A rod for your own back

Bahar Mustafa has been charged over her tweet concerning the killing of white men. Turns out free speech has it’s limits under English law, precisely the stance that she really supports: there are some things you should not be allowed to say.

While as a white man I’m not a massive fan of her statement of purpose, I don’t believe she should be brought before a court of law for a crime that is none other than that of thought and writing. Anything can be said or written and in keeping with that let us consider some of the great writers of the ideals of liberty – Mill, Milton, Paine to name but three. The ideas they discussed make it pretty clear why free speech – including the right to offend – is worth defending: the idea that the listener has a right to hear what is said, the idea of grain of truth, the idea that we can challenge prevailing and mainstream notions and the list carries on.

With such positions in the forefront of our minds we can now consider Bahar and her own state of affairs. She does not think that anyone can say or discuss anything, take transgender issues – to what extent to someone who doesn’t have a “stake” in such affairs have a right to discuss them? Bahar made it clear, when in discussion with Brendan O’Neill of Spiked, that to do so can be damaging and harmful to those who are transgender and why would he discuss such issues anyway when he has no “stake” in them. As such she would see it fit for the right of individuals to voice themselves freely to be restricted, within her own little demagogy of Goldsmith’s SU such a policy is concerning, in the hands of the state it is a basis for tyranny – and it is at the hands of the state she now suffers. One does wonder if “serves you right” is an appropriate approach to take, “you wanted to restrict free speech because of harm? Well guess what the gvt. agrees!” – it is at this point that another layer can be added to the free speech cake: a rod for your own back.

There are those – such as Bahar – who are very quick to run to the safety of “rights” when it is their rights that are threatened, it seems it’s other people’s rights they have a problem with. If she were to put in place a policy where there is a punishment for “harmful” speech she has, in effect, made a rod for her own back since the principle is now there: watch what you say, else you can suffer. And this is the situation that ought to be considered every time someone attempts to restrict some freedom or another, if you do so where are you going to run to when the gvt. turns around and uses that exact law against you. In the same vein as Thomas More put to his future son-in-law, Roper, in Bolt’s ‘A man for all seasons’, if Bahar were to cut down all the rights and freedoms of England in order to catch the great offenders where would she go when the offender turns around to meet her? All her rights and freedoms are now gone, with the offender in the driving seat she has given him the power to sentence her and restrict her in anyway he deems fit.

So when one wishes to restrict the freedoms of others just remind them: Be careful what you wish for, where are you going to go when the devil turns round to meet you?

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