How Charlie Hebdo is distantly related to Nick Griffin…

by Pseud O'Nym

I know that this is a rather ambitious claim to make in the light of recent events but bear with me and afford me the opportunity of making my case. After all, much has been written about the atrocity at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, not least that it was an assault upon free speech, so in the spirit of free speech I make the following observation.

It was widely suggested that the ability of cartoonists and anyone else that blows a satirical raspberry to lampoon the great and the not so good was itself under attack. It has also been argued that any attempt to curtail people’s freedom of expression is a fundamental affront to democratic norms which we in the west hold inalienable, a line in the sand which cannot be crossed.

Except of course when it can.

Free speech is easy to defend when you agree with what the person is saying or writing, but less so when you find what they’re expressing offensive. That is the dichotomy of free speech. If you believe in it you have to believe that it applies to everyone or else it applies to no one. As Voltaire said “I may not agree with what you say but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”. This simple and rather obvious truism has been lost in the tsunami of words all championing free speech in the light of the murders at the offices of Charlie Hebdo.

If anything this championing of free speech displays an almost enviable amount of breathtaking hypocrisy in some sections of the media and some politicians. Whilst they agree with free speech, it is only the free speech of people they agree with. They have seemingly forgotten or more likely never heard of Voltaire’s maxim.

Some speech, it seems, is freer than others.

And now, for the first and I hope only time in my writings, will I call forth Nick Griffin as an example of how the critics of the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo were conspicuous by their absence in launching a robust and forthright defense of Nick Griffin. Early in 2009, you will recall, Nick Griffin, who was at that time leader of the British National Party and an elected member of the European Parliament, was invited onto BBC One’s Question Time. Cue inevitable media outrage and handwringing at this. Basically, it was felt that by giving Nick Griffin an opportunity to espouse his views – which incidentally I find abhorrent – the BBC were in effect giving him a platform that they shouldn’t have.

In all of this there were a couple of things that were conveniently overlooked. The first is that he was a democratically elected member of the European Parliament and no matter if you disagree with his policies or the way he chooses to express them, nonetheless the fact is that he had garnered enough support to win an election. The second more worrying aspect to all of this is that in attempting to deny Nick Griffin a platform to speak they were in effect handing him a tailor made opportunity to make the claim that ‘THEY don’t want you to hear what I have to say because THEY deem it so prejudicial to the established order of things because if you heard what I’ve got to say, you’d question everything.’ In effect that is precisely what one achieves doing when you prevent anyone from speaking. You make their silence so much louder than their words. His appearance demonstrated he should’ve been wearing a mouth nappy. So when I write that the atrocity at Charlie Hebdo is distantly related to Nick Griffin I am not comparing the two. The atrocity at the former is in no way comparable to the latter, but it is distantly related. They are two extremes of the same principle; one can’t defend one without the other.

Which leads me nicely on to Section 57 of the Crime and Courts Bill 2013, which replaced Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. Under the 1986 Act ‘A person is guilty of an offence if –
a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or (b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.

Under Section 57 the word ‘insulting’ was removed. Free speech campaigners saw this as something of a victory, whereas I would contend it was nothing of the sort because threatening or abusive behaviour is highly subjective and is not clearly defined What you might find as such I might not and vice versa. This led to the farcical situation where in 2005 a student protestor was arrested by the police for asking a mounted policeman “Excuse me, do you know your horse is gay?”

Or this, more recently, when someone accused Katie Hopkins of committing a hate crime by calling her fat. In doing so, she proved that the only thin thing about her was her skin. You might find that rude, but then, if you believe in free speech……

Next time…I’d try putting a brave face on my Bell’s Palsy, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve got temporary facial paralysis….