Monday, July 06, 2015
A new British bill of rights? Hopefully not
We can’t trust our illiberal leaders to protect our freedoms
Seventy years ago today, the United Nations Charter was signed in San Francisco, ushering in the era of human rights. But in Britain, there are increasing calls to eliminate the existing human-rights framework and create a new bill of rights. And I can understand why. In the past few years, there have been countless stories of faux human-rights claims – enough to arouse suspicion among many human-rights activists. Is it really a human right for prisoners to vote in elections? Or a human right for life sentences to include the possibility of release?
The UK government’s concern with these types of cases may be legitimate, but what is troubling about the debate is the idea that our current political leaders can come up with something better.
All of the substantive rights and freedoms in the Human Rights Act (1998) are taken word for word from the European Convention on Human Rights (1950). This was based on other core human-rights documents that were being drafted at the time, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).
These earlier documents were drafted in the wake of the Second World War. Europe had witnessed unspeakable horrors, and in the following years, through the Nuremberg trials, countless atrocities against humankind were brought to light.
The international human-rights treaties debated and drafted during the Nuremberg years were designed to limit the role of the state. They were to make it clear that there are some fundamental freedoms that are inherent to the human person. These rights are not given by the state and cannot be taken away. That is why the Universal Declaration deliberately begins by recognising the ‘inherent dignity’ of all members of the human family. Though they are far from perfect – owed mostly to the fact that a significant voting bloc sat behind the Iron Curtain – these human-rights treaties promote human freedom far more than our current leaders are prepared to.
Seventy years ago, the United Kingdom and other Western countries consistently rejected the arguments of the Communist-led nations. For example, during one negotiation, British delegate Lady Gaitskell defended freedom of speech as ‘the foundation stone on which many of the other human rights were built’.
When the Soviet Union attempted to insert the clause that, ‘All societies, unions and other organisations of a fascist or anti-democratic nature, as well as their activity in any form’ should be ‘forbidden by law under pain of punishment’, the West responded. The Belgian representative said that despite ‘hating fascism as intensely as did the USSR’, tolerance should mean tolerating even the intolerant.
Accordingly, the UK vigorously defended the right of all organisations, ‘even fascist and communist ones’, to exist and to make their views known, even though those organisations held views that the majority of the population repudiated.
Fast forward to today. UK government officials fought hard (and failed) to maintain a criminal prohibition on ‘insulting words’ under Section 5 of the Public Order Act. There are plans to push through a ‘snoopers’ charter’ in an attempt to criminalise ‘extremism’ on the internet. Home secretary Theresa May is desperate to ban groups who ‘stay just within the law but spread poisonous hatred’. All of this in pursuit of ‘British values’ – a phrase that the state gets to define (and redefine) at its pleasure.
While the Universal Declaration recognised the vital role of the family, declaring that it is the ‘natural and fundamental group unit of society’, the Scottish government is eagerly trying to implement its ‘named person’ scheme, which is designed to make the state a co-parent with extraordinary powers to meddle in the private and family life of its citizens. The law would allow state monitoring and intervention to protect every child’s wellbeing in Scotland, regardless of the parents’ wishes. The child’s wellbeing would be defined by the state without the slightest consideration for the right to privacy and family life. As the list of state-enhancing, freedom-diminishing initiatives increases, why does anyone think a new bill of rights would make things better and not worse?
Although the core human-rights treaties we have today are flawed, they largely achieve their aim: some valid limitations on the state’s reach and a recognition that rights are inherent not state-granted. Nothing in the current political climate suggests we can achieve the same today.
Let’s have a debate about the hijacking of human-rights language, but let’s not pretend a British bill of rights drafted by our current leaders is the solution.
I will defend your right to fly the Confederate flag
No form of political expression should be banned, not even hateful ones
Don’t ask me to defend a Confederate flag display by the state. Unlike private individuals and associations, governments don’t have rights: they exercise power. And while hoisting a Confederate flag on state property isn’t an illegal use of power, it is a politically abusive one, for all the reasons so recently recited in the wake of Dylann Roof’s massacre in Charleston.
