Where do you draw the line between Freedom of expression and valid censorship?

Sometimes attempts to censor go very wrong, and something it is spot on, so lets look at two examples that illustrate where the line is when it comes to freedom of expression.

First case – Getting it wrong over at the London School of Economics

Carrying on from my Saturday posting about the students at LSE having their Jesus & Mo T-Shirts censored because some religious students were “offended”, I find that Robin Ince has been pondering about it all on his blog. As a comedian who uses satire and mockery of bad ideas as part of the tools of his trade, he illustrates very well just how truly daft the LSE Students Union have proven themselves to be by censoring the T-Shirts with cartoons on them of Jesus and Mo. He sets the scene  by explaining that Islamophobia is indeed real, but then explains that this is not that and writes about how truly daft this incident actually is …

I have been told the T shirts are racist. I think they are mocking of religion, but is it the sort of mockery that incites violence or potent hate? I am not sure how many racists started their journey to hate based on a four frame cartoon. The language of the cartoons I’ve seen is often satirical, it mocks belief systems. Is mocking a belief system out of bounds? If so should all our beliefs be protected, beyond religion to philosophy and science or anything that is powerful in creating your worldview? Why should beliefs that cannot be empirically proved have greater protection than beliefs of natural selection or cosmology?

I think that claiming these T shirts are racist downgrades racism. Is race defined by belief?

Does this mean all jokes about Mohammed are racist and thus any joke that mocks prophets or gods is not wanted in a polite society and to ensure everyone feels part of that society, we must ban mockery. This form of enlightened society may find itself short on jokes .

…Once we decide that we must curb our language and avoid all jokes towards a certain group for fear of offence, does this increase the outsider status and otherness of certain cultural groups which may exacerbate problems of inclusion?

…If we live in a nation where the most mockery must be censored as offence is the highest moral outrage, then we have to live in a silent country.

I am not a fan of offending for offending’s sake, but we have to look at the offence and think, what is the level of harm? If it is just a matter of some people saying, “well I am outraged” , then let them enjoy their outrage, it probably makes them feel better about themselves underneath it all, that outrage is like a free plane trip to the Olympian heights of golden ticketed victimhood.

Indeed yes, he truly nails it.

Nice to see that there are people out there like Robin who have a bit of common sense, but alas sadly in this instance common sense within the LSE is apparently so damn rare, it is almost akin to a fracking super-power.

Second case – getting it right over at the University of London

Meanwhile over at the University of London, they have decided to ban a couple of Islamic kooks who truly did step over the line …

Abdur Raheem Green and Hamza Tzortzis were this week stopped from appearing at the University of London following warnings from the Metropolitan Police.

But why ban them, don’t we believe it free speech?

We do, but these guys went way over the line and were prompting violent actions and hate speech, so no surprise that the University of London were not happy about them promoting stuff like this …

Green has been criticised in the past for claiming that “Islam is not compatible with democracy” and that a husband may use ”physical force… a very light beating” against his wife. In 2006 he was recorded suggesting that the buildings attacked on 9/11 fell too quickly and that they may have been demolished, and that “one way or another, there is a lot of deception going on right now”.

Hamza Tzortzis has previously endorsed barbaric punishments such as beheading, has said that homosexuality should be a criminal act, and has said that Islam is incompatible with democracy. He is a former member of the Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

Their response to this ban is to essentially threaten and intimidate the University and its staff … which perhaps illustrates that the University got it right. Oh and note that the University did not simply ban these guys because they did not like what they had to say, they banned them because the police warned them that not having such extremists on the premises might actually be rather a wise step.

In Summary

Freedom of speech entitles you to criticise any idea or belief, and to also (if you wish) promote your beliefs, even if it is obvious to all that your belief is not actually true. However, what it does not entitle you to do is to promote violence and immoral actions such as beheading, wife-beating or discrimination against the gay community at a public university.

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