Censorship of the arts certainly is something to be resisted, but we must go beyond the rest of the media’s mass hysteria about ‘censorship by mob’ in Birmingham. Much of the hype carried the implicit message that the British establishment is far more civilised than these unassimilated immigrants. Even the liberal papers that, like Socialist Review, made the links with the Jerry Springer furore gave the impression that the BBC, who screened the opera, are crusaders for free speech.
What about the censorship by ownership that occurs every day? Why, on the day an obviously dodgy dossier was published, didn’t Alastair Campbell need a mob to make sure the Evening Standard told us we were 45 minutes away from destruction?
Socialists must highlight the contradictions in the media’s support for our cause here, but not there; to ask why they oppose one form of censorship but not another, and what exactly they mean by ‘free speech’.
It is wrong to condemn the law on religious hatred from a decontextualised ideal of free speech. On this basis, the law on racial hatred should also be criticised. Yes, Nick Griffin could be prosecuted by race-hate laws without a new offence being created, but then in theory he could be prosecuted by incitement to violence laws without a race-hate offence – this is hardly the point. And yes, the new laws could be used by Christians and the establishment to further persecute minorities, but then we’ve already had Louis Farrakhan banned from the country under race-hate laws while Le Pen was let in.
The new law will not be the most important development in opposing Islamophobia, and it is definitely a danger that it will be used against the oppressed more than the oppressors, but it does not outlaw blasphemy. I am not sure whether or not, in the current climate, it will do more good than harm. Arguments based around abstract ideals do not help me decide.
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