Quoting Winston Churchill can get you into hot water. Mark Steyn writes :
On Saturday, Paul Weston of Liberty GB, a candidate in next month’s European elections, was speaking on the steps of Winchester Guildhall and quoting Winston Churchill on the matter of Muslims (from The River War, young Winston’s book on the Sudanese campaign). He was, in short order, arrested by half-a-dozen police officers, shoved in the back of a van and taken away to be charged under a “Section 27 Dispersal Notice”. I had charitably assumed this was a more severe equivalent of the parade licensing that American municipalities use to discourage public participation by disfavored groups – ie, Mr Weston was arrested because he did not have his paperwork in order. I dislike such laws, but in America their use testifies at least to a certain squeamishness about directly punishing someone for the content of his speech.
Not so in Britain. The coppers dropped the Section 27 Dispersal business, and instead charged Mr Weston with a “Racially Aggravated Crime” – in other words, he’s being charged explicitly for the content of that Churchill passage, and the penalty could be two years in jail. This is remarkable, and not just because Islam is not a race, as its ever more numerous pasty Anglo-Saxon “reverts” will gladly tell you. For one thing, the police have effectively just criminalized Liberty GB’s political platform.
Where to begin? First, with the offending passage from Churchill’s The River War that Weston had read:
How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity.
The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities – but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.
Churchill posits “science” as saving western civilization against the militancy of Islam—meaning, if my interpretation is correct, the science that allowed the West to make superior weapons and to fight effectively with them against Muslim invasions of Europe and later Muslim rebellions around the world (the latter included the war his book was describing). But did Churchill foresee that Islam would take root in Britain itself, and—along with the left—wage a campaign to insidiously undermine the freedom of speech that is one of the bulwarks of western civilization? Not to mention the left’s also working to dumb down the teaching of the science, too?
I don’t think so. Although I’ve hardly read everything Churchill ever wrote, I doubt that even he had the vision to see those possibilities.
And yet here we are—and I use the word “we” because, although the US isn’t quite as far gone as Britain, it’s not far behind. That’s one of the reasons why many people (I include myself among them) are against a special criminal designation known as “hate crimes.” I think that old-fashioned “crimes” would suffice to cover all bases, and that the dangers of adding “hate” as a special intensifier to the mix is potentially too high a price to pay.
Steyn correctly describes the source of the point of view that ended up stifling Weston’s speech and which has weakened the defense of freedom of speech in the US as well:
Two generations of Americans have been raised in an educational milieu that thinks, to pluck a current example at random, that using the phrase “Man up!” ought to be banned. If you’ve been marinated in this world from kindergarten, why would you emerge into the adult world with any attachment to the value of freedom of speech?
As I say, in Britain, Australia and America, free peoples are losing the habits of free speech, and thereby will lose their freedom.
Exactly and precisely. These attitudes became entrenched in academia decades ago, as I discovered on my own when I returned to get my Master’s degree in the early 90s. Although I was still a liberal Democrat at the time, the academic world had passed me by while I’d been out in the other world minding my business and tending my family. In the meantime, someone had taught a whole new generation or two that they had the right to stop speech (and discipline the speaker) if said speech hurt their feelings.
I was shocked; how could this be? Back then I hadn’t the political framework to place it all in a left/right or statist/libertarian context, but I knew I was greatly disturbed by what I saw. When I spoke up to protest it in a class composed mostly of younger undergraduates, I was looked on by both class and professor (a woman of roughly my generation, I might add) as a kind of doddering old fossil with ideas too antiquated to bother much about.
I duly noted back then—although again, I hadn’t much political context to understand it at the time—that at the university I attended a great many of the students working to ban and punish speech they didn’t like called themselves feminists. Note that in the Churchill quote that got Weston into hot water, part of Churchill’s criticism of Islam was that it oppresses women. And so it does, to this day. But it’s the rare “feminist” who cares about that issue and its continuing truth, because somehow the need to soothe the ruffled feathers of Muslims takes precedence. Note what happened to Hirsi Ali at Brandeis, where the protection of Muslim feelings trumped championing women’s rights as well as the airing of ideas in the academic marketplace.
Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for us all.