Takin’ Liberties

I was considering a break from the news after the election, but then the new government went and announced new laws I’m not sure about and since I didn’t vote for them I feel like I’ve got a civic responsibility to moan talk about it…

These laws are aimed at reducing and/or preventing radicalisation by banning groups and individuals who use or promote hate speech. My first thought was ‘does this mean we can ban Katie Hopkins?’ because if there’s ever been an individual in this country with a penchant for stirring shit, it’s her. And on the surface, banning ‘poisonous’ extremism sounds like a great idea. Nobody likes listening to extremists stand on a soap box, whether they’re radicalised Muslims or the Westboro Baptists… Extremists prey on the vulnerable, stoking people’s fears and encouraging them to take violent action instead of peaceful protesting or legal change, and everyone with sense understands that extremism exists in all religions, ideals and lifestyles (case in point: Hitler was a vegetarian atheist).

Thing is, not everyone has sense. Some people will use the laws to try to ban anything they deem hate speech and some people may try to use it to stop civil rights advances – kind of like how in Russia the anti-gay propaganda law was marketed at protecting children. But who’s qualified to decide what counts as hate speech? Is it violent and graphic, like calls to exterminate cockroaches, which was the rhetoric that preceded the Rwandan genocide? Or is it an expression of anything that’s different to your own point of view? Because there is not a person in this country who shares a point of view completely with another person and the moment we’re told we can’t express ourselves we’re risking 1984 territory. Like what if homophobic groups tried to ban the discussion of homosexuality, or what if an atheist group wanted to ban public sermons?

The other problem with the proposals is that by banning extremism one is both admitting it’s a problem we can’t solve and is not actually helping to solve it. People don’t wake up one day and say ‘I think I’ll go fight for ISIS’ or ‘I think I’ll bomb an underground train’. Their beliefs and fears were stoked over years by other people who sensed them as a target. Similarly, the Suffragettes didn’t start out throwing bricks through windows or stepping in front of horses – they resorted to drastic measures when the peaceful options were exhausted.

I’m not suggesting we sit with the leaders of al Qaeda, link hands and discuss our hopes and dreams, but just banning extremism will not make it go away. We have to stop it starting in the first place, and I don’t think there’s a law that can do that yet.

Which means we as citizens should probably try to do that ourselves, by teaching our children tolerance and empathy, and attempting to learn those traits ourselves.

But that’s going to be way too easy, isn’t it?

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