Modern Liberty: free speech must be for all
02 Mar 2009

Modern LibertyThe United Nations’ retreat from defending free expression is at odds with the concept of universal rights, says
Jo Glanville

This is the text of a talk delivered by Index on Censorship editor Jo Glanville at the Convention on Modern Liberty in London on 28 Feb 2009

I want to start by looking at two events which I think marked a turning point for free speech — and global attitudes towards it. Both happened last year — coincidentally at the same time.

First, in March, the UN Human Rights Council redefined the role of its special rapporteur on freedom of expression –– declaring that he should monitor abuses of the right to free expression when they form an act of racial or religious discrimination. This has insidiously turned the rapporteur into a potential enemy of the very human right he is supposed to defend: someone whose job is no longer simply to monitor abuses to free speech, but to consider that human right as itself an abuse. At the same time, the council passed a resolution, condemning what it called a ‘campaign of defamation of religions’ and calling on governments to take action.

That very same month, in fact just the day before the resolution on the special rapporteur, the Dutch politician Geert Wilders released his film Fitna online. Wilders — for those of you lucky enough not to know him –– is a platinum blond provocateur — who has made a reputation for himself attacking Islam. He wants Muslim immigration to the Netherlands to be stopped. ‘Islam is the Trojan Horse in Europe,’ he told the Dutch parliament in 2007. ‘If we do not stop Islamification now, Eurabia and Netherabia will just be a matter of time.’ His film Fitna was a crude piece of propaganda –– equating Islam with violence. No Dutch public broadcaster screened it. Although the Dutch Muslim Broadcasting Association did in fact offer to show it –– if they could view it first for illegal content and if Wilders would take part in a debate. But Wilders turned down that invitation. And the Dutch press centre offered too –– but wanted Wilders to pay for security costs. Again he refused.

There were, at the time, apocalyptic predictions of another outcry of Danish cartoons proportions –– but that scenario failed to materialise. The film was a damp squib. Nevertheless, the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban ki-Moon weighed in to the row and described it as ‘offensively anti-Islamic’ — adding for clarity ‘the right of free expression is not at stake here’.

All of this was made all the more pointed by the timing. Last year was the 60th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. But here was the global guardian of these rights undermining them. So entrenched has the notion become that that there is a right not to be offended, that neither the secretary general nor the council seemed to feel any need to argue for or justify their position.

And our government, just two weeks ago, reinforced that position when they banned Geert Wilders from coming into the country. I must say though that I was puzzled by Lord Pearson inviting him over now to show the film, nearly a year after the event. I have my suspicions that the Lords may not have known how to watch YouTube.

But the UK government’s reasons for keeping Wilders out –– that his opinions threaten community security and therefore public security –– is also becoming a common refrain when it comes to critics of religion –– a justification for limiting free speech and a powerful argument for censorship.

We saw the same argument, again last year, when Random House dropped The Jewel of Medina. A historical romance about the Prophet Mohammed’s relationship with Ayesha. In a statement, the publisher said that ‘the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment’ –– as a result, they would not be publishing the book ‘for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel’. Now I wouldn’t of course dispute the fact that these are serious considerations that have to be made, but the irony is that it’s this pre-emptive censorship (whether it’s deciding not to publish or to ban someone from coming into the country) which serves to inflame the situation –– because of the publicity that comes with the ban.

But it is the Random House or UN Human Rights Council view that now prevails: potentially offensive speech is so dangerous that it cannot be given a platform. Our liberty is better served by deploying censorship rather than protecting the right to free speech.

This is the Alice in Wonderland world of human rights. Where you the best way to exercise your rights is by having them denied.

One of the most astute writers on this issue, Kenan Malik, has observed that a profound shift has taken place in our attitude to free speech. He has written that it is no longer seen as an inherent good, necessary for expressing moral autonomy, maintaining social progress and safeguarding our other freedoms. It’s come to be seen as damaging: as a problem. And, I would add, it is the voices who want to limit free speech that are now occupying the moral high ground –– not the human rights defenders.

