Multicultural Free Speech

Even if you haven't really been paying attention to the news here, the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill has been extremely controversial here. To the best of my knowledge, it's aimed at punishing anyone who's been trying to incite religious or racial tensions, essentially limiting free speech to a degree, by limiting people's ability to express their views. While I agree with the bill in principle, it's certainly not the right way to go about doing it.

The bill was heavily pushed by Tony Blair's government, and the original version of the bill contained a number of other parts that critics felt that made it too overstreatching. The House of Lords created a certain number of amendments to the bill, which made the Labour party believe that it was too watered down, and the revised version was just passed by one crucial vote.

This is coming at an interesting time in Britian, first with two trials that have been going on while I was here, with BNP leader Nick Griffin recently on trial for comments that he made while an undercover journalist filmed a party meeting, in which several comments were made about other races. He faced four counts of Inciting Racial Hatred, was cleared for two and is going to be retrialed for the remaining two. The other man is Abu Hamza, a radical cleric who has been accused of fifteen charges of inciting racial hatred and soliciting murder after being accused of advocating for people to kill non-muslims, a charge that he denies.

The second major issue that has recently hit the headlines is the scandal involving several Danish Newspapers which recently printed a cartoon depicting Muhammad with a bomb for a hat, which has sparked major protests and riots in Middle Eastern countries, as well as cut offs of diplomatic relations between several European and Middle Eastern countries.

Needless to say this is a really akwards time for the bill to be passed with it's limitations. I imagine that if it had been voted on in a week or so, there could be other, drastic results from this.

I think that many of the reactions that have been coming out as a result of this have been slightly overblown, mainly the cartoon problem. I think that anything that goes against racial cooperation is bad, but opinions are opinions. Soliciting murder is different, and I think is something that should be presused, and I think that there should be should be something about overly racist comments, but freedom of speech comes first. No question about that. People have opinions, good or bad, and I think that people should be allowed to express themselves, again, good for bad, short of them advocating for the abolition of an entire country or advocating the deaths of others.

The entire episode with the Cartoon is disgusting. While I think that it was pretty tasteless of the newspapers to print something like that, I don't see it as a reason to burn flags, cut off diplomatic ties and to threaten and kidnap people, all of which has happened in the past couple days. They should be offended, and they should let everyone know. If people aren't allowed to do that, who gets to decide? Karen Traviss, who's also writing about this, had an excellent point, where someone felt that their faith was more important than anyone's freedom of expression. Her reaction, and mine is that's a great opinion. However, it doesn't entitle anyone them to silence everyone else.

The entire thing has gone beyond a simple cartoon, but become a much bigger thing - further clash between the West and East. While it's against Islamic tradition to dipict any holy figures, but it's Danish law that allows for this sort of thing to happen, and in other Western countries. In my view, both sides need to accept that. I see it as someone getting pissed off over how a neighbor maintains a property next door. You might not like it, but it's really out of your hands, and any fuss that you make over it is moot. A better understanding of each other on both sides is really the only solution that I can see here.

Tying this into the trials, I think that understanding of all cultures is the ultimate solution to this. People might look different, talk different, but with better understanding of each other, this sort of thing shouldn't happen. In my opinion, it doesn't matter what you look like, talk like, believe or understand. Respect is what does matter.