The decline and (nearly) the end of Freedom of Speech in the West
The content of Human Rights includes many subjects such as equal pay for equal work between men and women, the freedom to change religion or to the right to join associations to defend interests. The subject is potentially vast, but this document concerns freedom of speech, one of the fundamental ideas of Human Rights in Western civilisation. Indeed, it has been so for over 2500 years since there are many biblical references to these ideas which were discussed by Greek philosophers in depth. It is suggested in this article that freedom of speech is under attack in the West and has mostly disappeared with the notable exception of the USA with the guarantee of the First Amendment of the Constitution. BLM, Antifa Social Justice Warriors and other virtue signallers disagree with this freedom, but this will be discussed later. When saying that freedom of speech is disappearing, this does not mean that it is impossible to criticise politicians; fortunately, that still exists, but on a whole range of issues, suggesting anything other than that of the established woke orthodoxy is now punished by job losses, social ostracism and in many cases criminal prosecution. Most of the West is now a very long way from the principle that any speech should be allowed except defamation, but that concerns wrong facts not opinions.
Exceptions preventing freedom of speech had in fact developed in recent times in various Western countries concerning incitement to violence, defence secrets, copyrights, patents and more controversially so less widely, subjects such as inciting racial hatred, pornography or holocaust denial. Absolute freedom of speech is probably not realistic, but as a principle must be defended and furthermore, Article 19 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.” For various reasons outside the scope of this subject, what the UN says can often be criticised and many countries ignore this Article, but few truly believing in Western civilisation would disagree with it. The problem now is that many Western politicians and media no longer seriously believe in freedom of speech and the comparison of the situation today with that of only 10 or 15 years ago is astonishing.
The origin of this deplorable situation is essentially the result of a self-hate/guilt philosophy that is not new and often related to mental illnesses. For psychological or psychoanalytical reasons, some people hate themselves, their families, their jobs and by extension, their life and society around. This self-hatred is translated by the view that the West is to blame for all the world’s problems. In the climate debate, the (excessively questionable) causes of the (excessively questionable) impending catastrophe is supposed to be man-made CO2, but the fact that most CO2 emanates from China and India and not the West is ignored. In the Covid-19 debate, some suggest that pointing out the Chinese origin of the virus is racist as if it started in the West. These concern recent events, but historically, many European ‘intellectuals’ preferred Stalin’s communism with millions of victims to Western capitalism even after Stalin was denounced by the Soviet rulers themselves in the 1950s. Others preferred fascism before World War 2 since Mussolini got the trains to run on time and Hitler got autobahns built. In the 1970s some so-called Western thinkers preferred Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ in China leading to between 35 and 100 million deaths depending on the source of information, rather than supposed US imperialism in Korea and Vietnam.
The self-hate/guilt philosophy is particularly prevalent in education where culturally Marxist professors spread their poisonous ideas to young people who are easy to influence. As political and economic Marxism did not succeed, the cultural version aims to destroy Western societal norms; this involves destroying family structures (gender fluidity), rewriting history (removing statues) or ‘combatting’ perceived inequalities and hierarchies related to age, sex, social class, wealth, skin colour, sexual orientation or any other theoretical handicap. This is backed up by a cancel culture where those in disagreement are to be silenced, publicly and socially ostracised and lose their jobs. Try to get a research grant for climate change if you believe that climate is changing naturally and not because of human created CO2. Try to get a job in a public institution if you believe the homosexuality is not normal behaviour and transsexuality even less. This intolerance of what were majority opinions until recently has spread to private corporations as well as to the public sector, to universities, charities, most media, the police and the armed forces. In private, many people do not believe in what they say, but feel obliged like in totalitarian regimes to publicly express certain views. Orwell’s 1984 described the situation perfectly with thoughtcrime and everything being the reverse of what was said, “war is peace” etc.
As far as alleged discriminations are concerned, the irony is that it is precisely the West that has dealt with most discriminations which no longer exist or insignificantly. Like the abolition of slavery, it is the West with Human Rights and freedom of expression that was able to debate what was wrong and how it should be changed. It is in other civilisations where the real problems exist such as inequality for non-Muslims in Islamic societies or persecution of those with different opinions from Communist authorities in China. Some in the West supporting LBGTQWERTY etc rights for sexual minorities show grotesque double standards, remaining deafeningly silent about Islamic regimes treating women as tenth-class citizens and persecuting homosexuals with death penalties. Every day, cultural Marxists blame all the world’s problems on Western white, heterosexual, middle aged or older men and was seen in the hysterical TDS or Trump Derangement Syndrome in much of the Western media.
The current much-reduced freedom of speech developed from stifling political correctness before being translated into recent laws. Political correctness itself is not new; historically, what was said to Monarchs and Emperors was what they wanted to hear not what those speaking actually believed. In the 20th century, this continued in dictatorships where officials in Stalin’s Soviet Union celebrated reaching tractor production objectives when they knew that the figures were untrue. Those expelled from Chinese cities to work in fields and live in remote villages under Mao’s policy announced how happy they were. In Hitler’s Germany, military generals proclaimed it was essential to use scarce logistics to transport Jews to death camps rather than for troop movements or helping injured soldiers get treatment.