But plant a Confederate flag in your backyard or wear its image on a t-shirt, and I’ll defend your constitutional right to do so, even as it’s condemned as hate speech. I’ll also defend the constitutional right to protest against your flag-waving with raucous incivility, while opposing any government efforts to ban private Confederate flag displays or to silence people who protest against them.
As long as this is still America (and not Western Europe) a government ban on speech is the exception, not the rule, and there’s nothing exceptional about speech considered hateful. On the contrary, these days, it’s quite common. Engage in vigorous, provocative argument about a controversial subject, and you’re likely to give offence. Give offence and you’re likely to be accused of spouting hate.
Like pornography, hate speech is difficult to define objectively. One person’s hate speech is another person’s religious conviction, moral code or political ideology. Precisely what ‘verbal offences’ would be covered by a hate-speech ban? That depends on the beliefs, biases and sensibilities of people with the power to enforce it.
Did President Obama engage in hate speech when he uttered a hateful word, instead of referencing it by an initial? Of course not. Words derive meaning and power from the context in which they appear and the tone in which they’re uttered. Yet Obama’s quotation of a single, racially charged word, in the context of a critique of racism, was headline news. It gave offence to some, titillated the media, and may have garnered more attention than the substance of his remarks.
You can partly attribute the media reaction to sensationalism; verboten words are clickbait. But the controversy over the president’s words (or word) also reflects a distressing unwillingness or inability to discern meaning, to distinguish between benign and malevolent utterances. It reflects a magical view of language that regards words as incantations casting spells, regardless of how or by whom they’re used.
Words are malleable; they don’t have single immutable meanings. They’re emblems of varying emotions and ideas. You might say the same of any symbol — a crucifix, the Star of David, or the Stars and Stripes — as well as the Confederate flag. It’s a potent symbol of slavery and subordination, but not quite a universal one. It may mean one thing to white separatists, another to an integrationist whose forbears fought in the Civil War, and another thing entirely to a historian. They’re entitled to read or display the flag as they choose. They’re not entitled to public, state endorsement of their readings or displays, just as people for whom the flag is an emblem or celebration of oppression are not entitled to state bans on its private display.
Official hate-speech bans share this with official displays of the Confederate flag. They harness government power abusively to gain advantage in what should be private battles over the meaning of words and symbols and expressions of hate. Freedom of speech is freedom from government intervention. If that’s not clear when government officials are your allies in battles over speech, it will be obvious when they turn against you.
Who really wants to impose austerity?
The British left rages against mild Tory cuts yet dreams of imposing real austerity.
Nothing better sums up the otherworldliness of the British left than its current war against austerity. What austerity? There’s no austerity in 21st-century Britain. That A-word, coming from the Latin austerus, meaning ‘dry, harsh, sour, cruel’, has traditionally been used to describe pretty severe conditions of restraint. Like food rationing during the Second World War. Yet today it is used to mean anything from the trimming of a welfare benefit that didn’t even exist a couple of decades ago to the cutting of a relatively small proportion of the public-sector bill. Left-wing observers raging against ‘austerity’ are denuding the A-word of all meaning, and demonstrating their inability to grasp the real problems facing Britain today.
Everyone’s talking about austerity. You can’t open a newspaper without encountering angst-ridden commentary about ‘the pain of austerity’, and how Tory austerity policies are designed to be ‘a deliberate rewriting of the social contract to divert our common wealth to the elite’. At the weekend, thousands of people marched in London to ‘End Austerity Now’. Some carried placards saying ‘Austerity kills’, a reference to the claim that Tory cuts to welfare have caused some people to commit suicide — what the Guardian refers to as ‘the unspoken side of welfare reform’. Exploiting the mental torment of isolated suicides to challenge Tory policies: nice.
Reading these angry articles, you could be forgiven for thinking that public spending was being obliterated and millions were being cast into penury. This simply isn’t the case. There’s no doubt the recession has brought about tough times for many, especially the poor and people with insecure employment. But austerity is not being imposed. On the contrary, public spending continues to rise, as it has done every year since 1948. In 2014/15 prices, public spending has risen from just under £400 billion in 1990 to over £700 billion in 2014. Yes, there have been cuts in some areas — for example, in public investment in social housing and school-building — but in other areas there has been more of a shifting around of a resources than any kind of austere action. For the first three years the Tories were in government (then with the Lib Dems), spending on welfare benefits actually increased by £10 billion, to a total of £192 billion, largely as a consequence of the boosting of the Basic State Pension and Disability Living Allowance. It’s surreal that a government which increased public spending, including on benefits, should have been described as ‘imposing austerity’.
