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Freedom of speech for me, but not for thee

Propaganda can change the direction of a nation. In Oceania – George Orwell's chilling totalitarian state in his sinister novel 1984 – we have a compelling description of how the Ministry of Truth used its subtle language Newspeak to brainwash the people. The slogan of Oceania is “War is peace; freedom is slavery; ignorance is strength.” The Thought Police were able to control the ideas that determined the political and moral views of the culture.

The withdrawal of individual freedoms was sold to the population as a plus. Slavery to the State was presented as the gateway to freedom and prosperity. Conquest was sold as liberation. Everything done was always for 'the good of the people'. The entry gates of Adolph Hitler's concentration camps bore the slogan Arbeit macht frei - “Work sets you free.” Newspeak; Doublethink; Thought Police; Big Brother – all of those words and phrases have entered our vocabulary thanks to George Orwell. His writings, perhaps like no other, exposed how propaganda is used to control a totalitarian state, offering insights that all of us should read. Its purpose is to change people's perception of reality so that despite compelling counter-evidence, people will not change their minds. The goal is to make people impervious to facts, scientific proof and common sense.

Many of us have been critical of the church in Nazi Germany. We have asked why Christians did not rise in opposition to the propaganda of the Third Reich, but after the riots that followed the murder of George Floyd we must now be more understanding of the silence of the church. It is difficult to speak up in a culture carried away by mob mentality – submit, or else! Revolutions begin with a cultural moment; a pretext that will hide the real agenda in order to justify it. You need the triumph of ideology over science, reason and civil liberties; you need to recruit people who are willing to advance anarchy in the name of justice and equality, and you must silence all dissident voices. Submission to the ideology is enforced either by shaming, by laws or simply by the exclusion of opposing voices from the workplace, but does this 'cancel culture' sound like it's part of a country on its way to greatness or one in decline? Mobs are only able to destroy: they cannot build. Every victory spurs them on to more demands. Many politicians and businesses came out in support of the radicals and funnelled millions of dollars into their cause, no doubt signalling that they were free of racism while hoping that the mob wouldn't come after them as well. Winston Churchill is credited with having said: “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last.”

While the great bastions of tolerance have become more intolerant than any religious fundamentalist could ever dare to be, intolerance from radical left secularists is not a new phenomenon. In 1997 psychologist Nicholas Humphrey gave the Oxford Amnesty lecture for that year, the purpose of which was to argue in favour of censorship and against freedom of expression. Specifically, it was to censor 'moral and religious education', especially the education a child receives at home. “Children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense, and we as a society have a duty to protect them from it. We should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible or that the planets rule their lives than we should allow parents to lock their children in a dungeon.” Really? To teach children the truth of the Bible is equivalent to locking them in a dungeon? The harshest critics of free speech are the secular leftists who pride themselves on their alleged tolerance. Supposedly they are the ones who are in favour of inclusion and not exclusion, which is true if you agree with their worldview.

Free speech was, at one time, a right that the radical left applauded. The Free Speech Movement, as it was called, instigated a considerable and lengthy protest on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, during the 1964–1965 school year. Students protested an administrative ban prohibiting on-campus political activities and demanded that the university acknowledge their right to free speech. This movement was supported by the left-leaning social activists of the day and gave impetus to both the civil rights and antiwar movements. A more sinister event – but one that warrants telling – occurred in Illinois in 1977, when the National Socialist Party of America wanted to march in a suburb where hundreds of Jews who survived Hitler's concentration camps lived. At first these Nazi advocates were denied a permit to march and to spew their hatred against the Jews, but they were defended by the American Civil Liberties Union which insisted that free speech was free speech no matter how offensive. The US Supreme Court supported this in what is known as The National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie dispute, stating that the Neo-Nazis had a right to demonstrate and speak. This case is often taught or cited in US constitutional law classes.

That was then; this is now. Institutions that once favoured free speech are now limiting speech; arguing that this right is unfair, unjust and insensitive. They say that free speech should be allowed for some groups but not others. Nearly one half of millennials believe that hate speech should be banned, but hate speech is often defined as the speech of a political opponent with whom one does not agree. If you're for securing your country's borders, for example, that can be considered racist hate speech by those who believe in open borders. To state that there are only two genders is considered offensive and therefore deemed hate speech. The slogan of those who want to silence speech is: “If you can't beat them, ban them!”

Millions of people are aware that we now live in the midst of an 'offended' generation: we are being told that everyone's right to free speech should be curtailed so as not to offend anyone. Islam takes this to an extreme level, repressing free speech wherever it prevails. Since 2008 The Organisation of Islamic Councils has wanted to pass legislation through the United Nations that would make all criticism of Islam a crime. Blasphemy laws in many Muslim countries criminalise all criticisms of Islam, often treating them as a capital offence. Even to be a silent Christian is to be blasphemous because Christians believe in the Trinity and the Sonship of Jesus. No religion in all the world is as repressive as Islam. Sadly, even in Western nations being critical of Islam is politically incorrect and therefore condemned.

No one knows more about the intolerance of Islam than Salman Rushdie, the novelist who was put under a fatwa – a Muslim sentence of death – in 1989. His crime was writing about what are called “The Satanic Verses” found in the Qur'an. Ten years after the fatwa was announced it was lifted, but to this day Rushdie appears in public only with a heavy guard. His defence of free speech is a classic: he correctly argues that freedom of speech means the right to offend others. “The idea that any kind of free society can be built in which people will never be offended or insulted is absurd. A fundamental decision needs to be made: do we want to live in a free society or do we not? Democracy is not a tea party where people sit around making polite conversation. In democracies people do become upset with each other. They have the fundamental right to take an argument to the point where somebody is offended by what they say. There is no trick in supporting the free speech of somebody with whom you agree or whose opinion is unimportant to you: the defence of free speech begins at the point where people say something you can't stand. If you can't defend their right to say it, then you don't believe in free speech.”

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