I'm a near absolutist on free speech. I wrote a piece last year for the estimable Index on Censorship in which I argued my case. While free speech hurts and offends, there is nothing wrong in this. In almost no case is anyone entitled to restitution or protection. (The strictly limited exceptions are where there is 'clear and present danger'; incitement to crime; or defamation. By defamation, I naturally mean a statement that is damaging and false. I do not mean - as one reader of this blog has rueful cause to recollect - a statement that is damaging and true; and I have gone to some trouble and expense to assert that distinction.)
There is a case - argued by my correspondent Karl Pfeifer, a Holocaust survivor who has done great work in opposing racism - for laws forbidding the expression of National Socialist ideology in countries where it has caused such catastrophe. But it's not a view I share, and I condemned without reservation the gaoling of my reader David Irving by the Austrian courts in 2006. There is no speech more disreputable and fraudulent than Holocaust denial; but the reason it's objectionable is that it's false, not that it's offensive. The only proper recourse to it is the discipline of historical scholarship and critical inquiry, as opposed to the fakery practised by Irving.
I say all this by way of preamble to something not important in itself but suggestive of wider issues nonetheless. I receive at one remove the newsletter of the Stop the War Coalition, which - as my readers know - is a coalition only in the technical sense of binding Islamists and Leninists. I quote from the lastest issue:
Stop the War Coalition is asking as many people as possible to help create a wall of sound to accompany Tony Blair as he gives a lecture on Faith and Globalisation at Westminster Cathedral in London on Thursday 3 April. (See http://www.rcdow.org.uk/lectures/)....
We want people to bring musical instruments and sound making implements of every kind -- drums, trumpets, saxophones,violins, cymbals, whistles, sirens, horns, rattles, saucepans and cans to bang; we want every type of band, choir and musical group to join us, all with the aim of drowning out the speech of a man who should not be in a cathedral pulpit but in the dock of a criminal court.
Please come at 6.30pm. Blair will speak at 7pm. Spread the word among as many people as you can and encourage them to join us on the night we aim to drown out Blair's shameless lecture.
The Stop the War Coalition is a totalitarian organisation for whom the principles of free speech are as inconceivable as Darwin's natural selection was to the late Rev. Billy James Hargis. But I hope the import of this sort of campaigning is not lost on those who might otherwise sympathise with what they take to be the Coalition's purported (though bogus) anti-war message.