Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Creeping Tyranny

Timothy Garton Ash has a very clearly argued article in the Guardian concerning censorship and what he terms the veto of the group.
These days, the main threats to freedom of thought, freedom of speech and freedom of association no longer come from the totalitarian ideological superstate that inspired George Orwell to write his 1984. [...] That totalitarian horror still exists in places like Burma, but the distinctive feature of this new danger is the creeping tyranny of the group veto. [...] If the intimidators succeed, then the lesson for any group that strongly believes in anything is: shout more loudly, be more extreme, threaten violence, and you will get your way. Frightened firms, newspapers or universities will cave in, as will softbellied democratic states, where politicians scrabble to keep the votes of diverse constituencies. But in our increasingly mixed-up, multicultural world, there are so many groups that care so strongly about so many different things, from fruitarians to anti-abortionists and from Jehovah's Witnesses to Kurdish nationalists. Aggregate all their taboos and you have a vast herd of sacred cows. Let the frightened nanny state enshrine all those taboos in new laws or bureaucratic prohibitions, and you have a drastic loss of freedom. That, I think, is what is happening to us, issue by issue. These days, you can't even read a list of the British war dead in Iraq outside the gates of No 10 Downing Street without getting a criminal record. Inch by inch, paragraph by paragraph, we are becoming less free.

This concerns those offended by drawings, as well as those offended by exeriments on animals. As he also points out, this also means that David Irving should not have been jailed for what he said (David Irving is a featherweight intellectual with no credibility - but that isn't a criminal offence).
What is sauce for the Islamist goose must be sauce for the fascist gander. What Irving says is horrible, an insult to the Jewish dead, survivors and relatives, but on any reasonable assessment it does not result in a significant threat to the physical safety or liberty of living human beings. As for the possible return or continued propagation of

fascism in Austria: the greater (though still not very great) threat of that comes from the anti-immigrant propaganda of extremist politicians like Jörg Haider, who sit in Austrian parliaments not Austrian prisons.

Further discussion (not all of it so supportive) is at Timothy Garton Ash's forum.

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