Wednesday, October 10, 2007

New attack on free speech in Britain

Post below lifted from Midnight Sun. See the original for links

Worldwide suppression of free speech - is it possible? On the first of this month (October) in Great Britain, an upgrade to existing `hate crime' legislation came into effect by which a British blogger can be imprisoned for seven years and slapped with an unlimited fine for criticizing any religion, which of course means Islam.
The new Act was passed to close a loophole: To date, only Jews and Sikhs were protected by the provisions of incitement to racial hatred. According to the Government, some extremists exploited this loophole, using religious terms to identify victims whom they would have previously identified using racial terms. From next month, the law will extend protection to followers of all religions.

However, the Act is a diluted version of the bill that was first introduced by the Government to Parliament after a high-profile campaign by free speech advocates including comic actor Rowan Atkinson.

The bill originally outlawed words and behavior that insulted or abused religious groups. The House of Lords removed those provisions and limited the offense to those who used threatening words or behavior only. They also removed the `reckless' element of the offense, restricting it to intentional offenses. The Government's failure to overturn these amendments was blamed on miscalculations by Government whips, who had not called in sufficient MPs to win the vote.

The new offense can be committed by broadcasting, writing in a blog or on a website, recording sounds which are threatening, or in the performance of a play if there is an intent to stir up religious hatred. Offenses can be punished by a prison term of up to seven years and an unlimited fine.
Basically the original law was introduced. It was protested by free speech advocates (joined by `Mr Bean' - Rowan Atkinson) so the government amended it. While they seem to be making it fairer, they've actually added more provisos. Lawyers say it leaves room for free speech: There is a wide exemption for freedom of speech. The Act states:
"Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytizing or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practicing their religion or belief system."
Sounds pretty subjective and open to interpretation and manipulation to me. And why are they making this kind of law to start with? Something is changing and if you're following global trends, it's certain to be another step downhill.

Here's how I think it's going to play out. The law has been changed to include `discrimination' against Muslims. There are plenty of British blogs which would fall into this category. They'll pick on the most politically incorrect ones first, possibly the BNP connected ones, and this will break down any community resistance. Then it's going to game on for all right wing blogs (which they always connect with `racism' anyway both politically and in the broader community). British bloggers will run for higher ground as Belgian bloggers have done and move their blogs to international servers to avoid detection.

Sooner or later, the E.U. will opt for standardization across the board in Europe. Then, as the E.U. pushes for more power as they have been lately, they will push for variations of the same law to be enacted worldwide. The governments we have right now might resist, but elections are coming up. What will future governments do?

Now add to that the rise of Jihadi gangs in prisons and their attitude towards those incarcerated for religious `vilification' and you've got a time bomb the implications of which don't bear thinking about. Now I've got myself into trouble making predictions in the past and I could be wrong here, but I'm just setting out a hypothetical scenario.

A fight against independent thought

By Ruben Navarrette:

The confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas may be the ultimate Rorschach test. Americans look back at what transpired in that Senate hearing room in October 1991 and see what they want to see. For those who believed Anita Hill's claims that Thomas - while serving as her boss at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission - made advances and created a hostile work environment, the hearings were about sexual harassment. In a recent interview tied to the release of his new book, "My Grandfather's Son," Thomas said the treatment he received was really about abortion and the lengths to which the pro-choice lobby will go to keep a pro-life justice off the court.

I prefer a third explanation. These events were really about freedom - the freedom of affirmative action babies to engage in independent thinking and draw their own conclusions about whether racial entitlements actually benefit the folks they're supposed to, or are not worth preserving. That's not easy to do when you have to put up with silly accusations that you're pulling up the ladder behind you if you criticize affirmative action.

What ladder? Does anyone really think that under the status quo - where powerful, and mostly white teachers unions are derailing higher standards for Latino and African-American students - minorities are enjoying an educational windfall that they must preserve at all costs?

