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A few pales beyonded - click opera
February 2010
 
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Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 09:52 am
A few pales beyonded

• Britain was convulsed last week by the appearance of Nick Griffin on the BBC's Question Time. The editor of the New Statesman, for instance, came to see the Brel show at the Barbican, but rushed off halfway through to watch Question Time live. While I obviously disagree completely with Griffin's views on immigration, I think the BBC was right to let him express them on TV. A robust democracy can and should allow all views to be aired, and the tolerance which tolerates only tolerable views is both intolerant and intolerable. I can still remember the days when Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein could only appear on TV if his words were voiced by an actor. So the BBC had this Gerry Adams soundalike who popped up to dub interviews. Ridiculous, and hardly a good reflection on the Thatcher government, who at the time were also trying to suppress any information saying that homosexuality was a valid sexual orientation. It's odd what's considered beyond the pale at any given point.

• I was talking with Paris friends about what you could and couldn't say on the internet -- as opposed to "real life" -- if you didn't want hundreds of irate commenters pummelling you. My friends instantly gave two examples. One (a woman) said "I wish I'd been raped by Polanski!" Then another (a man) said "If you look at the pictures of the thirteen year-old girl, she wasn't even that cute." I told them that these views would be considered completely beyond the pale if expressed on an Anglo-Saxon blog, and would trigger a catastrophic comment-cascade in which it would be established that rape is rape, the law the law, and the French terminally immoral.

• The Guardian review which appeared on Saturday is one of the few to end up panning my Book of Jokes as "unpalatable". The woman who wrote it is slightly more conservative than some of the other reviewers, and points out that, no matter how eruditely it's expressed, the book spouts filth. In the interests of balance, I quite welcome this moral caution. After all, the book is intended to venture beyond the pale, and to speak things that dare not be spoken, at least not out loud in public. A world in which no-one declared the book intolerable would be a world in which it was no longer possible to go beyond the pale.

• I'm trying to find -- so far without success -- a copy of Nabokov's first novel, Laughter in the Dark. Everywhere you go, bookshops, if they have any Nabokov at all (and they all have a ton of Naipaul next to him) have Lolita and nothing else. Could it be that Lolita has survived only because it went so boldly beyond the pale? I mean, isn't that what made it a bestseller, which Laughter in the Dark never was?

• I bought a copy of Samuel Beckett's letters. It's an incredibly interesting and impressive book: Beckett makes me feel like a mental pygmy. Wait, can you say that on the internetz? Doesn't it imply that there's something wrong with being a pygmy? I was reading somewhere recently about Roald Dahl's struggle with reviewers and librarians over the appearance of small black slaves in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He ended up rewriting the characters to make it clear that they weren't African slaves, so that children, presumably, wouldn't have to think about Africa or slavery. And didn't Sendak recently tell critics of Where The Wild Things Are to go to hell? More and more seems to be beyond the pale, especially where children are involved.

• Anyway, I was talking about Sam Beckett. There's an interesting bit where he's contemplating translating Sade's 120 Days of Sodom -- which he loves for its ability to show "the impossibility of outraging nature" -- into English. It's 1938, and the book is still untranslated. "I should like very much to do it," Beckett writes to George Reavey, "but don't know what effect it wd. have on my lit. situation in England or how it might prejudice future publications of my own there. The surface is of an unheard of obscenity & not 1 in 100 will find literature in the pornography, or beneath the pornography, let alone one of the capital works of the 18th century, which it is for me. I don't mind the obloquy, on the contrary it will get more of me into a certain room. But I don't want to be spiked as a writer, I mean as a publicist in the airiest sense." Despite these reservations, Beckett provisionally accepted to translate the 120 Days into English, but Jack Kahane, the man who'd asked him, dropped out of sight. So that particular pale was never beyonded.

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(Anonymous)
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 09:21 am (UTC)

Momus and the Daily Mail: together in the fight against political correctness.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 10:25 am (UTC)
WTF

There is only politics and no correctness when racists are made into notional bogeymen rather than be allowed to go on television and be challenged on their views by people who might not look or sound like them (and like NIck, my opinions on censorship were probably reinforced by my opinions on Thatcher's homophobes and dub masters). BTW most of the people whining that Griffin was bullied on QT and that immigration needs to be dealt with can't even spell 'indigenous' properly, bless their indigent little hearts.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 08:35 pm (UTC)
Charlie and the Wog Factory

With Nick Griffin in power who knows what revisionism we'll see enforced?

