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Friday, 3 February 2012

Speaking Freely; a response

I was going to post this as a comment, however, brevity is not my strength and comments are restricted to 4,096 characters, so here is what I wished to say...


The Monk has highlighted one of the constant, but changing issues that confronts Western civilisation today as it has done for over 50 years in my experience and will continue to confront it tomorrow.  part of the problem is the phrase "freedom of speech" itself.  Total freedom of speech is not available anywhere in the world.  The right to express your own views, within the bounds of local laws, decency and respect for the views of others is a privilege that we in Western Europe enjoy to varying degrees depending upon the area of our residence.  In many parts of the world openly stating your view, if it is not identical to the received view of the ruling body, is very dangerous indeed, in fact there are those places where you will simply not survive to commit a repeat offence.  But true freedom of speech is simply not tolerated anywhere, and for good reason:  Leigh Van Bryan was refused entry to the United States of America after he had tweeted that he was going to "destroy America."  Why, was he serious?  Was he equipped?

Now I think he was joking, I think most rational people think that, but as I am never likely to wish to visit the USA, let me give my opinion;  what business is it of the US security services if Mr van Bryan wishes to destroy Brazil or Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, (although I can think of some British citizens who would back him on that one.) Canada or any of the huge majority of the square miles of the Americas that are not the US?  What arrogant pretention, however, it was the US that he had landfall in, so their action, in their eyes, was justified.

What interests me is why the Homeland Security people were reading so many millions of tweets as to catch this one specifically?  The truth is, in my opinion, that they were not, they are automatically monitoring the entire network for combinations of words that they disapprove of.  The US Department for Homeland Security picked up Mr Bryan's messages ahead of his holiday in Los Angeles.  The 26-year-old bar manager wrote a message to a friend on the micro-blogging service, saying: "Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America."  My belief is that the two juxtaposed words set off all the bells and whistles and mobilised the Homeland Security service who arrested, refused entry and effectively deported him.

Now, perhaps it is just me, but one Lisa Simpson informed me some time ago of something called the "First Amendment"; this is an amendment to the US Constitution and is part of the Bill of Rights; its wording is stark in its simplicity...it prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.  I wonder if the Homeland Security people are aware of its existence.  The US has an appalling record of breaching its own Bill of Rights.  Since the first World War; The phrase "clear and present danger" test of Schenk-v- the US in 1919 and elaborated in Debs-v-US later that year began its seditious march culminating in legalised paranoia in parts of the Federal Government.  The cases were taken under the Sedition Act of 1918 that made restrictions strict enough to ensure that a Mother clinging onto her uniformed Son saying "Johnny, please don't go" would be had up before the courts and imprisoned.  The US Secret Service when checking for sedition in political speeches or rallies do have a sensible razor with which to work, it is referred to as TPM, time, place and manner, and I believe that properly applied this is a reasonable test.  Can we apply TPM to the "destroy America" tweet?  I fail to see how the Homeland Security people did, they had their powers and by golly (oops, another word punishable by slow death, whatever the context.) they were going to use those powers.

I do agree with the Monk in terms of the use of words such as "freedom" and "rights" as both defensive and offensive weapons by various fringe groups, they suffer from the same arrogance as the government agencies, twisting words to suit ones own agenda, this I find anathema.  If everyone in the world were totally honest and decent and respected the wishes and desires of every other person, we would probably be in a happy but very poor world with little technology to make our lives as comfortable as they are.  I have today burned both logs and coal, it is about -5°C here which is chilly enough; did I give a single though to the (probably Polish) miner who will live a short and brutish life simply because he digs my coal.  A friend whose family came from the Welsh valleys informs me that the average male life expectancy has risen by one year for every year since the pits closed.  Life is not fair, it never has been, we sometimes need to speak out to try to make life fairer, but we must be aware of the possible penalties if we do.  I do not know wether to admire or abhor the stupidity of those who have been arrested smuggling bibles into China, it is almost as dangerous as smuggling heroin into Singapore, each of the smugglers, ill or well advised, is trying to bring what they perceive as a little comfort into the lives of people they do not know and intentionally break very strict laws to do so, are they aware of the risks or not?  If they are not then I feel sorry for them, the World is not a fair place and it never has been.

Here are my "thoughts for today", they have been collected over many years so I cannot properly attribute them to their various authors, for that  I am truly sorry.
Rule 1. You can’t change other people, and it’s rude to try.
Rule 2 Children are remarkably honest creatures until we teach them not to be.
Rule 3 Every problem you have is your responsibility, regardless of who caused it.
Rule 4 If you never doubt your beliefs, then you’re wrong a lot.
Rule 5 Every passing face on the street represents a story every bit as compelling and complicated as yours.
Rule 6 Whenever you hate something, it hates you back: people, situations and inanimate objects alike.
Rule 7 What makes human beings different from animals is that animals can be themselves with ease.
Rule 8 Emotions exist to make us strongly biased towards or against something. This hinders as often as it helps.
Rule 9 Nothing — ever — happens exactly like you pictured it.
and finally...
Rule 10 If anything is worth splurging on, it’s a high-quality mattress. You’ll spend a third of your life using it.


1 comment:

  1. As you rightly point out "Freedom of Speech" is a bit of a misnomer, since it is, in reality, restricted even in the most "liberal" societies. Your "comment" highlights several areas I didn't have time to touch on in my post, but perhaps should have.

    Rule 10 is probably the best advice anyone could give...

    ReplyDelete