We published a special issue of Index on Censorship last year marking the 60th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. And we asked one of the most distinguished international defenders of free speech, Aryeh Neier, to write a piece for us. Neier was for many years executive director of Human Rights Watch. And is now president of the Open Society Institute. Neier was a refugee from Nazi Germany. Yet as head of the American Civil Liberties Union in the 70s, he took a controversial stand on one of the most famous free speech battles of the past 60 years –– the right of neo-Nazis to march through a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood –– a neighbourhood not just of Jews, but of Holocaust survivors. In looking back at that storm, he wrote for Index: ‘Ensuring that all may speak freely, no matter how repugnant their views, prevents the authorities from using the pretext that they are blocking hate speech as a means to censor expression that actually disturbs them for other reasons.’

Standing up for repugnant views can put you in a very uncomfortable position. At Index on Censorship over the past year we’ve had to stand up for racists and Holocaust deniers. My colleague Padraig Reidy was somewhat disturbed to get a Christmas card from one of the leading Holocaust deniers, with a most delightful photograph of Hitler’s favourite apologists at the notorious conference on the Holocaust in Tehran three years ago. And a free DVD with David Irving on the cover in handcuffs. And I’ve had the honour of being described as charming by the BNP.

They think we’re their friends.

We’re not.

But we do know that the discomfort this entails is necessary for a free and open society –– a society that acknowledges the universal right to free speech and doesn’t cut the cloth of human rights to fit the preoccupations and politics of our time.

8 responses to “Modern Liberty: free speech must be for all”

  1. […] The Index on Censorship – Modern Liberty: free speech must be for all […]

  2. Torture in America
    They claim they only want to torture the Arab but some people don’t realize how well they have it at the Hanoi Hilton, unfortunately they don’t have enough guts to smoke a joint in America and find out what it is like to be black in America. The examples of what we are living through are blatantly put in our faces every day. From their BART subway, to the Chicago crime fighting units, to New York and the Nazi committing sexual assault with their Billy clubs, to New Orleans and from Rodney king LAs. The lady runs across the highway rather than take a chance of being locked in their prisons; she is hit and killed by a car. The parolee would rather jump off the bridge than risk being taken into custody for a minor traffic offence. But each time we hear of these incidents we are just suppose to believe that it is just one bad apple or just one crazy immoral. It is time we look at the atmosphere that encourages these Nazi to carry out their punishment against our drug users, dealers or other non supporters of their silent genocide. They use their phony morality and fraudulent science, as they deny the people their genetic, neurological, historical, natural, medical, ancestral, or religious rights. All because some foreign owned pharmaceutical companies and their gods in white coats who worship Apollo and swear to Hippocrates claim our modern day Thomas Edison’s and Jefferson, George Washington and Henry Ford’s are criminal or that they are just helping these people out by serving them. When they are allowed to deny man his Natural Rights or claim they don’t have enough time to serve Jewish food in prisons or they just can’t do anything about all their gays that they create or house in their prisons. When they openly and well document the torture of the governor of California, libertarian candidate, “until he pissed blood” then gave him a chemical substitute for weed, then it is time to look
    to see what infraction they will go after next. What defenseless American or immoral decadent entrepreneur will become the next victim? For the only thing different from the right wing and the talibomb is one is just a cult.

    How the electronic wizards of today are using their high technology to eliminate the undesirables and play god

