“Freedom of Speech is a right, but…”. Err, no. No buts!
There will be much written about the conviction of Geert Wilders in Holland on Friday last week, on December 9th, 2016. For those who are unfamiliar with Geert Wilders: he is the founder and leader of the Dutch ‘Party for Freedom’, the PVV.
Much will be written about the guilty verdict. Much will be written about the conviction of a ‘far right’ leader, for ‘incitement to racial hatred’. Furthermore, the fact of the conviction will provide timeless opportunity for his political opponents to demonstrate the ‘hateful’, ‘far-right’, ‘discriminatory’, ‘racist’, credentials of Geert Wilders through their usual media. It will provide his political opponents more opportunity to avoid confronting the content of Geert Wilder’s message and the validity of the analyses he has made on the effect of immigration policies on his country when considering measurable metrics and available statistics, as well as anecdotal evidence from a public fearful of expressing themselves.
Something is wrong. Very wrong indeed. In our discourse we have lost the very essence of what ‘Freedom of Speech’ is. The discussion of its meaning has become a debatable matter. This is wrong.
Freedom of speech is our right, “but …”: how many times have you heard a talking head commence a sentence with these words, or words to that effect, usually concluding that saying certain things is not permissible? This is the essence of ‘Political Correctness’: the control of words and thoughts.
Geert Wilders openly advocates his opposition to Islam. For this, he needs full time physical protection due to real threats against his person. In other words, there exist within his country people who would murder him merely for holding and expressing an opinion, and he needs to be protected from them. He openly expresses his desire to have fewer Moroccans in his country and in this, he publicises the views of many of his fellow countrymen. [Ed: other Dutch politicians have expressed such views about Moroccans, but were not dragged through the courts; see this article by Douglas Murray].
For this, he has found himself in court and it is this fact that I find very wrong indeed, for what it means is that legislators have imposed laws upon people that would inhibit their instinct of honestly expressing their views.
So why is this wrong? To me it is instinctive, presumably from my upbringing and education in England. It is a lesson from our history that we really should not be forgetting.
“To jaw jaw is always better than to war war.” Winston Churchill.
“I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.” Voltaire
Without the social glue of discourse, the ability to share views, understand one another better and explain to one another errors in thinking, extremist thought can develop. Scrutiny and criticism of ideas has been the foundation of human advancements in science, industry and wellbeing since the European Enlightenment. Open discourse is essential to this. Let there be light!
Of course Geert Wilders should be able to express his views on the demographic makeup of his country and how Dutch people can control immigration, if that is what he chooses to do: that is his right – that is freedom! It is for those who disagree with his analyses and opinions to demonstrate why he is wrong, through reason and civil discourse, or as the case may be, conclude that he is right.
But his political opponents do not wish to do this, so laws are passed in an attempt to prevent an open discourse to take place. The term ‘Hate Crime’ has become recognised by the public, without them having any understanding as to what it actually means: it is a recipe for division and disenfranchisement. It is a crude mechanism to criminalise thought and discourage critical thinking.
So Geert Wilders finds that in his own country he is unable to express the view that it would be preferable if fewer Moroccans lived in Holland, without having his collar felt. He remains undeterred as he has made clear in his video statement given in the aftermath of the court case, in which he confirms that he will appeal the sentence.
The real disgrace is that he is in court at all. The real disgrace is that people are becoming reticent to express their feelings and views, for fear of being punished by the state for doing so. This is not a feature of a healthy society.
We should not be complacent in this country either. On 26th April 2014, Paul Weston was arrested in Winchester for reading in public lines written by Winston Churchill. No charges were brought, but the fact remains that he was arrested and detained by the Police. Again, this is not a feature of a healthy society.
It should not be lost in all the writings, the debates, the discussions of Geert Wilder’s conviction, that he has never advocated harm against other people, nor has he suggested that any individual’s rights should be infringed. There are no people who need to be protected from Geert Wilders, nor from members of his Party.
This is the essence of why the law has no business interfering in this matter. If the ability to jaw jaw is removed, the likelihood of war war is increased. I fear the importance of freedom of expression is not instinctively understood widely, and this is both shameful and dangerous.
Where freedom of expression, exercised by an individual or group of individuals, advocates violence toward or material loss to another party, then the law has a place to intervene. Hence we have laws relating to slander and libel. We have laws relating to incitement to commit a criminal offence. But we are free to shout ‘Fire!’ in a crowded cinema, and if we do, we should expect a bill to compensate all the cinema goers, the cinema owner, the local fire and police service etc. etc. for their costs, and we should expect the law to ensure payment of that bill.
There are no justifiable arguments to limit free speech. There is no ‘but’. I would defend to the death your right to disagree with me and say so, but I would disapprove of what you say.