David Waywell responds to readers’ comments and Twitter debate about his previous piece criticizing the proposed ban on Donald Trump visiting the UK. 


talkingI never write out of a sense of certainty. Merely a sense of confidence. There is a difference.

I don’t believe that oft-repeated argument that says that every view is equally valid. To believe that would be to make each of us meaty bundles of doubts and insecurities. Nothing meaningful could ever be said or written if we had to prefix every statement with ‘in my opinion’ or ‘of course, I might be wrong but…’ Write what you confidently believe and damn the consequences. Indicate your doubts if doubts exist and, at the same time, be ready to admit if you stank the place out with bad reasoning.

This postscript to my previous article isn’t a confession that I was wrong but it is an admission that I do now have an opportunity to address a lingering doubt.

I write these articles in isolation except for an internet connection and a window that looks out on walls, windows, garages, trees. I don’t calculate what I’m writing. I just write what I think I know or can intuit from the evidence. It’s gratifying when people agree with anything I do write, hard when people disagree. For much of yesterday, I suspected that I’d been very wrong about our freedom of speech. Where I perhaps have a weakness is that as an atheist I find it hard to measure religious insult. As a skeptic, I also recognize the ubiquity of stupid ideas. When Trump said what he said, I thought there was nothing that couldn’t be outclassed by a good dose of reason. I saw it as a political gamble. I immediately started to think in terms of political calculation and the prospects for Iowa.

As the outrage began to build momentum elsewhere, I looked at what I’d written here and began to wonder if I was wrong. Today, I notice that the mainstream press have finally caught up and have published their own articles condemning the Trump petition. Yesterday, I only had comments from regular readers to make me feel more secure. Rob’s comment about a ‘Thought Crime Act 2016’ was a great relief and the first to confirm my sense that we’re experiencing an Orwellian moment. Nehad neatly summarized the debate as ‘a minefield’ and added a welcome note of skepticism by pointing out that context is always important. My old friend, Radical Rodent, directed my attention to Paris, which reminded me of how just a few months ago many of the same people protesting Trump were on the streets shouting ‘Je suis Charlie’ in defense of a cartoonist’s right to offend. Lyn offered an alternative viewpoint, suggesting that my article was patronising. I agreed that it was patronising but also that I was glad it was. It’s very hard not to sound impatient when reminding people of something as glaringly obvious as our freedom of speech. It was David, however, who made me pause. In the midst of agreeing with me, he also dropped this little ticking doubt into the conversation.

‘I think the boxer and Trump fall foul of EU legislation.’

Eek! I sank back into my chair, which creaked and then broke. ‘Damn!’ I muttered as I picked myself up from the floor. It would have been a contrived comedy moment except cheap office chairs never last long under my six foot plus size and bulk. ‘Do they really run foul?’ I wondered, kneeling to read his line again.

Because if they do, then perhaps my argument is invalid and I would need to pen a postscript. If Trump or Fury did go beyond what is allowed by our freedom of speech, then it would be impossible to defend them or to criticize people demanding their ban. The basis of my argument had assumed that only the most dangerous language is disallowed, such as inciting people to murder and commit other crimes. I immediately consulted EU law.

Article 10 – Freedom of expression

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. […]

  2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

I’m no lawyer but that sounds broad enough to cover anything that could be said in both reasonable debate but also dim witted stupidity. But I couldn’t stop there. This EU law is now Article 10 of the UK’s 1998 Human Rights Act, article 9 of which reads:

Article 9. Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

  2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

That bit about limitations is perhaps significant. Would Tyson Fury’s comments on homosexuality or abortion fall foul of those limitations? Better legal minds out there might be able to tell me (pro bono) but, for the moment, I remain unconvinced. I would argue that there was no intent to provoke trouble, merely a heartfelt expression of some rather dim views that his religion encourages him to believe.

We are not just talking about Fury, however, but the theoretical case of Donald Trump. Would he have fallen foul of UK legislation? There are two other Acts which are worth quoting. One is the Public Order Act of 1986, which has a provision against Racial Hatred:

A person who uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, is guilty of an offence if—

(a) he intends thereby to stir up racial hatred, or

(b) having regard to all the circumstances racial hatred is likely to be stirred up thereby.

