By Hugh Ash
THE other day someone posted on my internet blog the opinion that I was a ‘neo-con’.
I’ve been called far worse and really didn’t take it as the insult intended, partly because the email spewed such far-Left drivel, it might have been lifted from the Socialist Workers Party’s hymn sheet.
Just for the record, the sender ended by advising me to ‘keep your neo-con views to yourself.’
Nuff said. Except the post slated by whoever hides behind the hashtag #DemoFan was my call for Britain’s politicos to emphasise the positive side of immigration and stop playing the UK Independence Party at its favourite game.
By any measure my piece was ‘neo-lib’, perhaps a reprise from my days as a Gucci socialist (failed) and hardly ‘neo-con’, an Americanism that came to prominence as a barb aimed at President G. ‘Dubya’ Bush’s cronies.
But what got my goat was being told to shut up by someone, I guess, who’d take to the barricades at the drop of a Stop The War Coalition hint or a CND jamboree in Trafalgar Square, if, indeed, there are still enough left to fill the fountain.
Clearly,# DemoFan’s versions of democracy’s saintliest virtue, the freedom of speech, is that it was okay to say what you liked, so long as its mantra echoed his. And any philosophy falling short of that is taboo, fascist or – as in my case – ‘neo-con’.
Yet, if I were to categorise myself it would be as a ‘free-thinker’, hidebound by politically correct rules imposed on Western society by the real fascists: a hardline, censorious liberal elite who have strangled public debate in ways more reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984 vision of Big Brother’s Thought Police.
That notion occurred last week when I read a YouGov survey, which reported that 41% of Brits don’t feel free to air their opinions and that Britain – home to the Mother of Parliaments – has developed a ‘culture of silence’.
Of course, I realise that stat includes headbangers who believe Hitler should be beatified as St. Adolf, others on a day out from the funny farm and a few, token Flat Earthers. But it also encompasses many with mainstream opinions on techy topics, such as immigration, religion, ethics and their political preferences (admittedly, it takes some guts to fess up to voting Lib-Dem nowadays).
For the record, the poll also said 40% felt they could sound off at will and 17%, who reckon there’s too much freedom anyway.
Nonetheless, in a so-called free society, it’s worrisome that two out of five citizens keep their thoughts to themselves out of a dread they may hurt someone’s feelings, perhaps prompt a Twitterstorm and get their Facebook page trolled.
The largest proportion of the self-censored (38%) said they feared speaking up in case they uttered something illegal, while 28% stayed silent because they couldn’t stomach criticism. A further 10% thought airing their ideas might damage their careers prospects.
However, of all those polled, an overwhelming majority (77%) agreed on one point: too much protection is given by officialdom and the media to religious believers from ideas and arguments which might offend them.
In its summary of the survey, the New Culture Forum, which commissioned it, pointed a particularly scathing finger at universities, where it claimed free speech ‘is carefully monitored, not by the state or the campus administration, but by the students.’
It added, ‘Student unions now see the mental wellbeing of the student body as a reason to ban anything from a pop song to a reading group.’
Since today’s generation of undergrads – many of whom love nothing better than a juicy demo and a chance to kick those fascist lackeys, the police – will deliver tomorrow’s leaders, I can only surmise more Big Brothers are rolling off the production line.
So, while we quite rightly have laws banning hate speech and incitement to racism, we’re in danger of stifling legitimate argument, not because it might cause actual bodily harm, but because someone, somewhere might be offended.
Britain once had a proud tradition of allowing people to speak their minds, often a shrewd ruse to suss out the real odium peddlers, who’d damn themselves from their own mouths.
But when the BBC announced that British National Party leader, Nick Griffin – a real, live neo-Nazi – was to appear on its flagship political forum, Question Time, a tidalwave of outrage nearly quashed the broadcast.
To their credit, the Beeb bravely stuck to its script, the BNP nasty duly appeared and got the pillorying his despicable views richly deserved.
That example is one of the exceptions rather than the rule, because invariably received wisdom is to gag debate, which is Home Secretary Theresa May’s view, as she seeks to ban extremists from TV, like the so-called hate preacher Anjem Choudary.
I’d say: bring them on and let’s hear their obnoxious ravings, so we’re all aware of what degree of danger they pose.
The Establishment, though, doesn’t subscribe to the view people are capable of making up their own minds, so appeasement is foisted on them.
Such was the case when Salmon Rushdie’s Satanic Verses hit the bookshelves in 1988, provoking a fatwa death sentence from Iran’s then Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini. Yet, instead condemning a gross and medieval assault on a long-prized Western freedom, the great and good cravenly attacked Rushdie.
Nor did the fabled, fearless British Press cover itself in glory, when not a single Fleet Street newspaper dared reproduce the ‘Mohammed Cartoons’, after an obscure Danish daily ignited worldwide debate on whether founders of the great religions could be satirised.
Yet, when a ComRes poll early last year asked what freedom people prized most, freedom of speech topped the list by a country mile.
Clearly, the public subscribed to the notion, ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’ – a quote wrongly attributed to Voltaire and actually the words of his biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall – and that is a plucky and noble sentiment.
More’s the pity, then, the Establishment is too craven to share it.
To read more of Hugh Ash’s comments, follow his prize-winning online blog – Views From The Mallorca Pier – at hughash.wordpress.com