The Greatest Threat to Free Speech Comes Not From Terrorism, But From Those Claiming to Fight It
May 16, 2015
Glenn Greenwald / The Intercept
Commentary: We learned recently from Paris that the Western world is deeply and passionately committed to free expression and ready to march and fight against attempts to suppress it. That's a really good thing, since there are all sorts of severe suppression efforts underway in the West -- perpetrated not by The Terrorists but by the Western politicians claiming to fight them. One of the most alarming examples comes, not at all surprisingly, from the UK government.
(May 13, 2015) -- We learned recently from Paris that the Western world is deeply and passionately committed to free expression and ready to march and fight against attempts to suppress it. That's a really good thing, since there are all sorts of severe suppression efforts underway in the West -- perpetrated not by The Terrorists but by the Western politicians claiming to fight them.
One of the most alarming examples comes, not at all surprisingly, from the UK government, which is currently agitating for new counterterrorism powers, "including plans for extremism disruption orders designed to restrict those trying to radicalize young people." Here are the powers, which the British Freedom Fighters and Democracy Protectors are seeking:
They would include a ban on broadcasting and a requirement to submit to the police in advance any proposed publication on the web and social media or in print. The bill will also contain plans for banning orders for extremist organizations which seek to undermine democracy or use hate speech in public places, but it will fall short of banning on the grounds of provoking hatred.
It will also contain new powers to close premises including mosques where extremists seek to influence others. The powers of the Charity Commission to root out charities that misappropriate funds towards extremism and terrorism will also be strengthened.
In essence, advocating any ideas or working for any political outcomes regarded by British politicians as "extremist" will not only be a crime, but can be physically banned in advance. Basking in his election victory, Prime Minister David Cameron unleashed this Orwellian decree to explain why new Thought Police powers are needed:
"For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.'" It's not enough for British subjects merely to "obey the law"; they must refrain from believing in or expressing ideas which Her Majesty's Government dislikes.
If all that sounds menacing, tyrannical and even fascist to you -- and really, how could it not? "extremism disruption orders" -- you should really watch this video of Tory Home Secretary Theresa May trying to justify the bill in an interview on BBC this morning.
When pressed on what "extremism" means -- specifically, when something crosses the line from legitimate disagreement into criminal "extremism" -- she evades the question completely, repeatedly invoking creepy slogans about the need to stop those who seek to "undermine Our British Values" and, instead, ensure "we are together as one society, One Nation" (I personally believe this was all more lyrical in its original German). Click here to watch the video and see the face of Western authoritarianism, advocating powers in the name of Freedom that are its very antithesis.
Threats to free speech can come from lots of places. But right now, the greatest threat by far in the West to ideals of free expression is coming not from radical Muslims, but from the very Western governments claiming to fight them.
The increasingly unhinged, Cheney-sounding governments of the UK, Australia, France, New Zealand and Canada -- joining the US -- have a seemingly insatiable desire to curb freedoms in the name of protecting them: prosecuting people for Facebook postings critical of Western militarism or selling "radical" cable channels, imprisoning people for "radical" tweets, banning websites containing ideas they dislike, seeking (and obtaining) new powers of surveillance and detention for those people (usually though not exclusively Muslim citizens) who hold and espouse views deemed by these governments to be "radical."
Anticipating Prime Minister Cameron's new "anti-extremist" bill (to be unveiled in the "Queen's Speech"), University of Bath Professor Bill Durodie said that "the window for free speech has now been firmly shut just a few months after so many political leaders walked in supposed solidarity for murdered cartoonists in France."
Actually, there has long been a broad, sustained assault in the West on core political liberties -- specifically due process, free speech and free assembly -- perpetrated not by "radical Muslims," but by those who endlessly claim to fight them.
Sadly, and tellingly, none of that has triggered parades or marches or widespread condemnation by Western journalists and pundits. But for those who truly believe in principles of free expression -- as opposed to pretending to when it allows one to bash the Other Tribe -- these are the assaults that need marches and protests.
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