Oh great. Now I'm going to be in trouble, too. As a Mexican-American Harvard graduate, I have benefited from the very educational system I'm criticizing. And I've been accused of "selling out" my own people because I oppose racial preferences and bilingual education. I also support the education reform law, No Child Left Behind, which empowers Latino students and yet which a host of Democratic presidential candidates promised, during a recent Spanish-language debate, to overhaul or scrap.

But wait, shouldn't I have the right to process all available information and reach my own conclusions just like anyone else? Dream on. White liberals won't allow it. And many of them aren't beneath insinuating that - without the opportunities that they alone provided me, out of the goodness of their hearts - I'd be out hawking oranges at an intersection.

You should read the mail I got from liberals who were furious at me - oops, I mean, "disappointed" in me - for defending former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. I'll summarize: "You got your job because you're Mexican. Gonzales got his job because he was Mexican. So naturally, one Mexican defends another. Have a nice day."


Britain: Hats now incorrect

According to a report in London listing magazine Time Out, a growing number of London establishments are enforcing a `hat ban' on customers wishing to drink on their premises. It is one thing for pot-bellied landlords to tell customers they've had `too much to drink' and `clear off home'. It's another thing serving up strong sartorial diktat. Just who do they think they are? Don't they want our hard-earned cash and custom?

`We operate a smart casual dress code', a barmaid told me at the busy Porterhouse pub in Covent Garden in central London. `And that means no hats allowed in the pub.' Surely a nice trilby hat or a cream fedora hat fits the criteria of `smart casual'? She replied with unblinking primness: `We can't have one hat rule for some and one hat rule for others.' In other words, whether you are sporting a chavtastic Burberry cap or some designer item of millinery straight out of Royal Ascot, you won't be heading to the bar in a hurry. If Rat Pack stars like Frank Sinatra were around today, they would no doubt be turfed out of such premises for their anti-social headgear, no matter how much cash they were prepared to put across the bar.

Needless to say, the `smart casual' policy at the Porterhouse and some branches of All Bar One in central London is not really the justification for this ludicrous hat ban. It seems publicans have taken their cue from shopping centres such as Bluewater on the outskirts of London. Security staff there ban shoppers from wearing hoodies on the basis that any covering of the face prevents the wearer from being identified on closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV). `Yes, that's true', says the Porterhouse pub's barmaid, agreeing with Bluewater's policy on hooded tops. `Hats do obscure someone's face and CCTVs need to see them in case there's any trouble.' She's not alone with this explanation either. A barman at an All Bar One told Time Out: `We don't allow hats to be worn in the bar. We absolutely don't allow it. We need all faces to be seen by the CCTV.' (1)

Whilst such nit-picking bans might be a shock to the good liberals at Time Out, it seems this development has been in operation throughout the country for a while now. In March 2006, retired teacher Betty Wilbraham was told by staff at The Hereward pub in Ely, Cambridgeshire, to remove her black rain hat because `its CCTV camera would not be able to see her face clearly enough'. Pub licensee Tony Love said it was pub policy to always ask people to remove their hats. `It's all to do with the CCTV. We have 13 cameras inside the pub and we cannot be seen to be discriminating between the youths and the elderly people.' (2) Elsewhere at The Wheatsheaves in Frome, Somerset, one publican failed to get into the Christmas spirit last year by banning anyone who wore Santa Claus hats for the same reason. The Wheatsheaves' publican, Sam Ingram, proved that the deadhand of Scrooge was alive and kicking by bluntly stating: `Just because they're dressed up as Santa doesn't mean they couldn't start a riot.' (3) No doubt Ingram spends his time behind the bar on Christmas Day crying `Humbug!' to anyone who'll listen.

Is it really the case that hats of any description obscure someone's face? If so, what will be next? Will Amy Winehouse be refused entry into pubs because her perfectly coiffured beehive obscures her face? Will bowl-headed indie kids be ordered to have their fringes cut before they can get served? And why does it matter if someone's face is obscured anyway? Why this poisonous presumption that pub dwellers are automatically out to cause trouble?

