Friday, July 01, 2005

The Last Laugh?

20:00 Today ITV1 'LondonTonight with Trevor McDonald'

"As Rowan Atkinson leads comedians and playwrights protesting against the government's Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, the programme asks if the new law genuinely threatens their freedom of speech, and whether comedy and performing arts can incite religious hatred".

I am having trouble making my mind up about the proposed legislation to outlaw incitement to religious hatred. I thought spending the night with Trevor McDonald might help but I am none the wiser and so I have turned to my blog!

On the surface the legislation seems like a laudable idea and our beloved mayor had this to say on the matter recently,

Incitement to racial hatred has been a criminal offence since 1986 – and has played an important part in improving race relations in the UK. Under this law some religious groups, such as Jews and Sikhs, are protected because their religion is also their race. But members of other religions, such as Muslims and Christians, are not. People of all faiths – and people of no faith – are entitled to equal protection. Failure to update the law will leave a dangerous loophole, which is already being exploited by the extreme right.”

(Ken Livingstone, The Londoner, June 2005, page 9).

The main criticism seems to be that the law would affect freedom of speech or expression. There is concern that it could prevent open debate, silencing all criticism of religion and comedians are particularly concerned that they might end up prosecuted for telling a ‘joke’ that caused someone offence.

Now I really don’t know where I stand with this. Freedom of speech I think is a must but it should not be abused e.g. to incite hatred towards others. But where do you draw the line, say between the criticism of religion, the mocking of religion or the outright expression of hatred. There are grey areas and I wonder whether legislation is really the way to go here. I hate the PC culture we have here and I don’t want it to get any worse, I already think the notion of freedom of speech is a charade in our so called democracy and hate the fact that our sensational and highly ideological media has such a powerful influence on the shaping of people’s ideas. This is why (as some of you know) I have the ambition to set up my own café as a discursive space where people can freely discuss important cultural and social issues without fear of reprobation but hopefully it will also be somewhere where people’s prejudices can be challenged, but in an amicable way.

However I am not a libertarian like Tony Benn – I am most definitely not against censorship per se and when it comes to matters of religion and morality it really gets quite tricky. Sometimes I wonder if it is a matter of taste. Why is it that despite my increasing movement towards Catholicism I still find Life of Brian funny yet Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’ video I thought was downright wrong and I felt uneasy after watching a short clip of Jerry Springer the Opera on Trevor McDonald’s programme this evening. Is it simply that my humour is essentially Pythonesque, and that I do not find Americans entertaining or amusing? Or willl I in time find Life of Brian offensive? And would it matter if I did since in terms of the proposed law the issue is about stopping incitement to religious hatred, not stopping anything that might cause offence. ‘Our Ken’ states;

There has been much confusion over the issue. Opponents of the ban argue that it will silence all criticism of religion. This is not the case. The law will ban incitement of hatred, not criticism. Freedom of expression will be unaffected by this law. Artists, authors and comedians will be able to carry on using their work to tackle controversial issues relating to race and culture. And religious groups offended by these works will continue to have the right to protest to express their displeasure.” (Ken Livingstone, The Londoner, June 2005, page 9).

I am not convinced but that does not mean I am against the new law. I suppose there are several questions I find myself asking;

1). Is legislation the way to tackle the issue of religious hatred?

2). What will be the impact of the new law – will it hamper free expression, criticism about the subject of religion or will it just do what the politicians say it will.

3). Would it be a bad thing if it did go beyond issue of religious hatred and got used to stop programmes like Jerry Springer the Opera being shown?

4).Where are the boundaries between things that incite religious hatred and those that simply cause offence?

5). How do you draw the line between being sensitive to others and taking political correctness to ridiculous proportions?


At 10:33 am, Blogger meg said...

I think this issue is really interesting and I'm not sure how I feel about it either. It can be distressing when someone criticises your religious beliefs (ie when a suit-wearing looney at Stratford station tells me I'm going to hell for my beliefs) but, to be honest, I'll get over it.

Personally, I really enjoyed Jerry Springer the Opera, but maybe that's just me!

What did you mean about having issues with living in a politically correct society? I'm not sure what you meant, but that really surprised me. I've always felt that it's so easy for me to use one word over another and yet it makes such an impact on the person I'm talking to, that I'll always go with a politically correct term rather than an offensive one.

At 1:36 pm, Blogger I'm Over The Moon said...

Ok, it goes a little something like this:
there is no right to freedom of speach in england. we don't have a constitution like the USA, and we are in fact subjects, not citizens. the law is in fact not intended to tackle religious hatred. It is targeted at people attempting to spread their own hatred, and trying to persuede others to treat people differently becaus eof thier religion. the freedom of speach law in the us works in a similar way. you will be allowed to say "I hate you", and "I hate you because you are christian/jewish/other etc etc". You will not be allowed to say to other people "you should hate kat cos she's catholic" or "you should overcharge kat for biscuits because she is catholic". So if you stand on the street and say "kat is evil. you should turn against kat and ignore her for her beliefs" you will be arrested. If you stand there and say "i hate catholics, they eat jesus and i'm a vegetarian" you wont be. rowan's got nothing but a failing career to worry about. it's like in america you can say "you dirty rat, i'll kill you" to your mother, but not "son, take my gun and kill the old lady next door because she's jewish".
i hope that helps. i was talking to my american relative tother day and it came up.


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