Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The principled versus the pragmatics
on the issue of freedom of speech:

We debated the issue in Canada not too long ago, when Ezra Levant made his operatic stand to the Human Rights Commission, and when the malodorous Greg Felton was given a platform in a public library from which to spew conspiracies of the "anti-Zionist" kind (nudge nudge wink wink).

It is still a theoretical discussion in Canada. Not so in Holland, where murder (Van-Gogh) and persecution (Hirsi Ali) took place as a direct result of persons exercising their freedom of speech right.

Sign and Sight: Gelijn Molier seeks help from John Stuart Mill

... The principled regard freedom of speech as a fundamental right in the liberal democratic rule of law. Regardless of nature, content, and tone everybody must be allowed to say, write, or film whatever they want. If the statements cause offence, incite hatred or call for violence, criminal action can be taken. However, this is always after the fact. The ban on censorship is absolute.

...the pragmatic camp... also sees free speech as an important good, but not at any price. If free speech means that other rights are violated, then freedom of speech should be limited. If the choice is one between public safety and the right of expression, then the collective interest prevails over individual interest.

...Wilders would consider the banning of his film by the Dutch government proof that the Netherlands is giving in to Islam. If the film does air and riots break out, this will prove Wilders' position that Islam is an intolerant religion....

[Mill].. the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation;

...According to Mill history shows that especially people who claimed to speak or act in the name of truth, later proved to have erred. Modesty is called for, particularly regarding the truth. Criticism benefits the truth.

... 'truth of faith' is as fallible as any other truth, according to Mill. The possibility that criticism of religion can contribute to more understanding is in itself sufficient reason to allow, not ban it.

.. Mill's ... contemporaries apparently are not particularly convinced of the truth of their opinions. They therefore no longer base the right to protect a (religious) opinion on the truth, but rather on its utility for society... it can sometimes be useful to prohibit criticism of generally accepted (religious) beliefs – ... for the sake of peace. In that case the government appeals to the general interest of public order.

Even if you are thoroughly convinced of the "pernicious consequences", the "immorality" or "impiety" of an opinion, and the public at large agrees with you, the opinion in question must still be allowed, according to Mill. Indeed, especially then...

... Mill makes one reservation. If circumstances are such that the aired opinions lead to criminal acts, then even opinions are no longer sacrosanct.... acts that cause harm to others without legitimate reasons can and must be limited, if necessary through active intervention.

However, the possibility of negative consequences cannot be an argument to suspend fundamental rights: that would mean putting a premium on creating an atmosphere of fear and terror. Especially not in the wake of threatening words from abroad – see the speech by the Grand Mufti of Syria who held out the prospect of bloodshed.

..it is of the utmost importance that the Dutch prime minister ...publicly declares that airing unacceptable opinions is also part of an essential principle of the democratic rule of law. ..,And ..That at the same time Muslims will be protected by the Dutch state under any circumstances. And that they in turn can use their constitutional rights to verbally combat Wilders in all possible ways. A self-confident reply from Muslims based on arguments, pointing out his sophisms and false comparisons, can also reduce his project to normal proportions: a twelve-minute film about the Koran.


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