In a speech at Toronto University a few years back, Christopher Hitchens gave a rather succinct and eloquent summary the meaning of free speech, saying that it is not just the right of the person who is speaking to be heard, it is the right of everyone in the audience to hear. Every time you deny someone the right to speech, you make yourself a prisoner to your own action because you deny yourself the right to hear something. In all cases of free speech, your own right to listen is as much involved as the right of others to speak.
Or as John Stewart Mill said – if all in society were agreed on the truth and beauty and value of one proposition, all except one person, it would be most important, in fact it would become even more important, that that one heretic be heard, because we would still benefit from his perhaps outrageous or appalling view.
That is why I’m outraged at this response to Fitna from the Slovenian presidency of the EU:
Slovenia, which holds the rotating EU presidency, said it supported the Dutch government’s position and believes the film does nothing to promote dialogue among religions.
“The European Union and its member states apply the principle of the freedom of speech which is part of our values and traditions. However, it should be exercised in a spirit of respect for religious and other beliefs and convictions,” the Slovenian presidency said in a statement.
“Mutual tolerance and respect are universal values we should uphold. We believe that acts, such as the above-mentioned film, serve no other purpose than inflaming hatred.”
Who the fuck are they to tell anyone how best to “exercise” free speech? The purpose of free speech is not that popular, consensus views in respect for religious and other beliefs and convictions may be expressed freely but that those directly opposite to them may be.
I don’t completely endorse Wilders’ film for reasons I outlined here but is a damn fine example of the sort of speech that needs to be protected. It is a provocative contribution to what should be an active and open debate on the issue of Islamic immigration and integration in Europe.
The implication made by the EU is that we should self-censor out of respect for other view points. I find that sort of pandering grossly offensive. Who here thinks they are too stupid, too gullible or too fragile to hear what Geert Wilders has to say and would prefer if he took the advice of the EU and denied his own beliefs? I hope no one.