Not Saussure

November 12, 2006

It’s grotesque — ban it!

Filed under: civil liberties, Politics — notsaussure @ 5:21 pm

PETER HAIN, who is bidding to become Labour’s next deputy leader, has threatened government curbs on “grotesque” City bonuses

Times Online

Why so?

Hain said: “I do think most people find it pretty grotesque that a couple of dozen City executives can share a billion pounds of bonuses between them. That’s not where hard-working families and people are at. We need a debate about this and a genuine dialogue with the City.”

What’s to debate about? The only people, it seems to me, who should be engaged in the debate are the shareholders, who might (or might not) rather have their money spent differently. If ‘most people’ do, in fact, ‘find it pretty grotesque’, then so what? They can always boycott the goods or services provided by the firms concerned if they feel sufficiently strongly about the idea of their money going towards these chaps’ bonuses.

Personally, I find it considerably more grotesque that John Prescott draws a salary, paid for out of my taxes, of £135,337 for doing not a great deal, and that’s before we take into account the cost of his various perks and official cars. And I certainly find it utterly grotesque that the government should take money I’ve earned and give it to political parties.

The fact that you don’t like something is no reason to ban it, to my mind. Unfortunately, HMG don’t seem to see it that way. Fox hunting, smoking in public places — and I see that

The government is worried that next year’s smoking ban could face a public backlash. Now it is turning to ‘terror tactics’ in a new advertising campaign to change our minds

at a reported cost of £10 million of our money to persuade us that we wanted this ban — and now ‘violent internet porn’.

Possibly more worrying — not least because I fear I may find myself agreeing with John Reid on this one — is Gordon Brown’s line of argument that

“Any preaching of religious or racial hatred will offend mainstream opinion in this country.

“We have got to do whatever we can to root it out from whatever quarter it comes.

“And if that means we have got to look at the laws again, we will have to do so.”

His minor premise misses out, of course, the key words ‘effective’ and ‘proportionate’; charitably, one might assume he takes those for granted, but experience tells us that HMG often forgets these considerations, which is the courts have so often to remind them that the ECHR requires anything that contravenes convention rights (e.g. Article 10, Freedom of Expression) needs to be proportionate to the ill it seeks to redress.

However, my main worry is with his major premise, that preaching of religious or racial hatred will offend mainstream opinion in this country SO it follows … .

Not so. The reason for banning incitement to racial or religious hatred isn’t, or shouldn’t be, that you seek to censor obnoxious opinions because you don’t want mainstream opinion to be offended but that you want to prevent public disorder and you want people to be able peacefully to go about their business without being attacked, or fearing they’re going to be attacked, because they’re the wrong colour or the wrong religion.

Laura Smith, writing in The Groan, manages to demonstrate what’s wrong with Brown’s line of argument by spectacularly missing the point; she writes,

The verdict clearing Nick Griffin on race hate charges stands in stark contrast to the case of a young Muslim man convicted the previous day on very similar charges. In both trials, the defendants were accused of using words or behaviour intended to stir up racial hatred.

Not quite. It’s matter of what the two juries found on the facts of the two cases; as someone succinctly explains in the comments,

If Nick Griffin had been carrying a placard saying “Behead those who follow Islam” and Mizanur Rahman had said “Far right nationalism is a wicked and vicious political position”, then I’d expect to see Griffin locked up and Rahman acquitted

— not because you agree that far right nationalism is a wicked and vicious political position but because one’s a clear incitement to violence and the other isn’t.

Indeed, following Gordon Brown’s line of argument is going to take you into all manner of strange places. The Daily Express, for example, would doubtless argue that Muslim women wearing veils offends ‘mainstream opinion in this country’, yet I’d certainly argue that the Express’s attempts to whip up religious bigotry and sectarianism about this — very reminiscent, to my mind, of the contributions to religious and social debate made by some of Dr Paisley’s followers in NI — are far more damaging than anything done by Nick Griffin talking to his obnoxious supporters in a pub.

Having said that, there is, to my mind, some force in Laura Smith’s concluding point that

The absence of such a legal safeguard [against Incitement to Religious Hatred] ensures that Griffin and his ilk can dress their virulent racism and xenophobia in the guise of legitimate concerns over the influence of Islam in this country.

Before the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006, the BNP could say pretty much what they wanted to about ‘Pakis’ so long as they remembered to call them ‘Muslims’, a loophole they were not slow to exploit. The Act goes some way to alter this, though it contains the curious distinction between stirring up racial hatred — which can be done recklessly (i.e. there’s no need to show intent, just likely and foreseeable effect) — and religious hatred, which can only be done with intent, thus making it far more difficult to prove.

I fully understand the concerns some people raised about the proposed law, though I have to say I wondered what jokes Rowan Atkinson wanted to tell which he thought might get him into trouble, given that he must have realised that, under the proposed law before the Lords amended it, he could have adapted the whole oeuvre of Bernard Manning and Jim Davidson by substituting religious for racial references and still had nothing to worry about.

That’s because, quite rightly, neither law is or was about offending anyone, whether their views represented mainstream opinion or not. They’re about inciting people to hatred, which means in English law that there’s a danger of public disorder or violence.

Under the present distinction, we’re left with the seemingly absurd situation that, for example, diatribes about islamofascism, or even ‘Islamo-fascist subhumans’, face a higher hurdle for prosecution than would those about judeo-bolshevism and Bolshevik Jewish SubHumans, to which they’re clearly related and which most of us would want to see prosecuted. I’m not at all sure how sustainable that’s going to be in the long run.


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2 Comments »

  1. I think the ammount of money that is payed to some people as bonuses is obcene but I do not think that is a good reason to put a cap on Bonuses. While it may be wrong that some people get 6 figure bonuses while others can barely feed themselves. capping the bonuses will do absolutely nothing to help the poor.

    Surely a better strategy would be to increase taxes for extremely high earners, whether that cash comes from salary, bonus or shares options.

    Comment by Andrew — November 15, 2006 @ 11:04 am

  2. […] Now I write something entitled It’s grotesque — ban it, and, as if by magic, up pops the Met’s assistant commissioner, Tariq Ghaffur, asking for new powers to arrest protesters for causing offence through the words they chant and the slogans on their placards and even headbands […]

    Pingback by This policeman offends my common sense — make a law to stop him! « Not Saussure — November 27, 2006 @ 2:29 pm


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