Some in the public sector have lost their jobs, and that is very bad for them. But even this must be measured against the fact that, over the past 10 years, the public-sector workforce had grown by extraordinary levels. According to recent data, in the third quarter of 2014 there were 386,000 fewer public-sector jobs than there had been when the Tories and the Lib Dems took office in 2010. Yet this is 386,000 out of more than six million. The public sector remains vast. In 2000, there were 5,221,000 public-sector workers — by 2010, there were 6,070,000. An increase of nearly one million in 10 years. Britain still has a huge public sector, which simply doesn’t sit with the idea that we’re living through painful, even murderous austerity.
Left-wing observers’ rage against ‘austerity’ is not a reflection of anything happening in the real world. Rather, it reveals their weddedness to the state, their belief that ‘ordinary people’ could not survive without the public sector. In recent years, as its faith in working men and women waned, and eventually gave way to open contempt for these obese, anti-EU sections of society, the left has come to see the state as the key force for progress. It views the public sector not only as the provider of resources for the poor, but as a provider of therapy and health advice, parenting advice, racial-awareness lessons for employees and schoolkids alike. The state is seen as the solution to every economic and social ill. So any suggestion that the state and its army of employees should be cut back, or even rearranged, is met with angst, and concern about how the little people will cope without the monetary benefits and moral advice of the authorities. It isn’t ‘austerity’ the left is worried about (since there is none); it’s anything that chips away at the Byzantine modern state which they view as the saviour of society.
Of course, much of the public sector is essential. It keeps Britain moving and healthy and fit. Public investment in infrastructure is important: we could do with more of it in industry, science and tech. But there is much of the public sector which is, in essence, a feudalistic racket, charged with looking after the terminally unemployed — those christened by the public sector as ‘incapable’ of working. That large sections of the middle classes make their living through attending to the needs of working people who have effectively been put out to pasture should concern anyone who believes in modernity and autonomy. But to the left, which has profoundly lost faith in the ability of anyone other than the state to run society, this is all perfectly normal, and good. There is much of the state that could be cut back, but the Tories aren’t doing it. Why? Because they actually share the left’s view of the state as a necessary carer for, and corrector of, the lower orders.
There’s a further irony to today’s politics of anti-austerity: the observers rashly describing a few Tory cuts as ‘austerity’ are the ones who really want to impose austerity. Real austerity. In fact, before they developed their newfound emotional attachment to describing everything they don’t like as ‘austerity’, they were openly calling for austerity. George Monbiot is one of the Guardian’s chief complainers about Tory austerity — the same George Monbiot who in 2006 proudly described environmentalism as a ‘campaign not for abundance but for austerity’ and who inspired the radical group Riot 4 Austerity. His colleague Zoe Williams likewise complains about ‘austerity’ yet a few years ago she was dreaming of introducing Second World War-style food rationing, because ‘the lesson from the 40s is that to fix a public-health problem… you need big government’.
For much of the past 20 years, the post-Thatcherite left has demonised economic growth and called for constraints on industry, supermarkets, big cars, etc. Through the politics of environmentalism and the use of questionable mental-health arguments — with desire for more material goods refashioned as a mental malaise: ‘affluenza’ — the left abandoned its one-time commitment to expanding production and consumption and called for… well, austerity. And now it marches against what it calls austerity, but which is nothing of the sort. It fights phoney austerity, but wants real austerity.
What we need today is not hysterical headlines about austerity, but a serious debate about the expansion of the state, and whether we really need all of it, and an unflinching commitment to real, massive economic growth that puts people before ‘the planet’ and allows us all to live wealthier, fuller lives.
Islamic Hate for the Christian Cross
Last May in Italy, a Muslim boy of African origin beat a 12-year-old girl during school because she was wearing a crucifix around her neck. The African schoolboy, who had only started to attend the school approximately three weeks earlier, began to bully the Christian girl-"insulting her and picking on her in other ways all because she was wearing the crucifix"-before he finally "punched the girl violently in the back."
