Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Where to Draw the Line

Writing in the December 20th Daily Star, Ralf Dahrendorf makes the case for erring on the side of free speech even in the face of the Islamist threat. His view on where to draw the line between protected free expression and illegal incitement to violence is exactly right, in my opinion:

Nowadays, we worry about incitement - using free speech to provoke violence. I do not know how many Islamic leaders preach murder and mayhem in mosques and help recruit suicide bombers from among their congregants; but even if it is only a handful, they pose a question that must be answered.

That answer must be given carefully. For free societies to flourish, the boundaries of free speech should always be widened rather than narrowed. In my view, Holocaust denial should not be outlawed, in contrast to the demand for all, or any, Jews to be killed. Similarly, attacks against the West in mosques, however vicious, should not be banned, in contrast to open encouragement to join suicide death squads.

What about the mere praise of "martyrs" who have died while murdering others? The boundary between implicit and explicit incitement is not easily drawn, but, again, it should be wider rather than narrower.

Free speech is immensely precious, and so is the dignity and integrity of humans. Both require active and alert citizens who engage what they do not like rather than calling for the state to clamp down on it. Direct incitement to violence is regarded - as it should be - as an unacceptable abuse of free speech; but much that is disagreeable in David Irving's statements and that of hate preachers does not fall into this category. Their rants should be rejected with argument, not with police and prisons.

The way to protect free speech in the face of Islamist barbarism is not to deny Salafists the right to express their views, no matter how offensive; rather, it lies in preventing Islamists from denying others their right to free expression.


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