The enforcement of such a bizarre rule as the `hat ban' may be an attempt to assert control in the name of tackling crime - there has always been a `Little Hitler' tendency among door staff and publicans. But the fact that such a ban seems to have been accepted at all shows how a demand for security and safety permeates society at present. It's interesting that while respectable pensioners have kicked up a fuss at the hat ban, younger people have tended to acquiesce to the demand to remove their headgear. In fact, surveillance is more or less seen as acceptable if it leads to a greater sense of security. And if that means toning down the headgear in the name of peace and quiet, then so be it. The way landlords justify the ban is also a kind of artificial `zero tolerance' policy where bouncers or staff are seen to flex their authority by telling a customer what is and what isn't permissible. A barman from an All Bar One branch in Soho told me, `a customer would think twice about causing trouble if a doorman has already told them off. The hat ban acts as a deterrent.'

What lies behind such demand for safety and security is a perception that individual autonomy is problematic in and of itself. Thus all individuals need some kind of rules and regulation because anyone can suddenly `get out of hand'. Forcing pub goers to remove their personal choice of headgear is done to constrain someone's free will and independence, lest that free will leads to aggro and arguments - the dress code implies a behaviour code, too. Indeed, there is something servile about forcing customers to `remove their hats', with ugly echoes of the `doffing your cap' reverence to society's supposed `betters' in the past. In this case, it's a reverence to New Britain's principles of authority, order and knowing-your-place. At root lies nothing but contempt for pub-going folk, as the aforementioned `I predict a riot' publican makes abundantly clear.

To be fair, other establishments are strongly against this growing fad for hat bans in pubs. As one barman from Bar Soho told me: `In this pub we leave it up to the individual to think for themselves. It's not our job to tell people what they should or should not wear.' Nevertheless, the fact that there's a growing number of pubs operating a hat ban at all reveals much about the overwhelming Culture of Unfreedom in the UK. It's not simply the property of a crudely authoritarian government like New Labour, but something that influences all aspects of society.

So the government hasn't made wearing hats in pubs illegal (yet), nor have the authorities adopted the logo of Eighties one-hit-wonders Men Without Hats and stuck it in all pub windows. But despite the smoking ban, pubs are still relatively unregulated public spaces and so jumpy landlords and bouncers apparently feel the need to issue such daft rules. When such a ban is introduced, even in a few establishments, it invites further and more heavy-handed intervention from the authorities, too. How long before a politician proposes on-the-spot fines for wearing hats `in closed public places'? Making people take their hats off isn't the end of the world - but it fits into a corrosive, creeping process of restricting our freedoms, large and small. One of these days, this endless procession of Looney Tunes restrictions on our liberties will deprive us of any meaningful rights - or as Bugs Bunny might say: `Hat's all, folks!'


Modern Heroes

Our soldiers like what they do. They want our respect, not pity

I'm weary of seeing news stories about wounded soldiers and assertions of "support" for the troops mixed with suggestions of the futility of our military efforts in Iraq. Why aren't there more accounts of what the troops actually do? How about narrations of individual battles and skirmishes, of their ever-evolving interactions with Iraqi troops and locals in Baghdad and Anbar province, and of increasingly resourceful "patterning" of terrorist networks that goes on daily in tactical operations centers?

The sad and often unspoken truth of the matter is this: Americans have been conditioned less to understand Iraq's complex military reality than to feel sorry for those who are part of it. The media struggles in good faith to respect our troops, but too often it merely pities them. I am generalizing, of course. Indeed, there are regular, stellar exceptions, quite often in the most prominent liberal publications, from our best military correspondents. But exceptions don't quite cut it amidst the barrage of "news," which too often descends into therapy for those who are not fighting, rather than matter-of-fact stories related by those who are.

As one battalion commander complained to me, in words repeated by other soldiers and marines: "Has anyone noticed that we now have a volunteer Army? I'm a warrior. It's my job to fight." Every journalist has a different network of military contacts. Mine come at me with the following theme: We want to be admired for our technical proficiency--for what we do, not for what we suffer. We are not victims. We are privileged.

