Monday, February 28, 2005

Freedom of speech.

Well Friday and yesterday went pretty well, 1200 and 1500 words respectively, so I’m going to stick at it. I am going to try and do a minimum of 1000 words a day. I may have days off, I haven’t worked that out yet. If I keep this up I may get the thing written by the summer.

An update on the Free Mojtaba and Arash campaign. Arash Sigarchi was sentenced to fourteen years imprisonment on Thursday for various offences including aiding foreign anti-revolutionaries and insulting various Iranian big wigs past and present. The BBC News story can be found here. So more letters to write, I guess.

I really don’t understand the logic behind censoring somebody who says offensive things. Of course, everybody has a right not to be subjected to material which is offensive to them and society as a whole has a responsibility to protect children and vulnerable parties from material which might confuse or disturb them. Even in the UK there is a periodical fuss made about those offence, whether it’s Ken Livingstone comparing a reporter (who happened to be Jewish) to a concentration camp guard or Jerry Springer the Opera or whatever.

John Stuart Mill was right about this stuff. He said that people should be allowed to say what they like within the boundaries described above and so long as they are not inciting violence (i.e it’s okay to speak out against corn-sellers so long as you’re not stood in front of an angry mob outside the corn-seller’s house). He believed this for three reasons;
  • What is being censored may be true and by censoring it we risk a great loss of knowledge if we imagine ourselves infallible.
  • What is being censored may be partly true; there may be at least something useful in what is being said.
  • Even if it’s a load of bunkum (not his term), a doctrine remains vital and rational by meeting challenges. Even if our belief is spot-on, without challenge it becomes no more than a prejudice as opposed to the reasoned argument around which we make our decisions.
Strangely enough, the grounds upon which folks most often object to freedom of speech are religious. However, if God is omniscient, omnipotent and good, us mere mortals can’t really do any harm. If what you believe in is the truth, then what book, speech or article could possibly pose a risk to it?

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