Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Mao would be proud of this British 'free speech'

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At a pro-Palestinian meeting, Baroness Jenny Tonge asserted: "Israel is not going to be there forever in its present form" and that the US would eventually give up on the state, leaving Israelis to "reap what they have sown" – hard words which upset most British Jews. With their history, the emotional upsurge was completely understandable, but not the way some Zionists, their influential friends and the entire political class went on the offensive against the offender.

They wilfully misquoted her, ignoring the key words "in its present form".

Tonge, inset, has been tarred and feathered, lost the party whip and no one will be seen drinking tea with her for a long time.

I strongly believe words can hurt as much as blows and that good societies ensure public discourse is not polluted with language that demeans and dehumanises individual citizens because of their class, race, gender, faith, opinions or for other specious excuses. An unrestricted freedom to abuse is an abuse of freedom. Most of us do understand that. Few object to controls on terrorist and fascist hate speech. But in an avowed democracy it is scary when serious political views are drowned in a frothing sea of rage. In 1990, Salman Rushdie gave us this memorable quote: "What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist." So, will he rise to the defence of Jenny Tonge? I don't imagine he will, nor any one of the other big anti-censor beasts. Such an intervention would cost them. Successful Britons know exactly what opinions to express and which to suppress. The rest of us could do with a clear guide on right and wrong views. Here is my starter list...

Do not proclaim you are a socialist, or opine that Len McCluskey, the leader of Unite, has been unfairly monstered for suggesting that Britons could protest during the Olympics. The right to demonstrate, remember, is only for when nothing much is happening. Never argue for redistributive taxation. The LibDems have ditched the 50p top rate, their principles, as ever, as loose as a courtesan's bloomers. Back mansion or bonus taxes and on your neck will fall the right-wing website Ayatollahs.

On immigration, always take the hostile view, even if you are an immigrant. It's the only way to be truly British. To argue for immigration is reputational suicide. And beware torture, a seriously banned subject.

We suspect Tony Blair and others have been complicit in its use. But we can't find out.

And finally, the brainwashed public believes all benefits claimants are no-good scroungers and the disabled just more convincing shirkers. So try not to defend these rejects unless you want to be one yourself.

We should stop the absurd pretence that Britain is the bastion of free expression and a true democracy. Over time the state has become more authoritarian, dissent punished and people manipulated to conform to a single political ideology and approved opinions. Mao himself would be envious of how skilfully and invisibly it is all done.

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