    Let’s look at the facts since the beginning of time man has used magic to play god. During the Roman times the priest would use tricks to make the temple doors open automatically. During Lewis and Clark days they would throw gun powder on the fire or strike a match. Today is no different. We have all seen magicians of today make the statue of liberty disappear, or he stands outside a locked armored car and raises a black curtain and then lowers it and he is inside, these magic tricks are all fun and games, until you get someone who can mix in a few medical miracles and some electronic high technology then they can control the crave. They can criminalize the undesirables for barring arms against their harms, and deny a whole population the right of laws. They hide in the back ground running the people broke as they profit endlessly. The logic of the drug war will not be debated here. From attacking the sick and stealing cars from the handicap as they claim to be helping out all these blacks and they fill our prisons and gut our cities with their crime and violence. This article will address the different types of medical and high technology weapons they are using to destroy the peaceful people’s lives and freedom for their wallets.
    Sound technology: They can cancel the noise of an engine because sound travels in waves: make a wave equal to the one being produced and it becomes silent. Directed sound; They can direct the sound waves so that only one person can hear it, no need for ear pieces. sound technology is classified information “Columbia journalism Review” you are just to believe that the Arab who was tortured in quantamino really did hear god telling him to confess his sins, you are just to believe that it was god who told the pot dealer to condemn the first page of the Christian bible and join the 700 club, if you don’t you must be crazy right? .
    Medical miracles: They have needless injectors powered by air, air riffles they now display can rip a steel can to shreds, but you don’t hear about their needless injectors. They can change they yoke of an egg from orange to yellow without damaging the shell. Deplete a man’s sugar and you can make a sugar addict, make him allergic to peanuts then you can chase him around the world with your peanut oil. From their designer drugs they make for their athletics to their breathalyzer pills they make for the Europeans do you really believes they only lie about their fen fen and viox, when they put parraquat on weed knowing that it does nothing but give the pot smoker cancer.
    Sensory deprivation, aroma therapy They have the ability to make a horrid smell , like an aerosol can one little spray and in a few seconds you will smell it and beg for death, but unable to identify the source.
    Microwaves: thermal imaging photos, they can see inside a cow to determine the best time to milk it. They can find black oil thousands of feet below the ground. They have waves that they can aim at someone and either repulse or attract that person.
    Lasers: They can fill a room with lasers that can cut a person in half but you wouldn’t be able to see them. They can make an image appear on the wall and the unsuspecting could think it god.
    Satellite: we all have seen what Google maps can do but that only what they allow the average person to see they have the ability to zoom in on the face or license plate of their target. They can shoot a satellite out of space on a ship in a storm. Nannon technology: you may have seen their TV showing a fly, the song ends with wish I was a fly on the wall I all ready am. They have the ability to implant nanon receivers and cameras in roaches, birds, flies and bugs. Harpers magazine points out they are only a few years away from human trails.
    Stealth technology with their flying drones that can carry as many bombs as a full jet and you can’t see them. With their camouflage technology they can park a tank across the street and you wouldn’t see it. The samurai warrior was a master at stealth movements, able to walk across rice paper without damaging it. They can make glass as hard as nails, and you can build with them, their holograms, micro video cameras and LCD clothing do you really believe that Harry Potters vanishing blanket is impossible?
    Detectors: They have the ability to use the technology to detect potassium, pot is high in potassium, they can walk around a building and detect if there is a loaded gun inside.
    Electronics: Radio interference, sound bugs, auto car stops and starts, phone taps, wrong numbers sent to, whole house wiring becoming a sound amplifier, computer malfunctions. Do you really believe that you can be safe behind your brick wall? Samurai warrior, magician and doctors devote their life’s to their art but when some of these Nazi combine these arts and then think they can play god and sell out our freedom to the talibomb for billions as they try to convert the peaceful pot smoke to their gay or Muslim agenda, what will you do when they come after you with the crave? They build their weapons in their BLACK OPPS PROGRAM with the expressed purpose of plausible deniability. The cities and towns and banks can make millions as they eliminate the undesirables, but they never expose themselves unless they know you will never get out of their gay prisons, but they work in the back ground causing all the crime and violence.
    Science fiction or science fact?
    Read more in ABOUT CHRISTIANS AND FREEDOM @Amazon .com

    Subject: understanding economic terrorism

    Title: what happened to the diversity in America? Let us look at a little known part in America, that has been used for some time, but little light has ever been shed on the subject. When we hear about it, we don’t give it a second thought but it’s time that we look at this sanctioned dirty part of America. To determine if this national program has been hijacked by the talibomb. They talk about hitting the skin head, the hate monger in the wallet to silence him and we think nothing of it, we find ourselves so disgusted with the hate monger we turn a blind eye. But if we really think of what this entails and who is making these decision and is their another side to the story? With their lies and propaganda we are suppose to believe that Thomas Edison stole the light bulb, isn’t that what the illegal drug users do? But when they are running the pot smokers broke, denying the basic science and facts that Americans are not genetically different than Canadians – in Canada there are 1200 people with medical necessity to smoke, in America there are less than 30. We need to find out who these people are that are running us broke sabotaging us at work, at school ,at home, emotionally socially ,physically and find out why they are making excuses for ignoring the will of the people stealing cars from the handicap, attacking scoliosis and cancer patients. Are you sure they are not using financial terrorism on the blacks to promote their racists’ agenda? On the heterosexuals to promote their gay agenda? if we turn a blind eye and accept the fact that they are free to use financial terrorism on the smoker, the beer drinker then we are giving up our freedom and handing it over to a secret organization to create misfortune and profit endlessly as they work to silence the Berkley subversive or the environmentalist who wants to bring us cheaper fuels. Although it’s easy to turn a blind eye when they admit they are going to use financial terrorism to sabotage the ex-convict or felon or in the case of Americas past, destroying all the buffalo and nature to bring the Indians to their knees. We have to look to see if we really want America to stand for what these terrorist decide. Do we really want to say it’s not how hard you work in America its whether or not you meet their approval? Case in point don’t try to tell me it’s not how hard an America works that he can never make a building safe for a smoker and non smoker to peacefully coexist, show me your science or show me your bible, I’m not going to give up our freedom to these terrorist. Whatever happened to the world famous gas light square Mick Jaeger (rolling stones) sang about, do you really believe that they were just bad money managers and all the immoral women just decided to join the 700 club? We need to put a stop to this type of financial terrorism waged against our citizens, even if we
    find some of them objectionable. For if we don’t you or me may be the next one who doesn’t fit their phony morality. We stand in the way of these terrorist seizing absolute tyrannical controls over us for their profit driven motives. They want to destroy our country our freedom, what our forefathers fought and died for, for their wallets. End financial terrorism once and for all, for disaster economics is no longer just for the individual as we saw in New Orleans, but what will you do if you are next. Read more in the book titled


