Is freedom of speech absolute?
Here’s a candid answer: not for readers of my blog.
I make no apologies for this stance. Only one person has total free speech in this particular arena – and that’s me!
I’ve been pondering ‘freedom of speech’ because I stand accused of ‘blocking opinions differing from your own’. My accuser? A regular poster on Jew With A View that I’ve now had to, reluctantly, bar from posting full stop.
Nor do I claim to be ‘right’ in all I say. Indeed, if I make factual errors, I hope someone will correct me and I am most grateful when they do! Hell, I’m appreciative when anyone takes the time to post a comment, and I hope regulars especially, know this
Let’s call the person I’ve banned Reader X. He knows who he is. He’s posted many long comments on this blog and that was fine, though I passionately disagree with him. But as he seems a reasonably decent soul, and as he’s taken the trouble to express his views, I’ve welcomed his thoughts.
But here’s the thing. Everyone has the right to their own opinions. But nobody has the right to their own facts. That’s where a line exists, and it can’t be crossed if one still wants any form of rational discourse.
The discrepancy between these two was illustrated vividly back in 2007 when Oxford University decided to allow known Holocaust Denier David Irving, and his fellow weasel BNP head Nick Griffin, to speak at the Union debate.
The move was publicly condemned by Jewish and Muslim students alike, along with anti facism activists and numerous politicians – several of whom cancelled membership of the Oxford Union as a result.
But Oxford Union was unrepentant. These two racist twits had, it declared, the right to ‘freedom of speech’.
If Irving and Griffin wish to go around peddling their mad and subjective belief that six million Jews did not perish, that is their right to do so – within the confines of their homes and in hushed conversations with their fellow neo Nazis.
But once they start publicly twisting and misrepresenting objective facts in their bid to deny history, then no. A thousand times, no. They don’t have any unconditional, inalienable ‘right’ to do that. Nor did Oxford Union have any ‘duty’ to help them.
I have the right to declare a disbelief in gravity. Does Oxford Union have any obligation to provide a platform for me to unveil my copious notes and ideas in ‘support’ of this idea…?
No, of course not – and nor would Oxford dream of doing so! Yet when it suits, countless individuals and institutions play the ‘freedom of speech’ card in order to promote all manner of absurd, irrational and sometimes dangerous beliefs.
Which brings us to Reader X. He has repeatedly stated: ‘I insist that Hamas is not a terrorist organisation’.
Nor do I accept that Reader X has any ‘right’ to use my blog to condone bigotry.
Last week I posted a story about how a top Obama aide cheerfully shared a platform with a man who then claimed that Hurricane Katrina was G-d’s ‘punishment’ towards Gay people, and that Jews are seeking to ‘control the world’.
Most sane people recognise this bigotry towards Gays and Jews for what it is: appalling. Likewise, they understand that it is not OK for a top Obama aide to share a platform with and thus legitimise someone expressing such spite.
But what did Reader X think? ‘It’s good that Obama is prepared to talk to lots of people.’
In particular, Reader X has condemned my apparent unwillingness to allow dissenting opinions on Israel. So let’s clarify.
If someone wants to criticise Israeli policies, they are free to do so. If someone wants to post condemnation of specific decisions made by Israel or particular Israeli politicians, they are free to do this too. If their posts are based on facts and – this is key – an accurate understanding of the situation.
But when someone makes it clear that they don’t even know the term ‘palestinian’ always referred to Palestinian Jews, and when they then try and ‘prove’ their case by anecdotal evidence, and when all they do is regurgitate weary old Arab propaganda that has been disproven time and again – then no, I don’t have any obligation to publish this person’s misconceptions.
And finally, Reader X, I reserve the right to reject your blatant hypocrisy. For example, you have often stated that you trust the UN. Thus if the UN condemns Israel for something, it is ‘good enough‘ for you – note, I’m using your own words here.
Yet at the same time, you ignore that the UN also stated in a resolution that Hezbollah should have disarmed. But you don’t care what the UN says about this. Indeed, only recently you tried to submit a post claiming that Hezbollah has nothing to do with terrorism!
Finally, and most egregiously, Reader X, you showed how little value you attache to Jewish life, any Jewish life, by your response to the recent update on murdered and tortured French Jew Ilan Halimi.
Responding to this post, what did you say? You spoke of Palestinians in prison in Israel – and did not say a single word about the way that this young French man was abducted, tortured, set alight and killed by French Muslims. Muslims who admitted to being obsessed with killing Jews and who actually phoned the victim’s parents and quoted to them from the Quran.
Now of course, you’re not obliged to respond to the Ilan Halimi post at all. But to submit a response to it that totally ignores his death? That is in poor taste and again, just reveals your hypocrisy. You care so much for Palestinian Arabs – yet don’t give a damn when Jewish blood is spilled.
And if at any time you decide to adopt a fairer approach, then you are most welcome to post here again.
But, until and unless that time arrives, you’ll have to take your right to condone terrorism and bigotry and exercise it on other blogs – ’cause you ‘aint doing it on this one!