22 10 2009

2b free or not 2b free

2b free or not 2b free

So, ‘free speech’ then. What is it? How far does it go?  The idea is that we should all be able to express our views, then we choose which ones to adopt, to adapt, to ignore or to challenge. There are many caveats in this concept, as it has become built into the laws of our land. Some caveats are sensible. Some caveats are a little more open to (mis)interpretation.

Our society agrees that free speech doesn’t mean free reign. We are free to think what we like; but turning that thought into speech takes it up a level. That is the power of words, spoken or printed. It means that our freedom is expressed within an agreed framework. It’s a bit like speed limits. Why do we have them? Because as a society we have decided that yes, we want the freedom of driving; but no, we don’t want the freedom of doing that dance you do walking on the pavement when you both try and get out of each others way but end up bashing into each other – but in a car at 40mph. So we agree. We will drive within these limits. We will even stay our side of the dotted line for the same reason. A framework to freedom makes freedom more free.

2b free or not 2b free

2b free or not 2b free

So how much freedom should people have who’s views we might find distasteful? There’s a question. We are currently experiencing one of the (ironic) consequences of a liberal democracy: should Nick Griffin be able to appear on Question Time? To almost quote Meatloaf, who wasn’t talking about politics, “You can say anything you like, but you can’t say that”.  As the Manic Street Preachers sung, “If you tolerate this, your children will be next”. We will tolerate anything but we will not tolerate that. The BBC can broadcast anyone else’s views but not those. Question Time is an open political debate show – but not for those politics.

Thankfully it is not my decision, and probably nor is it yours.  So maybe what we need to be thinking about and discussing is not whether he should, but our response to the fact he is. There are lots of people and views that appear on TV that are offensive and distasteful, alongside lots of things that are amazing and beautiful. Do we passively accept them all, or do they spur us into action? Is this worse than Young, Dumb and Living with Mum or Shameless or Big Brother or the freak-show bullying of the X-Factor auditions?

Maybe it is. Maybe, as Ken Livingstone said on the Today programme, real people will actually experience real violence as a consequence of his airtime. Our response? SHOUT LOUDER THAN THE BNP! LOCK UP THE BNP! GAG THE BNP! BAN THE BNP!

Well, that might be our reflex. How about… Love every member of the BNP. Pray for every member of the BNP. Pray that they will be blessed. Not because of what they do or say: no, no. But pray that they will know the unconditional love of God. My guess is that people who support the BNP are probably what Jesus called ‘poor in spirit’: hurting, lonely, angry, frustrated, feeling helpless, lacking experience of love and the ability to show love. Some will have genuine grievances and what can seem like well-founded reasons for their feelings. And Jesus said: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit‘.

Blessed. Are. The. Poor. In. Spirit.

That is them. It is them and those like them that he came for. It is them who he would hang out with today – the despised, the immoral, the taboos of our time. Love, love, love. Love stronger than death, and stronger than that which causes death – death in our hearts, families, communities, lives.

Yes, we must challenge their views. Graciously, calmly, firmly. Yes, we may be angry. Graciously, calmly, firmly.  And let’s turn that anger into action. Challenge stereotypes of immigrants, stick up for the cause of the homeless and fatherless, the widow and the orphan. Be gracious. Be loving. Be strong. Welcome the stranger into our land. Love the poor in spirit. Love the poor in spirit. For it is they whom God came to bless.

38“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Jesus, Matthew 5)



5 responses

23 10 2009

A disturbing episode, but for all the wrong reasons.
How does every panel member trying to bully Nick Griffin sit with their assertions that he is a fascist bully?
How does branding and isolating him sit with accusations that he is a segregationalist?
How does accusations that he doesn’t say what he really means sit when coming from the the mouths of politicians who never give a straight answer to a straight question?
And how does attacking an individual address or dismantle any of his ideas or views?
They used to say that 50 million Elvis fans can’t be wrong. What are 2 million BNP voters really saying?
Yes, love is always the answer. Especially when hate is in the question. And in the questioning.
Disturbing, but for all the wrong reasons…

23 10 2009

Exactly. Where were the sensible questions about policy? Where was the space for him to answer, however inadequately? Where was any sense of mature debate, which would be the best way to show the BNP up for what they are? Instead anger, shouting, and chaos – just what the BNP would want. Shame.

23 10 2009

Nick Griffin is to complain about facing a lynch mob at Question Time – ironic, from a fascist party leader, but also a consequence of the disappointing way the event was handled.

24 10 2009

I got into a mini-debate with a BNP supporter on Nick Baines blog, see it here:

I found it really interesting dialoguing with an actual BNP supporter, rather than just talking about ‘them’; it made me challenge my own stereotypes. It’s much easier to talk of ‘them’, in an isolated way!! I’m sure there’s a blog in that somewhere.

24 10 2009

Isn’t the problem that we have allowed our freedom to debate tpo be eroded? Where can we enter true debate. If we start to explain about our faith that is seen as politically incorrect and shouted down, yet my faith is a formative part of my ethics and my philosophy.

I have just had dinner with some very devout evangelical Christians who were telling me how nasty Muslims were. When I said that most Muslims were really nice people they were shocked. If we treat people as radicals they will become radicals and we polarise instead of meeting and listening. That leads to the freedom to speak being lost.

It seems that the secularist faith is the only one that can be propounded today and then only if it is politically correct. Bonhoewffer was right when he said “First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.” We need to speak out for freedom of speach and for debate before it is too late and we cannot speak out at all.

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