Wednesday, April 29, 2009

This blessed plot

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,—
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

One of my former students, an American, wrote to me recently about freedom and speech in the UK.

I’d love to hear your take on some things going on in the UK concerning freedom of speech. I’m thinking of incidents like the Scientology protest arrest and the problems Fred Phelps and Geert Wilders had getting into the country (I wouldn’t really want them here either). Specifically, I’m interested in what you see as the primary motivation for restrictions on religiously offensive speech. I see several possibilities: 1) concern over civil unrest and violence that could follow anything the Islamic community might interpret as blasphemy, 2) the logical extension of laws intended to prevent jihadist speech in mosques to Christian (Phelps) and right-wing (Wilders) nut jobs as well, or 3) the simple desire of liberal political correctness to make sure no group is ever offended. If you have some time I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in a post of some kind. Do people there even see this as an issue? It seems odd to hear about this type of stuff in places so much like the United States because it seems like these things could never happen here. Knock on wood.

My response

Actually as a practical matter entry for extremists speakers, at least from Europe, is probably easier here than in the US. These were very much rare cases. What is different here is that hate speech laws, and the Race Relations Act going back to 1968, also make some domestic speech that would be protected in the US liable to prosecution here in the UK. Such prosecutions are very rare.

Some people here do worry about Islamic unrest, but the primary motivation is the desire of people in the UK for a safe and quiet life.

We live here on an Island than can easily be self-sufficient in food, that (unless the gulf stream stops) will do relatively well out of global warming, and where we have no earthquakes or hurricanes. Natural disasters are rare.

Although there are continual complaints about crime, it is incredibly low in the UK. In my city of Manchester, the rounding up of one gang has reduced all gun crimes from around 36 per year to 3 per year in 2008. I.e. in a Police area encompassing 2.5 million people, we had three gun crime murders. Compare that to Jacksonville in Florida where a city of 800,000 saw perhaps 120 gun crime murders.

For the most part British people hold strong opinions but reject any violent political ideology.

For the sake of safety, even though politicians are despised, people in general are willing to allow the state to do a great deal that might be suspect in order to preserve public order. In return the state is very mild. For example, in a country of 60 million people only 80,000 are in jail.

It's a different society here than in the US. It's not really less free, although there is more state surveillance. The major point, however, is that public policy is above all ordered to public safety and the vast majority of people or all political persuasions support that.

1 comment:

Steve Muhlberger said...

"in a country of 60 million people only 80,000 are in jail."

This explains why Dalziel and Pascoe have so much time to devote to their oddball cases.