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