Drooling on the Pillow

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Goose/Gander -- Both Cooked 

Hillel Halkin makes an interesting point in a column in today's New York Sun.

I don't find myself agreeing with the prime
minister of Iran about many things, but about
one thing, I believe, he is right. It is inconsistent
to claim, in the name of freedom of expression,
that a Danish newspaper has the right to publish
any cartoon of Muhammad that it wants and at
the same time to have laws, as do at least seven
Western countries, outlawing denial of the

Absolutely true. One should remember, though, that Mr. Ahmadinejad's solution to this inconsistancy is to grant government the power to forbid any and all speech. I think we want to move in a different direction.

The moment you begin to get cute with the penal codes and try to criminalize unpopular attitudes, opinions and thoughts, you are bound to produce absurdities which will privilege one half of an argument, prolonging the fight and embittering the other side. It should be obvious that this isn't how it works in a free society and that the more foolish or hateful a point of view may be, the quicker fresh air will kill it off.

I don't consider myself a First Amendment absolutist, but the goalposts have been moving on this issue over the last decade or two and those whose positions represented mainstream thought on free speech 25 years ago, now may find themselves fighting off more 'enlightened' attempts to put limits on speech in the name of sensitivity and multiculturalism.

In Great Briton a law (the Religious Hatred Bill) has been passed which intended to criminalize satirical or denigrating reference to religion. It was understood to be on behalf of Briton's growing Muslim minority and was supported strongly by them. At the last moment it was rendered largely toothless by the House of Lords, but, although I'm not a weatherman, I can see which way the wind is blowing.

A closely related issue is hate crime laws which have an additional layer of absurdity in that they claim to be able to adjudicate the perpetrator's mind at the moment of the crime and levy additional penalties for bad thoughts. If we're capable of making laws this bad, how long before any group with a majority feels entitled to outlaw their opposition?
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