There is no such thing as free speech.
After the horrible slaughter in Paris yesterday there are many people crying out that this is an attack on free speech and that we must support Charlie Hebdo in the aftermath of this assault. There has even been the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie, I am Charlie, trending on Twitter. There has also been #KillAllMuslims but fuck those people, seriously, fuck those racist jerks right in the ear.
People have been commenting all day today about the importance of freedom of speech and how it is one of the highest values of western civilisation. I have some major issues with this –and not just that the notion of there being a ‘western civilisation’ is ridiculous.* No, it is the notion that despite the fact that all actions have a cost the act of speech is somehow free of cost. So, there. There is no such thing as free speech.
I know that this is a highly unpopular notion given the reverence with which liberals, and some on the left, treat free speech but I just don’t see how it is anything other than a pipe dream, and a dangerous and defacto pro-fascist one at that.
I suppose I should explain myself somewhat as I can hear the gasp of horror as both my readers clutch their hands to their chests and faint with shock.
This may meander slightly.
In the UK we have a number of far right fascist groups that have got varying degrees of visibility, activity, and popularity. Chief amongst these are the British National Party, the National Front and Combat 18/Blood and Honour. All of these groups were formed to use violence as a way of imposing their political ideology and starting a race war in the United Kingdom. A large part of their tactics was to dominate the streets through marches and beating those of opposing political ideologies who attempted to put their argument across on the high street -through selling papers and handing out leaflets, you know the kind of thing, and through spreading terror amongst non-white populations.
They were prevented from doing this in the UK as militant trade unionists, communists, and anarchists met them with force on the streets and basically beat them back under the rock from which they crawled. There’s a really good documentary on this that you can watch here(LINK).As a result of this the BNP decided to change their tactics and attempted to become a regular political party.
Now that probably sounds ideal to your average liberal type, you know the sort -wears cardigans, eats cheese, listens to Radio 4, as now the frightful beasts would have their awful ideology exposed to the light of open debate and it would be shown to be nothing but vile fear and hatred. Rational debate would soon put an end to such dreadful things as racism and people being all loud and uncouth on match days.
Yeah, well, we don’t live in this liberal la la land and unfortunately our society if riven with racism and bigotry. Admittedly most of this isn’t the hateful racism of groups like the BNP or new kids on the block Britain First; it’s more your casual common or garden racism that thinks “[Racial Group X] are just different, got nuffink personal against ’em like. Know what I’m saying?” No, and these people, your Combat 18 and National Front sociopaths, didn’t go away and nor did their ideas. They may not have been able to organise openly until recently but they are still there and amongst these people there is a sliding scale of fuckwittery.
Now, about five years ago the British National Party were trying to canvas in Glasgow for the upcoming European Elections and at every turn people in Glasgow would jeer at them and hound them off the streets. Sometimes slightly more physically than others. Either way it was made clear that they weren’t wanted. When I was talking about this on Facebook some of my more liberal friends were claiming that people doing this were curtailing their freedom of speech and so were in the wrong, or, as some fine people put it, “You’re just as bad as the fascists for doing this.” Which, to me, is just plain offensive. Just, I’m sure, as it would have been offensive to people like the 43 Group who were Jewish veterans of the British Army who took the fight to the British Union of Fascists on their return from WWII.
You see, what the 43 Group understood, as did those who beat the National Front, BNP and co. off the streets of the UK throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s, is that if you allow fascists to openly spread their hatred and bigotry people die. It doesn’t go directly from a group like the BNP having a stall unopposed on the local high street to their being Jews rounded up into ghettos –human society is far more complex than a simple action film narrative allows for.
What allowing fascist groups to practice their ‘free speech’ does is it gives confidence to others on the far right, it allows them to feel that their views are acceptable and widely held. This gives them the confidence to act upon their convictions. This then leads to people getting beaten, to homes being burned out, to people being murdered. Speech is not free, sometimes the price of it can be people’s lives.
From this it may be presumed that I would therefore support calls for the government to legislate against certain groups –to curtail their freedom of speech in order to protect lives. This is something I am opposed to completely. The interests of the state and the people who live beneath it are rarely aligned, something that should be patently obvious if we look at the raft of austerity measures presently plunging huge swathes of the population into desperate poverty and driving others to suicide. No, I do not feel that real politics happens at the level of government or the state. Real politics happens in our communities and our workplaces. That is the arena where fascists must be denied their ‘free speech’ and where work to prevent their fear and hatred must take place. Unfortunately the community and the workplace as a place of politics has been arena seemingly abandoned by most for a long time now with lefty groups preferring to organise on university campuses (student loans filling party coffers through subs and freshers fairs) or to arrange rally after rally about things happening halfway around the globe(whilst rattling collection buckets all the way).
So I won’t be changing my Twitter profile pic to a picture of Mohammed in the name of free speech. Not because I have any problem with annoying Muslims or poking fun at Islam –it’s a religion and all religions are equally bloody absurd, but because it would be a pointless gesture aimed squarely at annoying people who had fuck all to do with this violence and who are, in all likelihood, utterly repulsed by it. Why on Earth would I want to do that? I’m a, reasonably, nice person! Nor will I be claiming to stand in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. It’s a shit rag that punts racism, sexism, and homophobia as edgy humour. Nor will I bleat about attacks on free speech as there is no such thing as free speech, something the fuckwits with the machine guns patently understand.
Anyway, I feel sorry for those people who have suffered and who have lost loved ones because of these bastards. I feel anger at the bastards who are using this as an excuse to attack mosques and to further the fascist agenda. And I feel exasperation at those bleating over free speech as they are maintaining the delusion that there is such a thing and that we live in a liberal fairy tale rather than a complex, dirty and confusing cluster fuck of a world.
Also. Why the fuck is my first post of 2015 about something like this? Sod this, I’m off for a fag.
*I’m of the opinion that civilisation is a process of developing social and cultural complexity.