Comment by James McQuillan
“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing all of mankind” – John Stuart Mill.
Both recent and past news from the West has involved motions towards creating an illegal status against expressing particular views, whether it is one expressed in person or across social media outlets online. In March 2017 Canada passed proposition M103 which, according to Prime Minister Trudeau, is designed to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination”. Mélanie Joly, Minister of Heritage cited the killing of 6 Muslims in a shooting at Quebec’s mosque as a factor in passing legislation against ‘Islamophobia’.
The use of the term according to those protesting against the motion, is seen as a means of countering any criticism of Islam, whether in its scripture or within its mosques. One of which in Montreal in 2014, hosted an anti-Semitic Imam calling for the congregation to “destroy the accursed Jews”. While the Muslim association of Canada immediately suspended the Imam, the expressed sentiment of damage to freedom of speech had been the key point of protests in 2017. With left wing opposition decrying their demonstrations as ‘fascist’ and ‘Islamophobic’.
In May 2017, in the aftermath of the Manchester bombings, where 22 people were killed and 120 injured by a terrorist named Salman Abedi, Kate Hopkins, renowned for her inflammatory remarks via social media and radio broadcasts on LBC, reacted to the news of the bombing with a sensation of fear and rage as she professed in a retrospective article:
“In truth, I woke up to the news of the terror attack in Manchester on our young girls and I saw red. As a mum, I felt fear. And I raged…
Whatever we are doing now is clearly not working. We need a radical rethink.”
Tweeting on 23rd of May late in the night, she argued that the Western states needed a ‘final solution’ to the question of Islamic extremism. A line which Hopkins later returns to in order to re-word to ‘lasting solution’, but not before individuals immediately assumed her remark was one referencing the holocaust. This tweet and accompanying assumption would later result in not only petitions to have Hopkins dismissed from her role at LBC, but also lead to a pending investigation by the police after multiple reports from members of the public amid allegations of ‘Islamophobia’ and hate speech.
The public outcry against Hopkins demonstrates the effect of not falling into general consensus with the public, an act tantamount to a crime. Britain is increasingly becoming a country where the right to hate is being replaced by a right not to be offended.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, outspoken individuals have recently been sentenced to death for posts on social media in the Government’s continuation of crackdowns on those deemed ‘blasphemous’ via their opinions online or social groups. this included members of the Civil Progressive Alliance who were kidnapped and arrested under blasphemy laws. The continued application of blasphemy laws has placed Pakistan on Human Rights Watch observation for decades in light of the criminalisation of freedom of speech and expression. Western societies are themselves failing to uphold the values of freedom of expression and speech.
Freedom of speech in the West is being subjected to legal and moral asterisks with Journalists such as Mick Hume referring to it as a ‘secular blasphemy’. University campuses are subject to a significant amount of both ‘secular blasphemy’, with 65% of 115 reviewed universities deemed ‘severely restrictive’ of speech and a further third placed into an ‘amber’ threshold for restrictions. While the parties of the UK pay lip service to freedom of speech, what we notice is a failure to rally to the cause which has become a truly Western phenomenon. Restrictions and exceptions exist thereby rendering certain positions impossible to criticise without inciting calls for censorship.
The works of John Stuart Mill are as relevant today as when they were first published in 1859. Mill stood apart from politicians and writers before him. Unlike others he centred his thinking on the practical application of philosophy in what we refer to as ‘Utilitarianism’, which sought the greatest measure of happiness for the largest number of people. His work ‘On Liberty’ holds individual freedom paramount, especially freedom of expression and speech. Mill’s ‘harm principle’ demonstrated the freedom of speech and the penultimate limit which is in causing harm to another.
The West is entering a trend of repressing opinions regarded as offensive according to a general consensus, referred to by Mill as the ‘tyranny of the majority’ which an industrialised population must be on guard against:
“Its means of tyrannizing are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of social oppression” – On Liberty Pp.3
The situation unfolding with deaths in Pakistan and investigations against Katie Hopkins demonstrates a creeping tyranny powerful enough to instigate grassroots killings and police involvement for acts of expression. Mill among classical liberals observed a growing tyrannical behaviour and increased demand from a state to legislate against offensive speech and expression.