As an American, believing in free speech and the protection of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, I find that as intolerable in Britain as in China and Saudi Arabia and as I would find it in Canada or here. Here are some of the reasons, in the words of some of those who write better than I do:
“Freedom of expression” did not develop in the West from purely idealistic motives. Nor is it necessarily a pretty thing. Like so much in civil society, we put up with it because the alternative is worse, and we'd rather cope with free speech, than with the free intimidation that results from its suppression.Gates of Vienna (comment):
The civilized answer to speech is counter-speech, not government supression, 'holy' terror, or self-silencing via cowering intellectual (and eventually literal) suicide.Gates of Vienna:
One cannot pick and choose freedom of speech, it either exists, in which case one lives in a democracy, or it does not, and one does not. Islam is not simply a religion; it is also a political ideology. The EU has therefore made the protest of a political movement illegal. This is totalitarianism.James Lewis:
The solution to totalitarianism is well-known. It has been known since the European enlightenment, or perhaps since ancient Athens: It includes such standards as genuine tolerance for debate, a willingness to compete economically in open markets, a reliance on free speech and respect for the individual - because when you respect individuals there is no problem of racism, sexism, or homophobia. Goethe, Voltaire, Kant, Montaigne, Erasmus, Spinoza, Aquinas, Jefferson, Chesterton and a hundred others -- the entire enlightened ethical tradition of Western civilization -- stands ready to be used. Europe only needs to look to its own strengths to defeat today's "totalitarian temptations."On the other hand, let's give the devil his due. If the British want to prosecute Lionheart, and potentially give him a prison sentence longer than that given pedophiles and rapists, the we must insist on at least a pretense of even-handedness. In this context, that would require at the very least the prosecution under the same "hate speech" statute of all the imams from all the mosques whose hate speech was documented by Britain's Channel 4.
The struggle between enlightenment and the totalitarian temptation has never yet ceased, and it may never cease. Totalitarians are experts in the art of demagogy, sophistry and manipulation, but the bottom line is always destroying free speech, free thoughts and free actions. So it's not that hard to tell the sides from each other, even when the colors change from Black to Red to Green. The question is always: Can you tolerate open debate? If not, as in today's European Union, then you are at bottom a totalitarian. If yes, then you are a classical liberal --- or a modern democratic conservative.