06 April 2009

Is Free Speech Already a Thing of the Past?

Are we fighting to keep alive something that is already in its death throes when we stand up for free speech?

It seems that voicing any criticism of values or beliefs, rather than being seen as an opportunity to engage in discussion, education and even social progression, is seen as oppression, intolerance and “disrespect” of the person expressing their opinions. Nowhere do we see this more than in the criticism of religion and nowhere do we see hypocrisy raising its ugly head more.

The idea of “love the sinner, hate the sin” is one that, in a somewhat altered form, I will applaud. A child who is confident of their parents’ love will value their approval. Behaviour that is frowned upon is likely to be changed and avoided in the future. The value of disapproval (parental, peer and societal) has been responsible for many changes in the moral zeitgeist. Disapproval of drunk driving has certainly paid dividends, the same seems to be working with smoking, and was doing so long before the recent smoking laws. Peer pressure is actually seen as the most effective form of “discipline” for certain age groups.

This being the case, “peer pressure” in the form of free speech can be very dangerous to beliefs or behaviours that cannot be adequately defended.

Free speech allows someone to criticise, for example, the genital mutilation of children. In defence of it, the Rabbis and Mullahs refer to their own religious and cultural beliefs (not beliefs held by the young children whose genitals they are attacking, in spite of any plans for future indoctrination) with the occasional mention of a reduction of the spread of STDs in the case of male circumcision - though the same “defence” cannot be used to justify female genital mutilation (FGM). If there is open discussion about genital mutilation, there is a chance that, like smoking and driving whilst drunk, the zeitgeist may slowly turn away from these barbaric practices and the choice to have sensitive areas of the body removed would be left until adulthood when an informed decision could be made by the person whose body is being violated. Of course, if the people promoting these grotesque practices can get laws passed against the “defamation of religion” and then use those laws to claim that any criticism of circumcision and FGM is an “offence”, then well over half their battle has been won for them.

The silencing of dissent would have kept slaves in chains and denied women the vote, both of which had Scriptural links, so the application of a law preventing protestation in the future could deny all sorts of rights and freedoms to those who need the support of others to claim them.

The UN resolution (details in the links below) is a gross violation not only of the UN’s mandate, but also of the concept of “defamation”. In spite of being dropped from the Durban II conference following objections from an increasing number of western nations, on 26th March, The U.N. Human Rights Council adopted the non-binding text, proposed by Pakistan on behalf of Islamic states, with a vote of 23 states in favour, 11 against and 13 abstentions. Once we start down this treacherous road and criticism of any practice that can be linked to religious belief could be silenced by law, where does it stop? In Africa, children sometimes have metal stakes driven into their heads in order to “release the demons”, is that the future that awaits us if resolutions like this one are ever passed?

UN resolution: http://www.undemocracy.com/A-RES-62-154.pdf
Article by Christopher Hitchens: http://www.slate.com/id/2212662/
Pat Condell video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bzTA_D5NpU&feature=channel_page
Downing Street Petition: http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/UNreligion/#detail
Report on 26th March “Human Rights” vote: http://digg.com/d1nLXx