Friday, September 16, 2005

Incitement to ...

The law is an ass, as the saying goes. Laws try to ban people from doing things we consider bad, but before they can do so, they have to define what we want to ban. Sometimes this is easy, sometimes it’s very difficult; and lawyers grow fat on the ambiguity.

The recent hunting debate was a good example. Like most people, I consider making sport from the suffering of animals to be barbaric. I’d like to see foxhunting as sport banned. (Incidentally, I don’t have a problem with using packs of dogs for pest control against foxes or any other kind of pest; it feels like a good natural solution). The problem is, I don’t think it’s possible to make a law which defines exactly what I think should be banned and what shouldn’t. I deeply dislike the “Countryside Alliance” with their right-wing, “we know better” agenda. But when they say they feel the hunting ban law is stupid, unworkable, and the result of ignorance and prejudice, I would have to agree. (Ouch, that hurt!)

The same applies with the current proposals to ban incitement to religious hatred and acts glorifying terrorism. They arise from a desire to pass laws against things we find unacceptable. But how can we define these acts? I personally believe that Muslims will be condemned to eternity in hell (just like anyone else who doesn't accept Jesus as Lord, Saviour and God), but I don’t hate them as people and wouldn’t want anyone else to either. Would the law allow me that? If so, I’m sure the “evil clerics of hate” would find it just as easy to get around it by choosing their words carefully.

Glorifying terrorism is even harder to define. What is terrorism? Would those like me who admire the tradition of civil disobedience count as glorifying terrorism? What about those who celebrate the terrorist acts of Americans during their war of independence, or of the French Resistance during world war II? What about Michael Collins and the Irish uprisings of 1916? What about the SAS? They act outside the law almost by definition. And if we our definition of terrorism now includes state-sponsored terrorism, was not the invasion of Iraq a state-sponsored terrorist act?

I am a pacifist and don’t believe in killing people. Most people would disagree, and feel that at least under some circumstances, killing can be acceptable. Probably a majority would even support those like the Resistance who do so to fight against governments they feel are injust, corrupt and evil. But there’s the catch. In their eyes, the bombers in Madrid, London, New York and Palestine are all doing precisely that.

If a law is passed to allow prosecution of those who glorify terrorist acts, I cannot believe it will be used even-handedly, even if it is used at all. That cries against all my instincts of fairness. I believe the US constitution even explicitly prohibits it - equal treatment under the law.

Instead of trying to pass more stupid laws like this, they should just go the whole way and ban Islam. Now that would be REALLY stupid.


Blogger Bishop Hill said...

Glorifying terrorism might also be protected speech under the the US Constitution.

Incidentally, you seem to share the objection of so many who oppose fox hunting: namely that the hunters enjoy what they do. I'm glad that you recognise that hunting should be allowed even if you find it distasteful. This is absolutely correct.

The answer to your quandry is that something should be banned if it harms somebody. Hunting fails the test.

5:39 pm  
Blogger tomdg said...

"Anything is ok as long as you don't hurt anybody, to the best of your knowledge and the best of your definition of hurt" (from "Creed" by Steve Turner).

If foxes don't count as "anybody" (which I agree with), that raises an interesting point: why? To me it's because humans are different from animals, contrary to the established teachings of science. What other reason could there be?

I don't agree with your argument though, as the quote probably shows. By your logic bear-baiting should be legal, and I couldn't agree with that.

My point was merely that it was impossible to ban certain acts and therefore stupid to try, however abhorrent they might be; and that abhorrence was in itself subjective and therefore a dangerous criteria.

9:18 am  
Blogger Martin said...

You make interesting points - I take the view that really we are hopeless judges, so really only capable in our law system of dealing with things that are quite obviously hurt others.

Therefore I think government should be more liberal, and at the moment like the lib dems because they are more interested in helping improve opportunity health etc. without draconian measures.


5:16 pm  

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