Recent Western political correctness started with 1980s multiculturalism suggesting because several different cultures existed in a specific society, there was no common or dominant culture and that it was undesirable idea. This is fundamentally wrong since diversity does not prevent the existence of a common, dominant culture which is essential for societal cohesion. However, in an attempt to avoid discrimination and to promote minority inclusivity, (objectives which might be welcomed) it was suggested that people should have ‘first names’ not ‘Christian names’ and ‘Happy Christmas’ might be replaced with ‘Happy Holidays.’ These examples are relatively unimportant and might or might not be seen as an improvement on previous language. However, in the last 20 years, these simple examples have spread to all aspects of daily life, deforming ordinary language that becomes artificial and ugly as seen in endless debates about inclusive grammar when speaking and writing. Since gender is apparently no longer binary, it becomes even more complicated; everything said or written becomes potentially open to discrimination claims. Attempts are made to make it illegal to wrongly use gender pronouns when referring to transgenders considering themselves to be of a different gender than their name and appearance suggests. In the name of equality for transsexuals, men are placed in women’s prisons or hospital wards if they consider themselves as women and in one case in the UK, a man in question raped some women prisoners. In sports, men claiming to be women compete in women only events and usually win, but the defeated women concerned are so frightened of transphobia laws that they say nothing or only complain under strict conditions of anonymity. The psychological consequences of being frightened to speak are well-known.
The question to consider concerns precisely the limits on freedom of expression and thought. The Bible describes homosexual behaviour as an ‘abomination’, a description that many today might feel excessive, but is quoting biblical texts now to be considered as illegal homophobia despite the Judeo-Christian heritage in Western countries? Australian rugby player and fundamentalist Christian Israel Folau was banned from playing in Australia because he considers that “hell awaits” all homosexuals, (with adulterers, fornicators, thieves, atheists, drunks and liars). The issue is not whether one agrees with these views, but whether they should be allowed to be expressed. Despite the protests, Mr. Folau is now allowed to play rugby in England where Black Lives Matter posters exist everywhere and where many players ‘bend the knee’ before the match. Other international sports ‘stars’ in cricket, football and motor racing etc do the same, but suggesting (obviously) that White Lives (also) Matter is to be considered racist and someone lost a job in England recently because of saying so.
If one considers that children are better with a mother and a father of biologically different sexes and not the same sex nor claiming to be another sex, is this illegal homophobia or transphobia? Since phobias are irrational anxieties and mental illnesses, is this an attempt to make impossible laws against these illnesses? Is it suggested that those with negative opinions about the groups concerned are mentally ill just like in the Soviet Union when those criticising the regime were sent to psychiatric hospitals? For those feeling that this is an exaggeration, it should be remembered that French populist politician Marine Le Pen was ordered by the courts to undergo psychiatric analysis when republishing atrocities from Isis. Phobia laws are very recent and the oldest, islamophobia, was only created about 15 years ago to stifle debate about Islam, the idea coming from the Muslim Brotherhood, an illegal terrorist organisation in many countries including Egypt. That there are no laws about other religions makes the concept of Islamophobia even less acceptable. Various European governments allow Jihadists who left for Syria to be accepted back home, but prosecute those with controversial opinions about Islam, or refuse them entry to the country. US political correctness meant that any reference to ‘Islamist terrorism’ was removed from FBI investigation vocabulary under ex-President Obama so one such attack on a military base had to be ludicrously described as ‘workplace violence.’
An alternative to avoid the problem is self-censorship like in totalitarian dictatorships where certain issues are not discussed and politicians not criticised. As an example, most US media refused to publish satirical articles from Danish cartoonists or ‘Charlie Hebdo’ in France which led to violent protests and murders by offended Muslims; a French teacher has just been decapitated by an Islamic terrorist for discussing the cartoons in his class. In Sweden, a man aged 75 faced 2 years in prison for describing Islam as a “fascist ideology” after citing numerous references in the Koran about killing infidels.
The West has gone dystopian concerning freedom of speech since citing true facts is no longer a sufficient defence, absolutely contrary to the basic rule about defamation. In Munich someone was recently found guilty of ‘hateful speech’ when posting on FB a true World War 2 photo of Nazis meeting a Muslim religious leader in 1943 who helped to create the Bosnian SS Muslim Division responsible for massacres of Serbian Jews and Christians. Former President Trump’s retweeting of true videos of Islamists killing opponents and destroying statues of the Virgin Mary led to ‘universal condemnation’ because the original authors of the videos are members of the extreme right neo-fascist political group Britain First. “Don’t kill the messenger” is the obvious response! Broadcasting true messages cannot be as important as the content. If the logic of preventing publication of atrocities by Islamists is to prevent the spread of violence then it is too late as the publications are already online and those tempted by this type of activity know where to look. If the objective is to prevent (unacceptable) revenge hate crimes on Muslims, it should be illegal to show documentaries about Nazi concentration camps or Stalin’s Gulags as it might lead to revenge hate crimes against Germans or Russians.