Swallows and Towelheads
James and the Giant Gayer
Watership Mick


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krskrft
krskrft
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 10:42 am (UTC)

I think that, when the issue of who should/should not be given a soapbox/hot mic comes up, it's worth taking into consideration whether this person's goal is to foment reactions from certain segments of society that would lead to threats on other peoples' liberties.

I mean, for example, in America, there was quite a lot of race-baiting, not to mention clearly and overtly racist shit that made its way into the media, during the run-up to the 2008 election (and since Obama was elected as well). And we're talking about a media that typically goes out of its way to make sure that absolute 100% crackpots whose ideas exist solely to rile up rednecks and incite violence don't make it on the air. But still, you'd hear the random redneck shouting "He's a nigger!" from the audience at a GOP rally.

If this type of shit is powerful enough to slip into the media picture even without its proponents being given a soapbox, how much worse are we to imagine it might have been if this had not been the case?

I don't know much of anything about Nick Griffin. Maybe he's not a racist. Maybe he's not a holocaust denier. Maybe his point isn't to incite nationalist xenophobia. If these things are the case, then yeah, let him speak. But I'd argue that there's nothing inherently wrong with not giving the guy a microphone and a camera to talk into if any one of these highly objectionable things he's been accused of contains a shred of truth. Nobody has the right to have their words and ideas piped into millions of homes, especially not at taxpayer expense. I gotta say, if Nick Griffin really is as xenophobic and racist as he's been accused of being, I wouldn't want to be a non-Anglo Briton seeing his/her taxes being spent giving the guy a podium.

Momus: It kind of pains me to see you argue that all ideas, no matter how vile, deserve a podium in a democracy. Because actually, they don't. That's the first thing. And secondly, those vile ideas always find their way to the surface, regardless. Believe me, in a democracy, if Nick Griffin's ideas (or the ideas he's been accused of harboring) are powerful enough, if there's enough conviction behind them, they'll get out there, whether he's given a BBC platform or not.

And it's kind of strange for you to argue, on the one hand, that something being "beyond the pale" is good, in the sense that it still means we live in a world where things can actually play that role, but at the same time arguing that treating Griffin as though he's "beyond the pale" and barring him a BBC platform would, in essence, make the world worse off. Which is it?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 11:07 am (UTC)

By the expression "beyond the pale" I don't mean something that can't be expressed, but something which, when expressed, causes pain, consternation, consideration, and active thought, something that actually throws established values into crisis for a moment or two. Without the expression of things-beyond-the-pale we would live in a world where people only believed the things they did because they'd never been challenged, and possibly never even considered alternative points of view. Milton says in his Areopagitica (an argument against Cromwell's proposal that the government censor all books before they appear) that virtue that's never tested is not virtue at all.


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foucaultonacid
foucaultonacid
foucaultonacid
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 10:52 am (UTC)

favourite sam quote p36: I am looking forward to pulling the balls off the critical & poetical Proustian cock


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 10:58 am (UTC)
Nabokov

Don't think 'Laughter in the Dark' was Nabokov's first novel – perhaps only the first he wrote in English. He disowned later on, though it's definitely worth reading.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 07:45 pm (UTC)
Re: Nabokov

I own a copy of 'Mary' by Nabokov, which says on the inside cover that it is his first novel, written in 1925.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 12:01 pm (UTC)

I think you have to distinguish between moral and aesthetic palatability. It seems to be the latter that has the Guardian reviewer panning your book, as she goes on to say that it "reads like the verbose doodles of an incorrigible schoolboy".

On another note, I'm not so sure that the French really push the boat out more than the Anglo-Saxons. They are simply "pudique" about different things. Facile provocations like comically expressing a desire to be raped by Polanski might be acceptable. On the other hand, probing into people's private lives is far less acceptable.


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alaplantine
alaplantine
alaplantine
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 02:40 pm (UTC)

it reminds me when I raped my little brother.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 03:35 pm (UTC)

Aha, a Frenchwoman chimes in with a "scandalous" remark!


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virtue anyone? - (Anonymous) Expand


(Anonymous)
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 04:50 pm (UTC)
paled faced peely whally molacated cunts

that show had four lying fascists cunts on it and one honest one
i know what i prefer
the british public are almost totallly ignorant nazi fucks
adolf won the war you blind fucks
please osama let obama dangle
let them have it


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 04:39 pm (UTC)

Forgive me if this question has been done to death elsewhere on the blog, but given your obvious, albeit perhaps wary, soft spot for cultural protectionism (at least insofar as it applies to cultures that aren't American/British), I'd genuinely be interested in hearing if there were any extent to which you (Nick) sympathised with anything Griffin has to say. Disregarding for the time being his penchant for pretty abhorrent racism and his mind-bogglingly silly plans to encourage 'voluntary repatriation', is the core of what he's saying - that Britain, if it continues accepting wholescale immigration, is in danger of eventually losing whatever it is that has traditionally made it uniquely British - really that different in spirit from other countries' attempts at adopting culturally protectionist policies in the face of impending globalisation (France and the Toubon law, for example)?

