Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Some Disturbing Developments

Two things in the news today left me really worried...

The Latest Twist in the Old Firm Saga of Hate

It was reported today that, at the last Old Firm match of the season, some of the police involved will infiltrate the crowd, and identify and arrest those singing 'banned' songs, and that those identified will be made subject to banning orders for up to 10 years.

Now, the thing is that if you are serious about freedom, you have to expend a fair amount of concern protecting the freedoms of people you don't particularly like to do things that you don't particularly like.

I really don't like Sectarian songs, but the simple fact is that this should not be a police matter. In fact, it is really, really important that this not be a police matter.

Freedom of speech is probably the single most important freedom that we have. Without freedom of speech, any of our other freedoms can be violated, and we won't be able to do anything about it. The police getting involved because of the singing of songs is wrong.

(Incidentally, we do have a law on the books banning "hate preaching". Now, the first thing to note is that this law should never, in fact, have been passed in the first place. The second is that it was never intended for this purpose - it was intended as an anti-terrorism matter.)

Now, I can quite understand the desire of the government to take action on this. The singing of Sectarian songs shames the clubs, it shames Scottish football, and it shames Scotland as a whole. But the government does not, and must not, have the right to do anything about it.

What should happen? Well, Rangers (and Celtic) need to be the ones taking action. They should have their stewards identify those singing the songs, they should eject them, and they should ban them. This is perfectly acceptable - a business can restrict freedom of speech on its premesis (of course). Indeed, UEFA can similarly require Rangers and Celtic to take some actions.

But the government must not.

What Are We Doing In Libya?

I have been troubled about our actions in Libya for some time. Because we refuse to take direct action to remove Gaddafi (because International Law does not allow us to explicitly do this), all we've been doing is prolonging the conflict - the rebels don't have the wherewithal to succeed without our aid, and we've prevented Gaddafi from wiping them out (probably rightly). The problem, of course, is that all the people in the middle have to suffer, and will continue to suffer indefinitely.

But that's actually less important than what has been reported today, which is that the British government are considering equipping the rebels with British-made body armour.

This must not be done.

Very simply, we don't know anything about these rebels. They are allies of convenience, nothing more. Once the fight is done, we don't know what their stance towards us will be, except that we can be sure that they won't be handing back the equipment.

We should have learned our lesson with Al Qaeda - todays ally may turn out to be tomorrow's enemy. Better that we fight the battle for them, even if that means removing Gaddafi in defiance of International Law, than that we equip a force of dubious intent with weapons that might be turned against us.


Captain Ric said...

It's 35 police infiltrating a crowd of 50,000. Even leaving aside the question of the legality of it, it's crazy to think that it will have any practical effect. Unless it's a PR stunt, but I don't really think the police should be engaged in those.

The law covering the police action is that the offence is a sectarian statutory breach of the peace. I think I can maybe see that...

As for Libya, I take the viewpoint that it's not so much arming an unknown that's dangerous, but that by arming the rebels (giving them body armour counts) we have picked sides in the conflict. It's not our place to decide who should govern Libya or to force regime change.

Steph/ven said...

I don't have a huge problem with us picking sides. As I see it, our choices are threefold: (a) remove Gaddafi from power, either directly or by significantly helping the rebels, (b) do nothing, and allow Gaddafi to exterminate the rebels, or (c) step in just enough to prolong the conflict indefinitately, to the great suffering of the innocent people in the middle.

We seem to have chosen (c), which I submit is the worst of all possible choices.

As for the "sectarian statutory breach of the peace" - I fail to see any meaningful distinction between the fans singing "we hate the other team" (which is allowed) and "we hate the Pope/the Queen" (which is not). It's not the singing that the police are acting on, it is the content of the singing. Which is wrong.

(I'm also at a loss to explain how it's "breach of the peace" when there basically isn't any peace to be had in the ground in the first place. Everyone who is there will have chosen to be there, the two sets of support are carefully segregated, and their actions don't directly affect anyone outside the ground.)

I'm sure that the powers-that-be mean well when doing this. As I said, sectarianism is deplorable, and genuinely does bring shame to Scotland. But stamping out sectarianism is less important than maintaining freedom of speech.

Consider: what happens if the powers-that-be decide that anti-cuts protests are equally offensive, and choose to categorise political demonstrations as hate speech? Or, indeed, they decide that the best way to stamp out sectarianism is to ban any public expression of religious belief?

Very few people deliberately set out to impose tyranny. More commonly, freedom is lost a degree at a time. And banning any form of speech makes for a really dangerous precedent; it opens the door for banning any form of speech.

Le Welsh said...

I can't type what I want to because I am one-handed due to a sleeping baby in my left arm but I have enjoyed reading this discussion :) (I'm not aure a smiley face is entirely appropriate here...)