What is it about the Christian cross that makes some Muslims react this way?
The fact is, Islamic hostility to the cross is an unwavering fact of life-one that crosses continents and centuries; one that is very much indicative of Islam's innate hostility to Christianity.
Doctrine and History
Because the Christian cross is the quintessential symbol of Christianity-for all denominations, including most forms of otherwise iconoclastic Protestantism-it has been a despised symbol in Islam.
According to the Conditions of Omar-a Medieval text which lays out the many humiliating stipulations conquered Christians must embrace to preserve their lives and which Islamic history attributes to the second "righteous caliph," Omar al-Khattab-Christians are "Not to display a cross [on churches]... and "Not to produce a cross or [Christian] book in the markets of the Muslims."
The reason for this animosity is that the cross symbolizes the fundamental disagreement between Christians and Muslims. According to Dr. Sidney Griffith, author of The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque, "The cross and the icons publicly declared those very points of Christian faith which the Koran, in the Muslim view, explicitly denied: that Christ was the Son of God and that he died on the cross." Thus "the Christian practice of venerating the cross and the icons of Christ and the saints often aroused the disdain of Muslims," so that there was an ongoing "campaign to erase the public symbols of Christianity, especially the previously ubiquitous sign of the cross."
Islam's hostility to the cross, like all of Islam's hostilities, begins with the Muslim prophet Muhammad. He reportedly "had such a repugnance to the form of the cross that he broke everything brought into his house with its figure upon it." He once ordered someone wearing a cross to "take off that piece of idolatry" and claimed that at the end times Jesus himself would make it a point to "break the cross"-an assertion the Islamic State regularly makes.
Islamic history following Muhammad is riddled with anecdotes of Muslims cursing and breaking crosses. Prior to the Battle of Yarmuk in 636, which pitted the earliest invading Muslim armies against the Byzantine Empire, Khalid bin al-Walid, the savage "Sword of Allah," told the Christians that if they wanted peace they must "break the cross" and embrace Islam, or pay jizya and live in subjugation-just as his Islamic State successors are doing today in direct emulation. The Byzantines opted for war.
In Egypt, Saladin (d. 1193)-regularly touted in the West for his "magnanimity"-ordered "the removal of every cross from atop the dome of every church in the provinces of Egypt," in the words of The History of the Patriarchate of the Egyptian Church.
Europe: Growing Violence against the Cross
Centuries later, not much has changed concerning Islam's position towards the cross, though much has changed in Western perceptions. In other words, an African boy punching a Christian girl in Italy for her crucifix is part of a long continuum of Islamic hostility for the cross. Perhaps he learned this hatred in mosque-the same European mosques where Islamic State representatives call Muslims to jihad?
After all, earlier this year in Italy, another crucifix was destroyed in close proximity to a populated mosque. The municipality's Councilor, Giuseppe Berlin, did not mince words concerning the identity of the culprit(s):
"Before we put a show of unity with Muslims, let's have them begin by respecting our civilization and our culture. We shouldn't minimize the importance of certain signals; we must wake up now or our children will suffer the consequences of this dangerous and uncontrolled Islamic invasion"
Nor is Italy the only European nation experiencing this phenomenon. In neighboring France, a "young Muslim" committed major acts of vandalism at two churches. Along with twisting a massive bronze cross, he overturned and broke two altars, the candelabras and lecterns, destroyed statues, tore down a tabernacle, smashed in a sacristy door and even broke some stained-glass windows.
And in Germany, a Turkish man who checked himself into a hospital for treatment went into a sudden frenzy because there were "too many crosses on the wall." He called the nurse a "bitch" and "fascist" and became physically aggressive.
Of course, other times Europeans willingly capitulate to Islamic hostility for the cross. Real Madrid, a professional football (soccer) team in Spain reportedly stripped the traditional Christian cross from its club crest as part of a deal with the National Bank of Abu Dhabi-"so as not to offend Muslim sensibilities in the United Arab Emirates." And in the United Kingdom, offensive crucifixes are being removed from prisons in order not to offend Muslim inmates (who are further provided with food baths for Islamic rituals).