Clearly, the scale of his proposed measures and the nasty, semi-violent imagery (if not literally, at least metaphorically so: the way the BNP website juxtaposes photos of blonde British kids playing in a field next to those of bhurkah-clad women queuing up at Immigration, presumably in the throes of hatching plans for world domination) are worlds away from dictating what percentage of songs on the radio need to be sung in a certain language. But in closing him down completely, in casting him as a figure to be mocked and to be poured nothing but scorn upon, I wonder if we aren't also creating a link between an arguably valid concern to do with what exactly it is that makes a particular culture unique (a debate which to my understanding is at least valid, if not actively encouraged, in non-Western countries the world over), and those who use it as a platform for bigoted, racist speech?

As far as my own feelings on the subject are concerned, I think his views are pretty abhorrent. Nevertheless, I think he's the extreme embodiment of the beliefs of a certainly not-miniscule portion of British society (every reader of the Daily Mail, despite their apparently non-ironic depiciton of him as the new Hitler, has surely to sympathise in some way, shape of form with what he's saying), and for that reason I think it's important he's given a voice, listened to, and shouted down. He's the elephant in Britain's room: what good will it do sweeping him under the carpet?

Adam


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krskrft
krskrft
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 10:36 pm (UTC)

and for that reason I think it's important he's given a voice, listened to, and shouted down.

I love how this becomes the instant rationalization for Griffin's right to be given a roundtable debate of his ideas on the BBC, that he will inevitably be "shouted down," so it's okay to let him into the "free speech" arena.

What if he weren't shouted down? What if the entire audience suddenly erupted into applause at his first utterance of an idea? It seems like what you're saying is that this is all alright, because he's not likely to see any support, and in fact, he's likely to get bludgeoned. And certainly this episode of Question Time was set up specifically for that purpose. I don't think there can be any argument that he was not set up to fall, inasmuch as any setting up for that fate were required. You think he was given a "fair shake," but he actually wasn't. And while that's a good thing, I think it would have been even better not to waste the peoples' money on the arranged butchery, and to just have kept him off TV altogether.


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georgesdelatour
georgesdelatour
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC)

Krskrft

The BBC is the UK's national broadcaster established by Royal Charter. It has incredibly strict rules covering, for instance, references to candidates running for elected office.

It's highly likely that a refusal to allow the BNP leader on TV would constitute a breach of that charter. Peter Hain, the former Secretary Of State for Wales, repeatedly criticised the BBC for permitting Griffin on TV. Hain has been asked if he would personally indemnify the BBC against loss in the event they were sued by the BNP. He would not.

It would take an Act Of Parliament to ban Nick Griffin and his party from UK TV. As far as I am aware, such bans, like the partial ban on Sinn Fein, have only been passed when the party unequivocally advocates the violent overthrow of the state. The BNP, odious as it is, does not advocate this. Hizb ut-Tahrir has not been banned in the UK, even though the government wants to ban it, because a ban is thought to be not justiciable. What justiciable principle - rather than generalised personal dislike - would you use to ban the BNP, while leaving free other groups you might like?

I think two good things came from the Griffin appearance. First, anti-fascists got to argue against a real live fascist. I think this will improve the quality of anti-fascist argument. Griffin's opinions were not always predictable - his fierce opposition to the Iraq War for instance. Anti-fascists need to know what their enemy is actually saying if they are to fight him on the doorstep. Second, the British far right has been especially susceptible to factionalism, and Griffin's appearance may encourage splits between those in his movement who liked his performance, and those who didn't.


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krskrft
krskrft
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 10:40 pm (UTC)

I think perhaps Parliament needs to change its BBC rules. I mean, if they're hamstrung into it, that's one thing. They can't get around that. But if they're attributing it to some kind of "fairness" or "free speech," then that's bogus. Not only is it idiotic to give a guy like Nick Griffin a podium (or in this case, a roundtable that is there to discuss his views as though they are serious and legitimate), but after watching, it's impossible to leave with the impression that he was given a fair shake to begin with. In the face of legal breaches, the BBC didn't even take the valorous "free speech" stance they claim to have. He was brought in to be butchered, and that's what happened. Which is great and all, but it's not free speech.


