Comment, Comics and the Contrary.
I have written before about the shameful new law prohibiting the ‘glorification of terror’
. As I wrote before; “I cannot think of any wording of a modern, just law which would criminalise the imam who argues that a suicide bomber is a martyr and[, at the same time,] would leave a right-wing newspaper columnist free after he calls for the use of torture or supports the use of extra-judicial death squads. But these laws will not be used to imprison Gary Bushell or Richard Littlejohn, I will promise you.
Today, the Guardian writes; “Claims that the clause will be used to arrest Irish people celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising are alarmist nonsense.
” Perhaps, but such a sop both illustrates the true nature of these laws and is, at the same time, a gross misrepresentation of the argument against these laws. It is not that they will lead to the arrest of someone praising a distant historical event. It is that it will only be used to counter praise of terror resulting from the apparently inscrutable Orient. Western-inflicted terror and its supporters will write their columns evermore, glorifying in human destruction. For this law to work it will necessarily have to be unevenly enforced, on a political basis. That is no basis for just laws.Phil, at Actually Existing
, pointed out just what is included in this Government’s definition of terrorism – the legislative definition – which makes terrorism akin to ‘disorderly political conduct’. In other words, anything from threats to commit disruptive protest and direct action on up. If the anti-terrorism laws were to be applied consistently, they would now be able to net not only those who blockade a company headquarters in protest at its actions, but also those who say that these actions are, in whatever way, good. Of course, we are assured, anti-terrorism laws will not be used in this way, and we are saved from a police state that uses ‘terrorism’ as a means of crushing grass roots political activism. But then we are left with the spectre of the politically motivated enforcement of bad law, and this is unjust.
Where are the ‘free speech fundamentalists’ here? Where are those who circulated racist, hateful cartoons as an act of solidarity with ‘Enlightenment values’, republishing speech which had not, in any way, been censored? Will they now offer their pages and bandwidth to republish, as an act of solidarity, the sort of glorifications of terrorism that will be outlawed by this legislation? Or, will they bollocks?
Update: Phil has pointed out that he quotes the legislation here
. Nevertheless, the post I link to above is also a good one.
The editor of France Soir was sacked after republishing the Danish cartoons. And what is wrong with that? Why should the owner of a media outlet not determine who it is that works at it? And here we arrive at the crux of the problem; speech is free but access to an audience is expensive.
These cartoons have NOT been censored. They are quite possibly the most seen cartoons in living history. They have been reprinted in newspaper after newspaper, in country after country, reaching an audience far beyond that which might be expected for such crude cartoons.
This is not about freedom of speech. Where were the campaigns to defend George Michael’s single ‘Shoot the Dog’? This single was not released in the US because it was controversially critical of US and UK foreign policy. Where were the right-wingers defending the right of George Michael to an audience, despite their opposition to what he had to say? Where were the demands that radio stations played the Dixie Chicks? Where were the websites that, to offer an analogous argument to that used by those who claim that they are not racist yet aid in the circulation of these cartoons, swore that they supported Bush but demanded that people listen to these records? If capital has the right to shape speech in these ways, then there is a far more pressing problem for freedom of speech then the actions of an angry, largely powerless minority.
But it is clear. An owner only has the right to determine the content of his or her media outlet if he or she is not a Muslim. The only expression worth circulating as if it were a liberatory samizdat are crudely racist cartoons. This is about demonising Muslims, but the racists have got a clever strategy. By presenting this issue as one of freedom of speech, which it is either demonstrably not, or is simply a minor episode in comparison to the much more restrictive interests of capital, they recruit stupid liberals by pressing their hot button, directing liberal ire at a demonised minority group. It is an attempt to recruit the tolerant to march with the racists.
Those who were, and are against the US-led war on terror are regularly accused of spouting inanities like Bush=Hitler. These charges often miss the point. When you are not a government spokesman or a newspaper columnists the closest you can get to mass communication is a placard a demonstration*. The demands of space, and the imperative to be eye-catching, forces the hand, and voice, of the demonstrator. A placard cannot contain a reasoned exposition on the brutalising nature of war, the problems of imposing democracy by force, the demonstrated wickedness and contempt for democracy and human rights of some of the senior figures in the White House. Hell, even that single sentence would not fit onto a placard. But if Bush=Hitler, even in the context described above, is sufficient grounds for writing off the anti-war movement, then what are we to make of a recent statement made by Don Rumsfeld, a man resolutely pro-fascist throughout the 1980s, at least where the people of the developing world were concerned. Rumsfeld said that Hugo Chavez was ‘worrisome’. “You’ve got Chavez in Venezuela with a lot of oil money”; “He’s a person who was elected legally just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally”.
Now, he is not a protester restricted by a lack of access to channels of mass communication. This man is one of the most powerful political figures in the world. What odds on a new round of fascist coups in Latin America to deal with the worrying left-wing democracies of Venezuela, Bolivia and others. In men like Rumsfeld, Cheney, Negroponte, Poindexter, North, well, there is plenty of expertise around Washington these days. Anti-Americanism? Must be some sort of irrational brain-fever of these latins; it cannot possibly have any basis in a bloody, brutal history of imperialistic domination, can it?
*This is where free-speech fundamentalists must put up or, appropriately enough, shut up. They must recognise that while we can all have the right to say anything we want to our friends and neighbours, only a tiny elite have access to audiences of any size. This political right is reserved for capital and its friends. Access to an audience is not free, it is not universal, it is not yet a human right. If free-speech fundamentalists really believe what they say, let us see them demand a reform of the capitalist system of ownership of the media, rather than making the simple, stupid demand that newspapers publish a handful of cartoons that play into the hands of political Islamists AND Islamophobes. Access to the machinery of mass communication is already restricted, but this, most egregious restriction of free-speech appears not to trouble the ‘decent’ left. Again, what we see is an attempt by the right to recruit the left to their xenophobic reactionary cause by wailing about assaults on ‘liberalism’. And again, we must resist lining up with these bigots, as theirs in no defence of liberalism, only of their own reactionary primitivism. We can defend left-wing liberalism without the help of racists. And if we really care about liberalising speech, is the most pressing demand that of a bunch of sub- Goebbels Danish ethnocentrics to paint Muslims as a danger to civilisation, or it is by breaking the grip of men like Murdoch over our ‘free’ media? I say; smash his fingers if we need to. Free speech for all!