The cult of victimhood in American history first flourished in the aftermath of the 1960s youth rebellion, in which, as University of Chicago Prof. Peter Novick writes, women, blacks, Jews, Native Americans and others fortified their identities with public references to past oppressions. The process was tied to Vietnam, a war in which the photographs of civilian victims "displaced traditional images of heroism." It appears that our troops have been made into the latest victims.

Heroes, according to the ancients, are those who do great deeds that have a lasting claim to our respect. To suffer is not necessarily to be heroic. Obviously, we have such heroes, who are too often ignored. Witness the low-key coverage accorded to winners of the Medal of Honor and of lesser decorations.

The first Medal of Honor in the global war on terror was awarded posthumously to Army Sgt. First Class Paul Ray Smith of Tampa, Fla., who was killed under withering gunfire protecting his wounded comrades outside Baghdad airport in April 2003. According to LexisNexis, by June 2005, two months after his posthumous award, his stirring story had drawn only 90 media mentions, compared with 4,677 for the supposed Quran abuse at Guantanamo Bay, and 5,159 for the court-martialed Abu Ghraib guard Lynndie England. While the exposure of wrongdoing by American troops is of the highest importance, it can become a tyranny of its own when taken to an extreme.

Media frenzies are ignited when American troops are either the perpetrators of acts resulting in victimhood, or are victims themselves. Meanwhile, individual soldiers daily performing complicated and heroic deeds barely fit within the strictures of news stories as they are presently defined. This is why the sporadic network and cable news features on heroic soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan comes across as so hokey. After all, the last time such reports were considered "news" was during World War II and the Korean War.

In particular, there is Fox News's occasional series on war heroes, whose apparent strangeness is a manifestation of the distance the media has traveled away from the nation-state in the intervening decades. Fox's war coverage is less right-wing than it is simply old-fashioned, antediluvian almost. Fox's commercial success may be less a factor of its ideological base than of something more primal: a yearning among a large segment of the public for a real national media once again--as opposed to an international one. Nationalism means patriotism, and patriotism requires heroes, not victims.

Let's review some recent history. From Sept. 11, 2001, until the middle of 2003, when events in Afghanistan and Iraq appeared to be going well, the media portrayed the troops in an uncomplicated, positive light. Young reporters who embedded early on became acquainted with men and women in uniform, by whom they were frankly impressed. But their older editors, children of the '60s often, were skeptical. Once these wars started going badly, skepticism turned to a feeling of having been duped, a sentiment amplified by the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

That led to a different news cycle, this time with the troops as war criminals. But that cycle could not be sustained by the facts beyond the specific scandal. So by the end of 2004, yet another news cycle set in, the one that is still with us: the troops as victims of an incompetent and evil administration. The irony is that the daily actions of the troops now, living among Iraqis, applying the doctrines of counterinsurgency, and engaged regularly in close-quarters combat, are likely more heroic than in the period immediately following 9/11.

Objectively speaking, the troops can be both victims and heroes--that is, if the current phase of the war does indeed turn out to be futile. My point is only to note how the media has embraced the former theme and downplayed the latter. The LexisNexis statistics reveal the extent to which the media is uncomfortable with traditional heroism, of the kind celebrated from Herodotus through World War II. If that's not the case, then why don't we read more accounts about the battlefield actions of Silver Star winners, Bronze Star winners and the like?

Feeling comfortable with heroes requires a lack of cynicism toward the cause for which they fight. In the 1990s, when exporting democracy and militarily responding to ethnic and religious carnage were looked up upon, U.S. Army engineering units in Bosnia were lionized merely for laying bridges across rivers. Those soldiers did not need to risk their lives or win medals in order to be glorified by the media. Indeed, the media afforded them more stature than it does today's Medal of Honor winners. When a war becomes unpopular, the troops are in a sense deserted. In the eyes of professional warriors, pity can be a form of debasement.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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