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theholyinnocent
theholyinnocent
don draper's gin-soaked conscience
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 06:36 pm (UTC)

I was about to mention that...Camera Obscura was the title of the first English translation. Then--I think--Nabokov re-translated it himself and re-christened it Laughter in the Dark.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 06:24 pm (UTC)
'Industry Steel' (my amusingly pertinent) anon ident. words

i agree with this:

http://k-punk.abstractdynamics.org/archives/011347.html

That:

"What is evaded here is the way that racism is not some naturally-occurring tendency but, necessarily, a displacement of the class antagonisms which the neoliberal consensus - hello everyone on the QT panel apart from Griffin - has a vested interest in covering up."

Whereas,

Race is not a hot issue in prosperous upper middle class London neighbourhoods.
The reason race -is- an issue has to do with former white working(/lower middle)-class deprived communities being marginalised and ignored (or feeling so), then venting their anger at the more vulnerable target; ethnically identifiable newcomers (foreign tribe) rather than the economic structure that surrounds and pins them (the inscrutable gods).

That, as well as the elderly conservative sectors of ageing Brutish Britain who would probably believe as they do whatever structual changes were effected.

to krskrft: It isn't actually a tax as such that pays for the BBC. It's a license fee paid to the BBC itself by those who own a TV. I don't own a TV, i don't pay a thing. Crazy i know; but i'd happily pay the BBC a stipend for the great work it does.




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(Anonymous)
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 07:31 pm (UTC)
Nabokov

Nabokov must be more widely available in the US--your average chain shop will carry Lolita, Pale Fire, Pnin, and then a mixed bag of others. All those rather uniformly horrid-looking Vintage editions however. I attribute this more to the business acumen of Vintage than any difference in popularity, Vintage books are always everywhere.

Speaking of Lolita and Polanski (who loved, loved, loved 13-16 year old girls) it's rather unacceptable in the US to discuss degrees of "pedophilia." I daresay that an attraction to 16-year-old girls is rather more common than one to 5-year-old boys, but in the rush to moral outrage both are described using the same terms. The law of necessity must draw bright-line rules (and we must accept the occasional unjust result) but we need not make personal moral judgments the same way.


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spanghew.wordpress.com
spanghew.wordpress.com
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 07:36 pm (UTC)

Well, if you welcome the "moral caution" of the reviewer who felt The Book of Jokes to be unpalatable, why would you not welcome the presumably similar "caution" that is the "pummeling" received by comments that offend readers? I mean, you sorta defended Polanski; others (including myself) expressed their disagreement and argued he was a man who raped a child. (I note that most defenders of Polanski do not defend the rape of a child; they defend something else, while deflecting attention from the act or insisting it's something else.)

Free speech does not guarantee freedom from verbal pummeling - quite the opposite. Here in the US, where "freedom of speech" is supposed to be constitutionally protected, there's certainly no shortage of loudmouth Americans who bombastically defend free speech...and then shudder in umbrage when some idiotic remark they make incites vigorous speech condemning the first remark's idiocy. That's free speech too.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 07:39 pm (UTC)

Ever heard of Blair Magazine?
seems very much up your alleyhole:

http://www.blairmag.com/


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internought
internought
denial o'niall
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 07:45 pm (UTC)

Perhaps the Guardian reviewer would prefer Gargantua et Pantagruel.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 09:23 pm (UTC)
we hate it when our friends become successful

apparently morrissey is going to be alright (for the time being). i hope he's back onstage soon.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 10:13 pm (UTC)

"A robust democracy can and should allow all views to be aired"

Yes it probably can, but 'robust democracy' is not a remotely accurate description of the UK. Letting nazis on TV to speak their minds is never a good idea; would you have been so keen to defend his 'freedom of speech' if he'd been wearing a swastika armband? Jack Straw's liberal posturing is one thing, but what are his Government's policies on immigration? This, for example: A ten year old girl tries to kill herself after being faced with deportation (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/oct/23/tinsley-house-immigration-removal-centre); this: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/asylumseeker-killed-himself-so-son-could-stay-416722.html; the policies showcased in Sky One's Uk Border Force, which celebrates the hunting down and imprisonment of 'illegals'? The fascists are no match for this vicious criminal bunch.