  3. Mags says:

    Ah….my question has been answered with
    “Your comment is awaiting moderation.” This is not the same as Butterflies and Wheels

  4. Mags says:

    What is meant by “blog comment moderation”?
    Is it a time lapse between comment and its publication so that the – who? – editors? can decide whether it is publishable? Any comment that I’ve made on ButterfliesandWheels, for instance, comes up immediately; there is no time for anyone else to read & alter it.

  5. Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    I completely agree with your take on the problems being encountered by free speech today. There are many forces that contribute to the fear of reprisals for offending someone with free speech. Cartoonists have the right to draw anything they like, but we do not think that is true if someone threatens to use violence. Suddenly, free speech is not so important any more.

    I’ve also noticed that there’s an element to pressures against free speech that no one discusses: blog comment moderation.

    Blog comment moderation exists to protect blogs and forums from run-away hate speech and ‘off-thread’ comments. Get it? It’s the world’s great training ground for censorship. In fact, there has never been a better method for inculcating the rationale for censorship than comment moderation.

    This form of censorship is even practiced by the most liberal of blogs and sites. There is very little chance that free speech will prevail in the world under these conditions. Very little. There is no room for optimism when free-speech advocates justify their own censorship.

  6. I completely agree with your take on the problems being encountered by free speech today. There are many forces that contribute to the fear of reprisals for offending someone with free speech. Cartoonists have the right to draw anything they like, but we do not think that is true if someone threatens to use violence. Suddenly, free speech is not so important any more.

    I’ve also noticed that there’s an element to pressures against free speech that no one discusses: blog comment moderation.

    Blog comment moderation exists to protect blogs and forums from run-away hate speech and ‘off-thread’ comments. Get it? It’s the world’s great training ground for censorship. In fact, there has never been a better method for inculcating the rationale for censorship than comment moderation.

    This form of censorship is even practiced by the most liberal of blogs and sites. There is very little chance that free speech will prevail in the world under these conditions. Very little. There is no room for optimism when free-speech advocates justify their own censorship.

  7. Broadly I agree with you, though I draw a distinction between attacking someone for their race or their disability and for their ideas and attitudes and beliefs. Richard Bean’s play England People Very Nice passes this test; it’s not racist, though people can find it offensive to their religion or their community. So what? That’s the battle of ideas. But like other rights, freedom of expression isn’t absolute. That’s why I support laws against stirring up racial hatred. People can change their beliefs but not their skin colour.

  8. Kt D says:

    The recent controversy over Wilder’s visit to America has struck some different topics of discussion–namely, what is free speech and who has the right to decide what it is? The UN or a few presidents of Westernized countries? Hopefully not. Personally, I view allowable free speech as anything except that which attempts to suppress the basic human rights (including speech and religion) of others. Thus, Wilder’s claims against the entirety of the Islam religion seem a little bogus. In essence, he has begun a discrimination trend–and potential hate movement–in the Netherlands. Additionally, the country is now at greater international risk than it was before. These do not seem like particularly desirable situations, especially for a leading politician. I watched an interesting video on all of this at earlier. It’s worth looking at:

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