Monday, July 20, 2009

The Novelty of Liberal Values

Who would have thought that in our enlightened times the freedom of expression needs an army of defenders! Of course, those who are not blind enough to see, may have noticed we've been sliding into a postmodern form of fascism the last few years. 

Yesterday we were overjoyed to be able to report on the policy U-turn performed by the new British Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, the long awaited successor to Jacqui "Jackboot" Smith. He has decided to scrap his predecessor's hate list of people banned from Britain – a list that included US talk show host Michael Savage, along with an untold legion of Islamic hate preachers and terrorists. Savage was going to sue for libel, but he may review in the light of this encouraging news.

But the case opens questions on another matter, the British ban on Islam critic and Dutch MP, Geert Wilders. Although the barring of an MP from another EU member state is unheard of and techniquely even worse than the banning of Savage, the Labour Government of Gordon Brown remains unrepentant where Wilders is concerned.

At least that is what we must assume, given the fact that only a few weeks ago Wilders was also barred from attending the first session of his appeal. Today we find confirmation in an article in Dutch 'paper' De Pers, one of those free publications the early commuter might pick up from one of the world's metropolitan railway stations. Most of them, teetering on the brink of rather commendable public school bulletins, barely deserve the epithet.

This particular rag contains an interview with the Chair of the Birkenhead Society, a staunch defender of frank opinion and open debate even if they themselves happen to disagree with it. The article is an eye-opener in more ways than one: the author pretends to be confronted with such a principle for the first time in her life! She registers - perhaps - feigned surprise at such novelties as reason, laissez fair, Enlightenment, and liberal values; and whatever has the freedom of speech got to do with democracy!

It beggars belief that by now a generation has come of age that was raised in an atmosphere of "shut tf up because I say so, you moron!" - in which the natural choice in the face of intimidation is appeasement.

Here are a few of the highlights:

De Pers: "If Wilders loses, so does the Britain"

The British decision to bar Wilders from entering the country is "a threat to democracy" [!], opines the Birkenhead Society. [The author signals her surprise of such a notion.] The Society will assist Wilders in appealing the Government's decision

Abhijit Pandya (30), Chairman of the British Birkenhead Society cannot stress enough that the freedom of expression is at the root of our [Western, liberal] society. Wearing a grey suit and tie [to Pragmatist collectivists that's relevant!] the chairman delivers a fiery speech about liberal society in which everyone is free to offer an opinion and people seek open debate. [Again: 'feigned' surprise!]

The organization has some 60 members.  (...) Upon learning of the British Government's decision they offered to help Wilders with his appeal. (...) The Birkenhead is funded by member contributions, gifts and legacies.

What Wilders says is not the point. They would have done the same for an extreme Left politician [as opposed to this extreme Right specimen - note the absence of quotations marks], says Pandya ... even though the Birkenhead's own talking points - the burqa, immigration, integration, national identity - are in reasonable approximation of the Wilders' agenda.

- Caption: Lord Birkenhead portrait on the front cover of Time Magazine, circa 1920 - 

This isn't about Muslims either. Wilders' British lawyer stems from a family of Sheffield Muslims. It's about the discourse. "The Koran was written in a certain period of our history. That fact should be debated. We must be able to talk about its meaning and proscriptions."

Abhijit Pandya discusses the Wilders's case in legal and philosophical terms. He speaks of reason and Enlightenment, about debates and Galileo. Throughout history people who spoke the truth have been tortured and killed, he states passionately. That doesn't mean, that Wilders - whom he hasn't met - speaks the truth. "But if you silence him, you're killing the debate. We must stop protecting [the sensitivities] of minorities."

Wilders' British allies believe in ultimate laissez fair in social discourse. There should be no prohibitions, says Pandya. Not of [Hitler's book] Mein Kampf, nor of a terrorist's cookery book for bombs. (...)

The young conservative founded the Birkenhead four years ago with a small circle of friends. It followed a bout of social unrest caused by a play in Birmingham in which a Sikh woman was raped. Hunderds of furious Sikhs took to the streets and the play was cancelled. Pandya is still upset about it. "That's bowing to violent intimidation by a minority".

- Caption: Vanity Fair portrait of Lord Birkenhead circa 1900 - 

The same is true in the Wilders case. The Government feared rioting and had him barred. The next session in the legal procedure of Wilders versus the Secretary of State, is on October 12 and 13 at the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal in Londen. Much is at stake, asserts Pandya. "I'm afraid we will lose, and that would be a severe loss for Britain."

The Birkenhead is proud of the British heritage. Churchill, Thatcher, Enoch Powell are their heroes. The organization fights political correctness and positive discrimination (affirmative action). "Great Britain is much too protective of the feelings of minorities", says Pandya, the child of an Indian mother and an Ugandan father. "If someone gets racist to me, I tell him he's an idiot. That's it. We cannot shield ourselves from the opinions of others. Mature people ought to debate each other on the basis of arguments."

Does he see the irony in the offspring of immigrants defending an anti immigration politician? Pandya responds annoyedly: "I'm not a racist? Shouldn't we take his case because he's white? That's not the point. The freedom of speech is at stake."

- Filed on Articles in "In Defense of Liberty" -


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