Incidentally, having managed at last to have got hold of The Book of Jokes, and being the only person in the world to have a copy signed by Belinda Carlisle, who I bumped into a couple of minutes after I'd left the LRB bookshop (she was at the stage door of a theatre signing autographs, and I was walking past with the book in my hand, so I just thought fuck it, why not, and she was most obliging), anyway, i'd be very intruigued to find out if the author of The Book of Scotlands has any idea at all where I can buy a copy of this book, of which I have seen many pictures, but tghere is not a single place on the entire internet, not to mention in London, where one can actually pay for a copy, why is this.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Oct. 27th, 2009 10:30 am (UTC)

You can get The Book of Scotlands from amazon.de. Why they don't link this up with the other international Amazons is one of life's biggest mysteries.

I'd have preferred a Jane Weidlin signature (preferably some kind of potato print of her adorably cute ears) on The Book of Jokes, but you can't have everything.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 11:15 pm (UTC)

"the tolerance which tolerates only tolerable views is both intolerant and intolerable"
wow, very well put, did you come up with that or were you paraphrasing someone?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Oct. 27th, 2009 10:20 am (UTC)

It just popped out of my head!


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bennycornelius
bennycornelius
Mon, Oct. 26th, 2009 11:25 pm (UTC)

I used to drink on occasion with the actor who voiced Gerry Adams in the eighties - best job he ever had apparently ... almost a decade of regular work.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Oct. 27th, 2009 10:22 am (UTC)

Ha!


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eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Tue, Oct. 27th, 2009 04:55 am (UTC)

I think there's a danger of seeing freedom (in this case, of speech) as some abstract, absolute value, something untouchable. This to me seems to come from voltaire's famous non-statement about disliking what you say whilst defending to the death your right to say it. When racists are allowed the use of mass media platforms to air their views, I see this nonsense often trotted out, in the mistaken belief that this is all to do with the law and rights; as such we conveniently avoid discussing whether the people concerned were right or not to talk in that way.

To take this recent example, I see here that people defending the BNP 's right to airtime are really, in a wider sense, defending those who make unpopular or incorrect use of their rights of expression. These groups are the main beneficiaries of our focusing on the right itself rather than the pros and cons of exercising it - this alone should make us stop and think.

The idea that free speech is the route to truth, that today's heresy may become tomorrow's orthodoxy, is one I find extremely shaky and can't be applied across the board. Does anyone really think that racist hate speech might become 'true'? How exactly does it contribute to the democratic process? if , in order for us to be 'free' it is essential to be able to spout racist slogans and hear hatemongering, then why is that freedom such a desirable end-in-itself?

As for "A robust democracy can and should allow all views to be aired", surely a democracy is more robust when it demonstrates a willingness to protect disadvantaged or minority groups from threatening speech by other (usually dominant, like in this case) groups. And in so doing, acknowledging the unequal power relationships in society instead of clinging to the bogus 'level playing field for all views' argument. Someone's right to free speech may clash with another's right to protection FROM that hate-filled speech. 'Free speech' cannot just trump everything else! isn't it the case that there 's more to life than just rights - what about duties and goals too?

As for such the free expression of race-hate, history is full of examples of how platforms have been abused. I recommend 'Broadcasting genocide: Rwanda 1990-94' which analyses how deep rooted ethnic fears were played upon in the media to justify a carefully planned ethnic slaughter.

Here's a sobering quote I read in a book about the Nazi rise to power:
"Instead of working to achieve power by armed conspiracy we shall...enter the reichstag against the catholic and marxist deputies. If outvoting them takes longer than outshooting them, at least the results will be guaranteed by their own constitution... democracy must be defeated with the weapons of democracy". (A.Hitler, 1923)

Nazi groups have come a long way in their presentation, but that does not mean their ideas are less dangerous. Those who think Nazis, even mdern day ones like Griffin, should be allowed free use of democratic rights to destroy them have not learned from history.


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andrewducker
andrewducker
Andrew Ducker
Tue, Oct. 27th, 2009 07:21 am (UTC)

defending those who make unpopular or incorrect use of their rights of expression.
Nobody has to defend popular expression - so if you are in favour of free speech then it's only ever unpopular expression you'll be defending.

surely a democracy is more robust when it demonstrates a willingness to protect disadvantaged or minority groups from threatening speech by other (usually dominant, like in this case) groups.
No. That's not a democracy - that's a dictatorship. We protect people from threatening actions, and from direct incitement to violence. Other than that, the cure for "incorrect speech" is more speech, in opposition to it.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Oct. 27th, 2009 05:55 am (UTC)
Dear Nick

Will you visit Australia please?


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