Monday, 20 November 2006

Burkas, bans and bigots -- and free speech

Phil Howison has a brief look at the decisions to ban burkas in Holland and to acquit bigots in the UK, and he sees a parallel.

First, the bigots. Head honchos from the British National Party (right), kind of like NZ First with steroids and streetfighters, have been acquitted on charges of "stirring up racial hatred," not because they didn't try to stir up racial hatred -- "Let's show these ethnics the door in 2004," said one -- but because the judge hearing the case has a laudable but increasingly unfashionable respect for free speech:
Summing up, the Recorder of Leeds, Judge Norman Jones, QC, said: "This case is not about whether the political beliefs of the BNP are right or wrong. It's not about whether assertions made about Islam are right or wrong."

He added: "We live in a democratic society which jealously protects the rights of its citizens to freedom of expression, to free speech. It extends to the unpopular, to those which many people may find unacceptable, unpalatable and sensitive."

Exactly right. Bravo Judge Jones! If you have no right to offend, then you have no right to free speech. So what's the problem? The problem is Gordon Brown. If the current laws don't allow a conviction, and they're chilling enough, then PM-in-waiting Gordon Brown suggests changing the laws to make them even more suffocating. Chilling indeed.

And what of the burka ban? There is a difference, one that sadly escapes too many, between between being outraged by something (as I posted here: "Cultures are not of equal value: prosperity is superior to poverty, happiness is superior to misery, freedom is superior to slavery, and a visible face is superior to a slit revealing two anonymous eyes") and calling for that thing to be banned. The two things do not relate. As Phil concludes:
It will be impossible to mount a principled defense of Western civilization unless its defenders understand the Western principles of individual rights and tolerance.
And he's right, isn't he. You have a right to offend. You have a right to wear what you want. And we all have the right to disagree on that. But you have no right -- none at all -- have that with which you disagree banned.

LINKS: Islam, anti-Islam and freedom - Pacific Empire
BNP verdict ‘may change race laws’ -- Scotsman
Burka ban in the Netherlands? --FP Passport
Free Speech glossary -- Free Speech
The dance of the long black veil - Not PC (October, 2006)

RELATED: Politics-UK, Multiculturalism, Religion, Political Correctness
, Politics-World, Free Speech


  1. Hmm, PC, do you want someone in a burka sitting in your bus? In your airplane?

    By the way, the ban is only for (semi) public places, not private of course.

    I see your point, but in a public place people would feel really uncomfortable with a masked man, wouldn't they? You would be happy if you're in line in a bank and a masked man steps inside??

  2. Private places such as banks, buses and burka shops may (or should be able to) set whatever dress codes they wish, and their customers are entitled to make their own judgement on their own policies.

    Politicians however have no proper role in enforcing a dress code.

    As to the question of what I might want: It's only relevant if I'm an owner, or a (potential) customer, otherwise what I want or what I'd be happy with is as relevant to the question as what my pet badger thinks might make him happy.

  3. There is no need for a ban, but there is a need for private individuals to be able to impose their own restrictions.

    An exception my be in court, where a face should be uncovered.

    Don't like that- don't come here.

    Also, there is a law on the books about 'having the face covered by night'

    Again- don't like our laws- don't come here.

  4. PC, even a libertarian has public places I believe. Courts, wouldn't that be a public place? How about burkas in courts?

  5. I am in knots over this one.

    I embrace the logic and words of Salmon Rushdie
    "Without the freedom to offend, freedom cannot exist", however, I am not offended by a burqa, just like I am not offended by a full face motorcycle helmet nor a balaclava worn by a hunter, soldier or as worn by a member of the IRA.

    What does offend me is the manner of
    anonymity these objects grant.

    Ayn Rand wrote "Renounce your body and you become a fake"

    Terrorism is for the most part an act of force against westerners by Islamists. Burqa's are worn for the most part by Islamists.

    Again, Ayn Rand said....
    "When a man attempts to deal with me by force, I answer him - by force."

    If burqa's are banned in public places, burqa wearers do have the freedom of choice to wear their burqa's in their own property, they also have the freedom of choice where they choose to live or visit.

    Banning of burqa's will be in the best interests of my personal security as with other members of western democracies.

    Any democratic government has a duty to protect its citizens from threat.


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