'll argue against the opinion of course; but I'll disagree with what they say while defending to death their right to say it. (What I could not permit is for their opinion to influence whether they employed me or saved me from a fire or protected me from violence).

It's a constant surprise to me how the lessons learnt over centuries are so consistently ignored by those in power.

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