Archie Bland: Free speech is a right, but be careful what you say

FreeView, from the editors at i

Share

There's nothing more boring than people chuntering on about free
speech, mainly because the general wisdom of the principle is so
thumpingly obvious.

For two-bit commentators to trot out that old saw about how they will defend until the death a bigot's right to say what they please is as comical as it is overblown. If you want the EDL to be allowed to say what they want, that's fine. I agree with you. No one is going to kill either of us for saying so. Stop making such a fuss.

Those arguments, although still hackneyed, become a little less laughable when we start talking about images of the Prophet Mohamed. Instances of extremist wingnuts getting attacked for saying racist things are relatively rare. Incidences of satirists who make images of Mohamed getting the same treatment are, troublingly, less so.

We all remember that such treatment hasn't been limited to the people who have made those jokes: when a Danish newspaper printed cartoons mocking Mohamed in 2008, five people were killed in a bombing on the Danish Embassy in Pakistan. It is far from the only such incident.

Tiresomely, this argument looks like it will come up again this week. A French satirical magazine has decided – presumably giggling excitedly as it did so, and patting itself on the back for being so tremendously daring – to devote a special issue to the mockery of Mohamed, after the victory of a moderate Islamist party in the Tunisian elections.

Leave aside the fact that the party in question, Ennahdha, has so far proved a model of good sense, willing to go into coalition with secular parties, and fitting exactly the model that Western democrats should aspire to in the Middle East. Assume instead that they're a bunch of dastardly extremists. The joke is still old, unfunny, and dangerous.

It's obvious that, for all the editor's claims that they're innocently applying the same standards to political Islam that they do to everyone else, they're really just seeking publicity. If they would lean on such a tired theme when satirising French domestic politics, they're still less funny than they seem at first glance.

In regard to these morons, the defend-your-right-to-say-what-you want line still applies, I suppose. They are several fathoms less appalling than anyone who would turn to violence in response. I'd like to modify the statement a bit, though, to the following: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. BUT ALSO, YOU ARE AN IDIOT. And, actually, if one of us is going to get clobbered for your stupidity, I'd sooner it wasn't me.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

EYFS Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education require an ex...

Year 3 Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 3 primary supply teacher ne...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply special educational ne...

Regional ESF Contract Manager

£32500 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Birmingham: European Social Fund...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

August catch-up: Waiting on the telephone, tribute to Norm and my Desert Island Discs

John Rentoul
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home