Freedom of Asshattery

January 21st, 2011 § 0 comments

Some men in Newcastle burned a copy of the Koran. From this, I can deduce that they were probably intolerant, bigoted and quite possibly racist – it’s one thing to offend in the course of making a point, quite another to offend simply for the sake of it – but I see no reason for it to become a matter for the courts. They happened to get off, but only due to insufficient evidence, not due to any legal or philosophical protection for their actions.

Simply put, “acting like a dick” is not (in general) a crime; if “acting like a dick to a certain group” is a crime, the legal system has suddenly created an order of preference. As the wise and holy sages of South Park so eloquently put it:

Either everything is okay to make fun of or nothing is.

Sure, these guys weren’t exactly ‘making fun’ – at best they set out to show their disapproval in a clumsy and overreaching manner, and very probably intended to cause deliberate offence – but the principle is the same. Either we are free to mock, to criticise and to offend anyone, or we must be polite and deferential to all. Attractive as the latter option may occasionally sound, a free society can only function based on the former. Half-measures simply breed inequality or set the ball rolling towards uniform restriction.

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