Muslim World: Christians Killed for the Cross
If this is how some Muslims react to the Christian cross in Europe-where Muslims are aware of their outnumbered, minority status-how do other Muslims react to the cross in the Islamic world, where vastly outnumbered and ostracized Christian "infidels" are easy prey?
The answer is murderous-literally, Christians are being murdered by Muslims provoked at the sight of the cross:
Last year in Egypt, a young Coptic Christian woman named Mary was mauled to death-simply because her cross identified her as a Christian to Muslim Brotherhood rioters. According to an eyewitness who discussed the episode, Mary Sameh George was parking her car by the church to deliver medicine to an elderly woman:
"Once they [Brotherhood rioters] saw that she was a Christian [because of the cross hanging on her rearview mirror], they jumped on top of the car, to the point that the vehicle was no longer visible. The roof of the car collapsed in. When they realized that she was starting to die, they pulled her out of the car and started pounding on her and pulling her hair-to the point that portions of her hair and scalp came off. They kept beating her, kicking her, stabbing her with any object or weapon they could find.... Throughout [her ordeal] she tried to protect her face, giving her back to the attackers, till one of them came and stabbed her right in the back, near the heart, finishing her off. Then another came and grabbed her by the hair, shaking her head, and with the other hand slit her throat. Another pulled her pants off, to the point that she was totally naked."
In response, the Coptic Christian Church issued the following statement: "Oh how lucky you are, Mary, you who are beloved of Christ. They tore your body because of the Cross. Yet they offered you the greatest service and gave you a name of honor as one who attained the crown of martyrdom." The statement also quoted Christ's warning to believers: "Yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service" (John 16:2).
In October 2011, seventeen-year-old Ayman Nabil Labib, a Coptic student, was strangled and beaten to death by his Muslim teacher and some fellow students-simply for refusing to obey the teacher's orders to remove his cross. Student eyewitnesses present during the assault said that while Ayman was in the classroom he was told to cover up his tattooed wrist cross, which many Copts wear. Not only did he refuse, but he defiantly produced the pectoral cross he wore under his shirt, which prompted the enraged Muslim teacher and students to beat the Christian youth to death.
Before that, an off-duty Muslim police officer on a train from Asyut to Cairo shouted "Allahu Akbar!" and opened fire on six Christians, killing a seventy-one-year-old man and critically wounding the rest. Before opening fire he had checked for passengers with the traditional Coptic cross tattooed on their wrists. (Days ago, another Coptic woman was "shot dead by an Egyptian police officer. Although officially an "accident," the Muslim officer is notorious for hating Christians.)
In Pakistan, when a Muslim man saw Julie Aftab, a Christian woman, wearing a cross around her neck,
"The man became abusive, shouting at her that she was living in the gutter and would go to hell for shunning Islam. He left and returned half an hour later, clutching a bottle of battery acid which he savagely chucked over her head. As she ran screaming for the door a second man grabbed her by the hair and forced more of the liquid down her throat, searing her esophagus. Teeth fell from her mouth as she desperately called for help, stumbling down the street. A woman heard her cries and took her to her home, pouring water over her head and taking her to hospital. At first the doctors refused to treat her, because she was a Christian. ‘They all turned against me . . . even the people who took me to the hospital. They told the doctor they were going to set the hospital on fire if they treated me'. . . . 67 percent of her esophagus was burned and she was missing an eye and both eyelids. What remained of her teeth could be seen through a gaping hole where her cheek had been. The doctors predicted she would die any day. Despite the odds she pulled through."
All this because she was wearing a cross.
Even in Muslim nations deemed "moderate," violence provoked by the cross is not uncommon. In 2012, a 12-year-old boy in Turkey who converted to Christianity and decided to profess his new faith by wearing a silver cross necklace in class was spit on and beat regularly by Muslim classmates and teachers.
In the Maldives, October 2010, authorities had to rescue Geethamma George, a Christian teacher from India, after Muslim "parents threatened to tie and drag her off of the island" for "preaching Christianity." Her crime was simply to draw a compass in class as part of a geography lesson. The compass was mistaken for the Christian cross.
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, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.