[This post originally appeared on my old WordPress blog. I am deleting that old blog so I have reprinted it here, today.]
I’ve been underwhelmed by stuff of his I’ve read in the past, but here I think Timothy Garton Ash has a point. I think that these laws that try to legislate against what we can call ‘thought crime’ are counter-productive and – quite simply – wrong. For, as he says:
Far from creating new legally enforced taboos about history, national identity and religion, we should be dismantling those that still remain on our statute books. Those European countries that have them should repeal not only their blasphemy laws but also their laws on Holocaust denial. Otherwise the charge of double standards is impossible to refute. What’s sauce for the goose must be sauce for the gander.
I think I would go as far as to say that anything that outlaws thought, speech, comment and so forth is wrong, and – more often than not – counterproductive. It should be acts and actions that are illegal, not the thoughts or words that lead to those actions.
At this point people usually bring out the shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre argument of incitement. Yes, there is a problem here, but I feel that it should be those who respond to the incitement, and act in an illegal or irrational manner, than are the problem rather than just the one doing all the inciting. I think this stems from a fear, especially amongst those that believe they know best, that people are like sheep, if one of them ‘baas’ loud enough then the others will follow no matter what.
Maybe, though, there can be a case made for the inciter to be punished, but I do have doubts, in that as soon as the law clamps down on these people they instantly become martyrs and get far more attention than they would otherwise get. Maybe.