The Ranting Kraut

19.3.2006 – 27.9.2010

Let them burn flags …

Posted by rantingkraut on October 31, 2006

Freedom of speech is under threat yet again. This is hardly news any more but let’s keep track of the details anyway. The police is asking the government to make flag burning illegal in what must surely be an entirely spontaneous move on their part. The conflict with freedom of speech should be obvious. What is less clear is how anyone can keep a straight face when leading police officers are demanding these measures.

Let’s remember that it was the police which failed to intervene at the infamous anti-cartoon demonstration in front of the Danish embassy. Demonstrators then were breaking the law by inciting murder and terrorism. The police didn’t mind. So how exactly does the need for more extensive powers follow from a prior refusal to use existing ones? And how exactly would Islamists be threatening to anyone if they confined themselves to burning flags?

The pattern in censorship legislation and implementation which is currently emerging should also be noted: consider the above proposal, then remember that the BNP’s Nick Griffin is due in court for the second instalment of his trial for insulting Islam. What we are seeing here are two steps in a process with a predictable end result. Unjustified censorship laws are first targeted at groups which are disliked by almost everyone for good reasons (Islamists, Nazis etc.) and then are implemented against them. Given how general these laws are in scope, we can be sure that their use will be widened once the relevant precedents have been set against soft targets like Griffin.

It is also clear that there is no serious effort to combat totalitarian political forces – and not only because a consistent strategy along these lines would require the Labour Party to commit political suicide. What happens instead is that the government focuses on activities –such as flag burning rituals and speech code violations. Activities, which are unimportant to society in general, but which –through the government’s fixation with these non-issues– are highly useful in advancing New Labour’s authoritarian agenda.

Flag burning may be a popular pastime among Islamist radicals but it is hardly a threat to anyone. On the contrary, it is an almost infantile demonstration of anger against an enemy that can’t be tackled in real life. This kind of outburst is also highly useful in isolating Islamism from mainstream society: Angry bearded men burning flags hardly convey an image of political or spiritual maturity. Calls to behead anyone who doesn’t bow to their religious prohibitions will do little to endear Islamists to most people. What would be worrying are Islamists who carefully avoid such displays of obvious lunacy and adopt a moderate tone while retaining their radical agenda. Yet this is exactly what censorship legislation is likely to achieve.

For the sake of transparency, if nothing else, let the loonies rave. In this way, at least we will know our enemy.

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