This is a first draft laying out a series of arguments why ethnic minority groups should
oppose embrace freedom of speech and avoid censorship.
Why there is a need for such perspective, I will explain later. Though I suspect most of you know why. Please feel free to add to this list and debate the points. I hope to use it for a comment is free article later too.
Censorship and violence
Most attempts at censorship by religious groups come with implicit threats of violence or death threats. It happened with Salman Rushdie, the play Behzti, Jerry Springer, Danish cartoons, Abdul Rahman and the Hindu paintings. Journalists get harassed, and in South Asia frequently killed, over expressing views or reporting stories that do not sit well with religious fanatics.
On a lesser-known scale people such as Sonia Deol, Kala Afghana, Deepa Mehta and many others have faced intimidation or death threats from religious groups. Censorship on religious grounds and violence go hand in hand. Unless we openly oppose the former, the latter will not go away.
In an unbalanced power relationship total freedom of speech is the best tool that minority groups have to get their voices heard and grievances acknowledged. When faced with widespread censorship it is always the marginalised groups who are silenced first.
As an example let’s take the Muslim Council of Britain’s approach. The MCB strongly campaigned for new legislation to outlaw incitement to hatred and violence on religious grounds. It was opposed to speech that was seen as offensive to Muslims. Yet it campaigned against the government’s proposals to outlaw glorification of terror and has opposed extremist groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir being banned.
In effect it is saying that while people should not be allowed to be offensive towards Islam, Muslim groups such as HuT should have the freedom to be offensive to Jews, other non-Muslims, western values and governments, and that people should be allowed to provide financial and vocal support to terrorist groups in Palestine, Kashmir and other parts of the world.
Similarly, Sikh groups even tried to convict Behzti’s writer Gurpreet Bhatti as inciting hatred against Sikhs!
A government should not be allowed to target or exempt specific groups from what they can or cannot say. Freedom of speech legislation should be broad and applied equally otherwise it fails in its objective. With the boundaries on what is acceptable and what is not being vague, the only realistic answer is to make it legal to allow complete political freedom on speech.
Supressing women and the disadvantaged
Attempts at censorship usually hurt the disadvantaged and marginalised the most, and this applies within minority groups too. Within them, it is usually the community leaders who hold the balance of power, supressing marginalised groups such as women (and lower castes in South Asia) from freely expressing their thoughts.
As Rahila Gupta pointed out last year, women are frequently suppressed from voicing concerns over cultural practices, corruption within religious insitutions, rapes by religious leaders and so on.
During the Salman Rushdie affair when Muslims formed Women against Fundamentalism, they were threatened and intimidated by men.
Not wanting to allow racists or xenophobes from saying what they want also underestimates the intelligence of most Britons to see through bigoted and racist worldviews. It also underestimates the strength of our own communities to deal with such racial or xenophobic slurs. Not all of us are as helpless and liable to breakdown at every someone says something offensive.
It is part of living in a democracy that we should get used to hearing things we may not want to. That applies to citizens as much as it applies to telling the government when it is wrong.
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Filed in: Civil liberties