There is also The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 which also mentions ‘inciting inflammatory rumours about an individual or an ethnic group, for the purpose of spreading racial discontent’. It does have a rather telling ‘Protection of freedom of expression’.

Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system.

Now, without having spent ten years studying law, I can only summarise all of this as a whole lot of ‘thou shalt not’ sprinkled with a good dose of ‘hey! I just don’t know’. The law seems to say that we cannot look to stir up hatred of any kind but we are free to say what we like, even if that offends other people.

So, isn’t it quite likely that ‘expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices’ would produce a situation by which ‘having regard to all the circumstances racial hatred is likely to be stirred up thereby’? Or is it the difference between angering others with our views (legal) and expressing views that might incite others to engage in hatred (illegal)?

Hands up if you’re confused.

When Fury does break the law quite flagrantly is, of course, when he threatened Oliver Holt. Yet, oddly, that aspect has received perhaps the least coverage in the past two weeks. I would never defend that and, in fact, I’d encourage the authorities to act. Journalists across the globe are threatened on a daily basis and it’s not something we should casually accept in this country.

Regarding Trump: I can only repeat that nothing I’ve read convinces me that he came anywhere close to falling foul of EU, UK, or American laws. I welcome any comments to persuade me otherwise. Trump plays horrible politics in a campaign that seeks advantages through the meanest tricks in the Big Book of Political Dark Arts. Is he being racist? I genuinely think not or, at least, no more than Rand Paul who this morning repeated Trump’s idea but stripping it of its religious element.

My final word: whilst provoking my doubts, David also summarized my conclusion better than I ever could:

Public outrage is the oxygen of hate.  It’s better to starve it than feed it.

 

David Waywell writes and cartoons at The Spine.

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8 Comments on "Trump, Fury & Stupidity: A Postscript"

  1. A by product of stifling free speech is that idiotic views like Trump espoused remain private and hidden . Now voters in the US can be in no doubt about what they are voting for in Trump and freedom of speech has become the rope upon which he has hung himself.

  2. Thanks David just caught up with this .I had just asked you on the original article if you agreed that if Fury or Trump had broken any laws they should be prosecuted. I am not a lawyer but feel like you however distasteful his views Trump has not broken any laws. I agree Censorship aids the bigots . As I said on the previous thread some on Question time want Fury banned the Sports Personality of the year event. in the end we are in danger of banning anything that offends us which is a dangerous route to go down.

    • To be honest, when I wrote the first article, I thought (initially) this is common sense. Why do I need to write it? Then the petition grew and grew and I did begin to question myself. It took about 24 hours for the media to catch up. The difference, I think, between journalists reporting the simple facts of the petition’s popularity and the columnists and critical thinkers having chance to put their objections into words. I’ve now read and heard really good arguments from elsewhere. I read that Vince Cable pretty much said that the petition is dangerous, as are the ideas behind it.

      In my humble opinion, I don’t think Trump or Fury broke the law because of that distinction between merely offending and deliberately stirring hated. On the second, Trump *might* be guilty. I suspect, however, he’s not stirring as much as pandering. Even if he is, better to lance this boil now before it gets worse. America’s problem is that too often hides all that right-wing anger in armed compounds in the backwoods. A national debate about extremism of all kinds is surely not a bad thing.

  3. Yes I like your distinction between “merely offending” and “deliberately stirring hatred” There is for me a big difference in someone saying something I disagree with and someone inciting hate like say a Preacher who for example says “all infidels must be killed” For sure it is a debate we need and debating is not something that is allowed in those countries that do not have freedom of speech. A Complex area that is sometimes not black and white.

  4. David, I see that Greater Manchester police have stated that in the case of Tyson Fury no criminal offence has taken place, though as a sop they have recorded it as a ‘hate incident’ whatever that means. In the case of his comments about abortion they may have been on rocky ground anyway, given it is still illegal in part of the UK (N Ireland) with a maximum life sentence, so in comparing it to paedophilia Tyson Fury, whose mother is from Belfast, was in accord with (some) UK lawmakers. In looking into this I have found that amazingly homosexual acts were illegal in Northern Ireland up until 1982, with the law only being changed when the UK lost a case brought against it in the ECHR, same sex marriage is still not legal there. Perhaps those people so keen for Fury not to be allowed to stand for SPOTY would do more good directing their efforts at the UK government to extend the same human rights to women and gay couples in Northern Ireland that are enjoyed in the rest of the UK.

