Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland until I return to the Murcia region of Spain in the Autumn for a month or so
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Thursday, 2 February 2006

Freedom of speech - it's tough sometimes

BNP Leader Nick Griffin and BNP activist Mark Collett were cleared today of two charges and four charges, respectively, of offences related to racial hatred by a jury at Leeds Crown Court.

Whatever I may think of what the two said (I loathe it, just for the record), or what the jury members have decided (I find it dismaying), I do believe firmly in our system of trial by jury. If that is what the jury has decided, then so be it - we have to accept it and move on; it is completely wrong to criticise such a verdict if one truly believes in a jury system.

I now think that my somewhat equivocal opposition to the introduction of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill was wrong, even if on balance I had supported the right of people to say more or less what they think in almost every circumstance. This equivocation on my part was linked to the fact that some of the views expressed were directly (or potentially indirectly) targeted at gays. In a comment to the first of the two of my posts linked to above Gav stated what is, as I quickly realised (through gritted teeth), the only sensible conclusion to come to:


"I think I have to stand by my initial reaction no matter which extremists agree with me -- the law is another thought law and if people who would be thought-criminals are allowed to continue saying objectionable things then we are all better for it.

"It is better to have nonsense said publicly where it can be debated, than for it to be said privately where no-one of any sense will hear it and debate."

- the second paragraph in particular is the crux of such situations. One must be prepared to confront unpalatable viewpoints and people who hold them must have the freedom to express them so that others can debate with them and defeat their noisome arguments. The fact that some of those who [seemingly belatedly] voiced their opposition to the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill also hold views on homosexuals which I do not find congenial (that's a mild way of putting it!) obscured my fundamental belief that freedom of speech is ultimately of much greater importance and of course one cannot choose by whom such rights may be exercised - they apply to me, to Nick Griffin and to Iqbal Sacranie and to every other person in the United Kingdom. I will try not to let my own prejudices (and fears, not least in connection with the BNP, who in addition to their views on race hold very negative views about homosexuality as well) lead me into confusion about this in future.

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