Dangerous Baggage

Nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri

Silence Opposed

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We live in a time of unrivalled communication abilities, with such incredible freedom to say whatever the hell we want and to search out opinions about almost anything.

It has long been the aim of free-thinking societies to create such an environment and nurture and use it to great effect. The literary greats and human rights heroes of centuries gone could perhaps not have imagined the beautiful freedom we now have. Indeed the freedom we now take for granted.

Recent events however have caused many people to rethink just how free this communication should be.

The news channels on most evenings contain stories about a member of Al-Qaeda posting a video on YouTube. Maybe Anwar al-Awlaqi will be encouraging various disgusting acts that should be carried out on the western world in the name of Islam. Or perhaps images of some training camp in a suitably dusty landscape or in an anonymous, disused warehouse are portrayed to a distinctly Arabic soundtrack. I’ll only briefly mention the abhorrent images of dying soldiers or of bound and blindfolded victims who have only hours before a vicious execution.

The war against Germany’s Nazi party took its toll on the country and is still remembered today by those that fought and the stories handed down through the generations. That generation fought and died so we could have our day; through what eyes will our descendents look back on us?

The years and decades ahead may well be extreme. It is worth remembering that the atomic bomb, that biological and chemical warfare, that high speed jets and missiles and guidance computers and armed space satellites did not exist in 1939 (or at least not in the same excessive way they do in the 21st century). Imagine how different the war and the world would be now if even half the technology we have in our arsenals today existed pre-1939.

However, there is something that should be favoured even above the avoidance of war. Indeed it is possibly one of the few things that would justify a war in order to defend.


Freedom: one of the basic rights that our ancestors fought for, and died for. One of the basic rights we owe to our descendants to pass on. The freedom to speak and be heard and the freedom to seek out and listen are at the heart of so many struggles throughout history.

I tried searching for a Jihad video today, in 15 minutes I could not find anything to watch; a few pictures and plenty of news coverage but I could not go to any original source. To be clear I’m not interested in seeing violence or witnessing disgusting scenes for their own sake. But search for ‘violent porn’ and see how many hits Google returns, if my mind is really that malleable to corruption how are such non-religious, non-political images of rape and torture so openly available without making headlines?

I can read the views of Al-Qaeda sympathisers on a number of websites and (after wading through the tawdry pages of uneducated drivel about Islam and the Qur’an) we can quite quickly get to the extreme views. The views of the defiantly confident supreme Muslims who set themselves apart from everyone else, including those Muslims who simply do not agree with their fanatical views.

The scariest part of this however is not the extreme views that are there to be read, scorned, debated, considered or rebutted, but the campaigns of people and powers in the western world who seek to silence these videos and these opinions.

Imagine if they succeeded, imagine a terrorist organisation not taking our freedom away from us by force but using our freedom of speech against us; to encourage us to abandon our liberty voluntarily. The first principle of this cannot be accepted.

To ban these videos on all websites, to silence these repugnant opinions, would be an insult to those that fought and died for our freedom and would do a great disservice to our children (as a side note – younger children are particularly vulnerable to these repulsive ideas and should be protected as a special case). However, even if none had fought for this freedom before and if we were to have no children, freedom of speech is still a right worth fighting for.

How can censorship possibly be acceptable only in cases where the powers that be, or political organisations deem it so, the point is that ‘they’ can’t do that? If it is acceptable where does it stop? Who would I appoint to decide exactly what I’m allowed to watch and hear? Who would you?

The enlightenment, the great European and American cultures, the technological revolution and so much more all owe so much to freedom and to those who gave their blood and their lives so that we may be free.

If some young, educated and charismatic men want to publish videos persuading me that so many innocent people should die as payment for so many innocent already dead – let them publish. But those videos will be subject to the same level of scrutiny and rebuttal as everything else; they will not be immune from critique. Nothing is immune from critique. Nothing. That’s the point.

An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty because it can accustom a nation to stretch, to misinterpret and to misapply even the best of laws

He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his own enemy from repression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself

Thomas Paine

Who is next to be silenced, and who will decide?


Written by matthaughton

November 16, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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