    The Trump petition is up to 500,000 signatures, that means that 63.5 million people either don’t care enough to sign it or don’t want him banned from the UK.

    I do disagree with your opening comments about views being equally valid. Unless something can be proved demonstrably to be true or false then certainty is for the young and the dogmatic. Thinking your own personal view is no more important than others doesn’t mean you don’t believe you are right and they are wrong, or that you don’t act on what you believe, it just means that you accept you COULD be wrong and someone who accepts they could be wrong is less likely to jump in with both feet without giving the subject a bit more thought or to seek to impose their idea of what is right on others. Churchill once said that the best argument against democracy was a five minute conversation with the average voter (there speak a man who never won a popular vote) of course everyone thinks that the average voter he speaks of is some other numbskull, not themselves, that they have some special insight which is the one thing I love about the idea of democracy, everyone has one vote, no one persons view is any more valid than anyone elses, nor should it be as we all have to live with the consequences of the choices made.

    • Thanks, as always, Rob. That’s good on so many levels but I’ll skip the first part because I think we’d probably simply agree. One note, I keep repeating: why is Fury allowed to threaten a journalist? How is that not a real threat to free speech and the freedom of the press?

      The point about views being equally valid. I’m not hugely into philosophy and especially French philosophy but years ago I was reading (too much) Derrida for my PhD (you do such dumb things when young) and I was always half-in-love with his work except it felt like it had no moral end. If all language exists as a loose network of meaning, then everything is defined by everything else. ‘A dog’ isn’t just a thing in the real world but something in language different to ‘cat’ or ‘kettle’. Morality too was loose and ‘good’ defined by ‘evil’ (as well as ‘cat’, ‘dog’, ‘kettle’). It’s that quality he calls ‘Différance’. I always *hated* that view of the world. Then I found one line (I don’t recollect where) where he said something like: human beings are trapped in this maze of meanings and nobody is at the centre. However, in order to live, we have to pretend to be at the centre. I always found that profound and from that moment I stopped reading all that psycholinguistic nonsense and went back to reading poetry and novels. It chimed with me, I guess, because I’m *constantly* quoting the end of Heart of Darkness by which point Marlow knows that civilization is a joke and that we’re all beasts. However, in order to save his sanity is realises that he must lie and pretend that it’s not and that we aren’t.

      That’s what I meant by writing our of confidence but not certainty. By that I mean: I always suspect that I’m wrong but I have to write (as Derrida might say) from my own centre. I have to write what I believe is right but always aware that I might be wrong. The very worst thinkers, writers, academics, critics, and artists are plagued by postmodernism where everything they do is in parentheses. We are plagued by Dostoyevsky’s line ‘If God does not exist, everything is permitted’. I don’t believe that for a moment.

      This is turning into an mini essay so you’ll have to excuse me. You’ve identified the subject that’s preoccupying at the moment. The other night I watched Hitchens debate with Al Sharpton and was struck by the way Hitchens didn’t really defend atheism against Sharpton’s belief that without God there’s no ‘good’. The obvious answer that Hitchens didn’t give was that science can provide the existence of types of ‘good’. You could argue that natural selection selects a form of ‘good’. You could argue that a coffee cup that’s intact is more ‘good’ than one that’s broken. If the heat death of the universe is our only ‘bad’, that anything that’s further from that is ‘good’.

      That is to say: I am an atheist and don’t believe in God. However, I believe that forms, structures, civilization, family, friendship, debate, sporting rules, manners and so much more things are good because they give shape to the meaningless. They delay our entropy. It is morally right, then, to hold our form. Hold our shape. Don’t give in to shapelessness and doubt. Religion too could be a good if only they didn’t keep making us destroy each other.

      That’s my longwinded way of saying: you have to doubt and be ready to change your mind but, at the same time, don’t let it stop letting you believe or saying what you believe with confidence.

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