the Disillusioned kid: More pain than pleasure methinks
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Friday, February 03, 2006

More pain than pleasure methinks

If I'm honest I didn't think my post yesterday on the Jyllands-Posten cartoons controversy was particularly good. Nevertheless, it seems to be doing the rounds of the blogosphere, which is nice. Perhaps bizarrely Edjog and Alex seem to have drawn diametrically opposed conclusions about what I was trying to say. This would seem to suggest some degree of fault on my part which I suppose I should make some effort to clear up. Before I have a go at cleaning up my own mess it might perhaps be instructive to look at what the guys actually have to say for themselves.

Quoth everybody's favourite lazy alien:
The Kid's on it though: censorship is not the way. As he says, it's a two edged sword, but also, we cannot defeat The Man by being seen to use The Man's methods. Which is why we must encourage these morons to speak out so that we can use exactly the same kind of rhetorical devices to destroy their arguments and discredit them personally, invisibly.
Alex, by contrast, kicks-off by apologising for "taking [my] post as a target" and then proceeds to assert, "I do think that anyone peddling censorship in this debate, is, as above, simply wrong." This would rather seem to imply that I was making a case for the censorship of racist commentary in general and the cartoons in question specifically. Clearly they can't both be right.

My argument (such as it was) was summed in the closing paragraph: "Our mission (should we chose to accept it) is to defend freedom of speech while doing everything we can to scupper the plans of those who would abuse it to peddle their racist dross. Same as ever really." This is broadly consitent with the strategy I have previously proffered as a response to fascists and reflects my belief that both restrictions on free speech and racism constitute forms of oppression and should therefore be gotten rid off forthwith.

My opposition to censorship is symptomatic of my anarchist philosophy which rejects the legitimacy of state power and considers efforts to increase it - even in pursuit of apparently worthy ends - to be at best unwise. On a more pragmatic level, I worry that authoritarian laws may fall on our enemies today, but could just as easily be used against us tomorrow, a concern which I would contend has been borne out by experience.

On the other hand, racism is one of the most serious and persistent forms of oppression to have blighted the world we live in. Articificially dividing people and privileging a white minority over just about everybody else on the planet it remains a far more serious problem than self-serving liberals would like us to believe. Too often official "anti-racism" can become a tool to be used against the real victims. Witness, for instance the near-constant implication of anti-Semitism amongst Muslims made by right-wingers. As true as it may be that many Muslims are anti-Semitic, the hypocrisy of such assertions, the imperialist ends they all to often serve and the racism inherent in attributing the actions of a few individuals to an entire racial group ought to be obvious to anybody who hasn't got their head wedged up their own rectum.

For the most part, there aren't many people who are going to disagree with the central thrust of my argument that both censorship and racism are bad, but all too often people can't see the wood for the trees. I'm thinking here particularly of those free-speech advocates who confuse defending free speech with disseminating the views of fascists and their ilk. Strangely the editors who republish Holocaust denial tracts and BNP electioneering rarely extend their ostensible principles to those systematically excluded from public fora by institutional discrimination. Such groups don't even merit mention in the free-speech "debate" which only serves to underline their status as "unpeople".

To say you believe in freedom of speech does not require you provide a platform for any and all views. The suggestion you do so is both ridiculous and patently infeasible given the spectrum of views held by the six billion people who have the misfortune of sharing the planet with me. That is why I haven't bothered linking to cartoons which have attracted such controversy. Anybody with even a basic level of computer literacy can find them on their own anyway. It is also why I don't reprint the ravings of Nick Griffin and his goons. They have their own space and that too is accesible to anybody who feels the urge to study the party's collected excretions. This is as it should be.

Having said that, I don't believe that the racists and assorted other dregs should be allowed to go about their activities unchallenged. Quite the contrary. They should be denounced in no uncertain terms. In the comments to yesterday's ramblings, quaker anarchist Zach opined "I like what the American Civil Liberties Union likes to say: stop hate speech with more speech" This sounds like it's along the right lines to me, although I'd chuck in the crucial question of solidarity with the victims of racism, which Lenny emphasises particularly strongly. Can those of us who have been brought up with all the benefits of white privilege truly understand what it must be like to live in a society where you are viewed as a potential terrorist, inherently misogynistic and congenitally homophobic; the very embodiment of the prejudices which our supposedly enlightened society professes to reject?

I don't pretend that any of this offers up a particularly clear strategy. The demise of the government's ill-considered plans for an new offence of "religious hatred" is, in my opinion, a good start. Reaching out to embattled Muslim communities (with the full knowledge that the term implies an unrealistic degree of homogeneity) would be a good next step.

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