Double standards on free speech

“In times of war on terror, the risk is that free speech will be the first casualty. The tension between free speech and the safety of the population is a genuine one. Charles Clarke, the home secretary, has just modified part of the Terrorism Bill which dealt with ‘glorifying’ terrorism. Imams and others will now be prosecuted only if their remarks are seen as as inducements to further terrorist acts. Most people will have little problem with such a law. The fact that certain people, mainly radical Muslims, have abused our tolerance to incite acts of terror has rightly provoked anger.

“Where there is a problem, however, is with another government assault on free speech that has no direct connection with terrorism – the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. If it becomes law, anybody who publishes or says anything ‘likely to be heard or seen by any person in whom it is likely to stir up racial or religious hatred’ will be committing an offence that could make them liable to a seven-year prison term.

“This bill has so far attracted most attention because of the efforts of comedians such as Rowan Atkinson. They have argued that it would prevent them poking even gentle fun at any religion. It also featured during the election campaign when Mr Clarke – billing himself as ‘Labour’s home secretary’ – wrote to every mosque in the country highlighting Conservative and Liberal Democrat opposition to the proposals. There was a clear implication that the government was trying to secure the Muslim vote.”

Editorial in the Sunday Times, 16 October 2005

Short version: laws that penalise Muslims, good; laws that protect Muslims, bad.