Friday, September 28, 2012

The Soft Gag

The European courts are currently having to navigate through an increasingly complex network of rights, and to adjudicate between competing rights when they bump up against each other (for example, when the right of an employee to express his religious faith collides with the right of an employer to discriminate). As I was reflecting on this, Daniel Hannan reminded me of an amusing antidote that Mark Steyn shared last year. After discussing the absurdities in hate crime legislation, Steyn pointed out how the exact same words can simultaneously be legal or illegal depending on who the perceived victim happens to be. He writes,
...the very same words can be proof of two entirely different hate crimes. Iqbal Sacranie is a Muslim of such exemplary "moderation" he's been knighted by the Queen. The head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Sir Iqbal was interviewed on the BBC and expressed the view that homosexuality was "immoral," was "not acceptable," "spreads disease," and "damaged the very foundations of society." A gay group complained and Sir Iqbal was investigated by Scotland Yard's "community safety unit" for "hate crimes" and "homophobia." Independently but simultaneously, the magazine of GALHA (the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association) called Islam a "barmy doctrine" growing "like a canker" and deeply "homophobic." In return, the London Race Hate Crime Forum asked Scotland Yard to investigate GALHA for "Islamophobia." Got that? If a Muslim says that Islam is opposed to homosexuality, Scotland Yard will investigate him for homophobia; but if a gay says that Islam is opposed to homosexuality, Scotland Yard will investigate him for Islamophobia. Two men say exactly the same thing and they're investigated for different hate crimes.
That was taken from Mark Steyn's article 'Gagging us Softly.' The value of his article goes beyond merely drawing attention to the absurd situations which arise when the right of free speech is qualified by the right of minority groups not to be criticized. Steyn also shows a more sinister agenda at work once Westerners grow comfortable having the state micro-regulate their public discourse.
Mark Steyn
Across almost all the Western world apart from America, the state grows ever more comfortable with micro-regulating public discourse—and, in fact, not-so-public discourse: Lars Hedegaard, head of the Danish Free Press Society, has been tried, been acquitted, had his acquittal overruled, and been convicted of "racism" for some remarks about Islam's treatment of women made (so he thought) in private but taped and released to the world. The Rev. Stephen Boissoin was convicted of the heinous crime of writing a homophobic letter to his local newspaper and was sentenced by Lori Andreachuk, the aggressive social engineer who serves as Alberta's "human rights" commissar, to a lifetime prohibition on uttering anything "disparaging" about homosexuality ever again in sermons, in newspapers, on radio—or in private e-mails. Note that legal concept: not "illegal" or "hateful," but merely "disparaging." Dale McAlpine, a practicing (wait for it) Christian, was handing out leaflets in the English town of Workington and chit-chatting with shoppers when he was arrested on a "public order" charge by Constable Adams, a gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community-outreach officer. Mr. McAlpine had been overheard by the officer to observe that homosexuality is a sin. "I'm gay," said Constable Adams. Well, it's still a sin, said Mr. McAlpine. So Constable Adams arrested him for causing distress to Constable Adams….
In such a climate, time-honored national characteristics are easily extinguished. A generation ago, even Britain's polytechnic Trots and Marxists were sufficiently residually English to feel the industrial-scale snitching by family and friends that went on in Communist Eastern Europe was not quite cricket, old boy. Now England is Little Stasi-on-Avon, a land where, even if you're well out of earshot of the gay-outreach officer, an infelicitous remark in the presence of a co-worker or even co-playmate is more than sufficient. Fourteen-year-old Codie Stott asked her teacher at Harrop Fold High School whether she could sit with another group to do her science project as in hers the other five pupils spoke Urdu and she didn't understand what they were saying. The teacher called the police, who took her to the station, photographed her, fingerprinted her, took DNA samples, removed her jewelry and shoelaces, put her in a cell for three and a half hours, and questioned her on suspicion of committing a Section Five "racial public-order offence." "An allegation of a serious nature was made concerning a racially motivated remark," declared the headmaster, Antony Edkins. The school would "not stand for racism in any form." In a statement, Greater Manchester Police said they took "hate crime" very seriously, and their treatment of Miss Stott was in line with "normal procedure."
… Restrictions on freedom of speech undermine the foundations of justice, including the bedrock principle: equality before the law. When it comes to free expression, Britain, Canada, Australia, and Europe are ever less lands of laws and instead lands of men—and women, straights and gays, Muslims and infidels—whose rights before the law vary according to which combination of these various identity groups they belong to.

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