In 1977 in the USA, constitutional freedom of speech was the justification for allowing Neo-Nazis with odious banners proclaiming ‘Hitler was right’ and ‘Hitler should have finished the job’ to march through Skokie, a Chicago suburb with a large Jewish population including survivors of Nazi concentration camps. In 2017, ‘anti- fascists’ (applauded by most US media) prevented Neo-Nazis from demonstrating in Charlottesville, Virginia (about removing statues of Confederate War leaders) despite court approval for the demonstration precisely under the same principle of free speech. The obvious irony is anti-fascists acting as fascists censoring opinions and has been seen in the recent removal of statues and book burning including the Bible just like in Nazi Germany. It might be that some of these statues related to another time and have little place in modern society, but the point is that they reflected a different time and if indeed there is some agreement about their removal, then the statue in question should be placed in a museum with an educational context. At the very least there needs to be a debate and wide consensus about this since it is now suggested that Lincoln or Washington and many others be replaced in the USA or Rhodes and Nelson in the UK or Colbert, Voltaire and Ferry in France.
In much of the West there is now an intolerance of different views preventing the expression of (perhaps) minority opinions today, but which were in fact majority opinions until recently. Compulsory diversity training inside both public and private organisations exists with obligatory use of inclusive language accompanied by psychological analysis of anti-social behaviour, a straight copy from the Soviet Union. Western universities create ‘safe spaces’ where education officials check what is said so that students feel ‘emotionally comfortable’ and not challenged with ‘micro aggressions’ if confronted with views with which they might disagree. Inside these spaces, students and with their professors frightened of saying anything interpreted as potentially racist can meet and agree on everything. Recent opinion polls show many now feel that even physical violence should be used against ‘offensive’ opinions and many more suggest that these opinions should not be expressed as a matter of principle. Others consider that it is automatically racist for any white politician to criticise any political views of any ‘politician of colour’ and a black French politician recently suggested that no white person can be correct in his views on racism compared to anyone black or Arab. This is of course, true racism since white people are not to be treated in the same way as black (or vice versa). Every issue becomes a matter of identity, judged by reference to colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion, not the merits of the discussion.
Freedom of speech is being replaced by freedom from speech which some people find offensive but by definition, freedom of speech means precisely that some people will be offended. Journalists reporting the views of controversial figures are now threatened with legal consequences and those with the opinions lose their jobs. Even the word ‘offence’ is considered too high a threshold so some laws make it illegal where victims suffer from ‘hurt feelings’ with guilt not based on an objective standard whether ‘reasonable people’ might have their feelings hurt, but whether the so-called victims consider it to be the case. Some recent UK legislation is written this way, contrary to the basic principle of Human Rights (and the Rule of Law) that laws should be objective and neutral and not subjective.
It does no service to Western democracy if 198 out of 200 media outlets support one US Presidential candidate against another and it is total hypocrisy to complain about the lack of media freedom in dictatorships elsewhere. The minimum requirement for public service broadcasters or media should be that a range of different views be heard. If the media is privately owned, the owners can indeed decide the editorial line, but as CNN have recently discovered when losing almost all viewers, sometimes the customers look elsewhere.
Social networks were said to the alternative to the mainstream media, where users could say what they liked, but that time has passed since the platform owners now regularly censure opinion or restrict access or warn readers about what they consider controversial views. When the President of the United States is banned, (but not the Ayatollahs nor the Talibans) then the situation is dramatic. If those believing in free speech do not realise this danger, then “there is nobody so blind as those who don’t want to see and nobody so deaf as those who don’t want to hear.” There is no justification for censorship at all by these platforms who are legally treated like telephone companies in the past, that is not responsible for the legality of the communication.
The situation is made worse by the fact that the censorship is entirely one-sided against conservatives and those generally considered on the right by the high-tech companies whose owners are entirely on the liberal ‘progressive’ left. The fact that so-called liberals censor is an irony that has been well-discussed. Any opinion should be allowed except where the law prevents it and a proposed law in the UK now being discussed in Parliament precisely legislates in that way. It ignores the question about whether the laws about freedom of speech are themselves correct, but at least prevents those with legal opinions being banned. The alternative is for the social media platforms to be legally liable for what is said just like publishers; this idea from ex-President Trump was absurdly described as censorship by those doing the censoring, but is perfectly logical.
The European Court of Human Rights judgement in 2018 sums up the situation of freedom of speech today. An Austrian woman was found to have acted illegally when publishing an opinion that “exceeds permissible limits of free discussion.” Her ‘crime’ was to suggest (as part of a seminar on the history of religions) that a sexual relationship between the Prophet Mohammed, then aged 56, with one of his wives Aisha then aged 9, would today be considered as paedophilia.
It is more than time to reassert the need for freedom of speech as an integral part of Western civilisation. Restrictions on freedom of speech should be reconsidered with the affirmation of the basic right to hold and express any opinion unless there are justifiable reasons not to do so. These reasons should be subject to legal challenge on the basis of societal interest, not sectorial interests of sometimes very small vocal minorities.