Tuesday, June 28 2016

Freedom of speech and multiculturalism in Europe

Thorbjorn JaglandAn article in Monday’s Daily Mail and a blog published online for Sunday’s Telegraph have attacked the political left for their attempts to silence voices on the right, and in the words of Toby Young,  “further its political agenda” following the attacks in Norway.

The articles both take issue with the Norwegian chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee and former prime minister of Norway, Thorbjorn Jagland, who in an interview with the Observer stated that European leaders should “adopt a more ‘cautious’ approach when discussing multiculturalism.”

Jagland’s words of caution bear down on the comments of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the PM, David Cameron, whose respective speeches on the ‘failure of multikulti’ and the ‘doctrine of state multiculturalism’ were hailed by the far-right as admissions of multiculturalism as a failed policy.

In the Daily Mail, Melanie Phillips argues that, “…Breivik’s so-called manifesto shows that he is violently against mass immigration, multiculturalism and Islamisation — and that he wants the forced repatriation of Muslims from Europe and the murder of all who have promoted multiculturalism.  

“But to connect such abhorrent ravings with Cameron’s comments is simply grotesque.

“First and foremost, this is treating Breivik as if his words deserve to be taken seriously and at face value.”

Would not anyone looking to understand the motives behind Breivik’s murderous actions begin by analysing his worldview and the ideas that have shaped and influenced it? Such has always been the case with terrorists who have abused Islamic teachings to defend mass murder. Why should Breivik’s ravings not then be taken seriously, however deluded?

Phillips goes on to use the defense which much of the media have taken to diminish  responsibility for Breivik’s act of mass murder, the claim that “Breivik is psychotic, a psychopath” and that his actions “cannot be considered rational.”

“Yet the former Norwegian premier is treating Breivik as if he is a political terrorist,” Phillips laments.

It is notable that the psychological state of individuals who have carried out terrorist offences justifying their actions in the name of Islam have seldom been scrutinised in the same way, with the starting point of comprehension always being that the perpetrator is a rational being intent on indiscriminately murdering individuals for grievances against “the West”.

Phillips then goes on to argue that, “Even if he was motivated by hostility to multiculturalism and Islam, it is perverse to suggest that no one should write about these things because some deranged person raving about such ideas has run amok.

“Jagland seems to be cynically exploiting the murder of more than 70 innocents to make a connection which is as obnoxious as it is opportunistic in order to bully into silence those who express such legitimate democratic concerns.”

Toby Young similarly argues in a blog on the Telegraph website,

“The fact that Breivik claims to have been “inspired” by the opinions of Melanie Phillips and other journalists and authors who’ve questioned multiculturalism doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t in future be allowed to express those views.”

As the Economist in an article last week put it – the dilemma we face rests on defining the proper limits to free speech and in carefully discerning free speech from speech inciting hatred and violence. But since legislation on incitement to religious hatred is much weaker than legislation on inciting racial hatred, Muslims enjoy a lower level of protection than is accorded to, for example, Jews and Sikhs (both of whom are protected under racial hatred laws). And whilst Young is right to argue that those who’ve questioned the merits of multiculturalism should be allowed to do so in future, until we have stronger protection on incitement to religious hatred, we will continue to see an evasion of responsibility when words translate into horrific consequences.

Further, it is ironic that when Muslim scholars have expressed controversial views, the knee-jerk reaction has not been the defense of free speech as a fundamental pillar of a democratic society. In fact, quite the reverse; as the cases of Sheikh Raed Salah and Dr Zakir Naik, to name some recent cases, illustrate, the reaction of certain journalists and authors and of the government has been to invoke exclusion orders prohibiting entry into the UK.

These cases bring to light the arbitrary nature of freedom of speech in the UK.

Young also argues that, “Whatever your feelings about the manner in which immigration has transformed the countries of Western Europe, you should welcome the opportunity to engage in a public debate on the subject.”

Public debate is a vital part of engaging in wider conversations about public policy, but an essential component of the public debate is that it is a “civil discourse”. To this end, the words of Jagland are worth repeating:

"We should be very cautious now, we should not play with fire. Therefore I think the words we are using are very important because it can lead to much more.

"We also need to stop using 'Islamic terrorism', which indicates that terrorism is about Islam. We should be saying that terrorism is terrorism and not linked to religion."

Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 August 2011 17:17

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