Yes, as Sabaditsch-Wolff observed in her talk, America is set apart from the rest of the West by the crystal-clear, no-nonsense words of the First Amendment to its Constitution. The First Amendment, alas, was not designed to prevent spineless self-censorship about Islam or to forestall the cowardly silencing by book publishers, newspapers, museums, political groups, and other institutions of statements about Islam that they fear just might make life a bit more uneasy for them.
Still, the First Amendment does give the U.S. something of a leg-up, at least, on places like Britain. Which brings us to the latest shameful tidings from the scept’red isle. As Nick Cohen reported in a staggering article which was published the other day (apparently in somewhat different versions) in both the weekly Spectator and the Daily Mail, British authorities, already no slouches in this department in recent years, have come up with yet new limitations on free speech, this time in honor of the London Olympics. This new wave of censorship has nothing to do with Islam, but that’s not the important point – the important point is that once you get people used to being censored for any reason whatsoever, it becomes much easier to censor them for just about any reason you like.
In this case, in the name of protecting the exclusive right of corporate sponsors of the Olympics to employ Olympic symbols and such, UK courts have been instructed to take aggressive steps against any individual or business (however small) that, in the run-up to or during the Olympics, uses, especially in combination, such words as games, 2012, gold, silver, bronze, London, medal, sponsors, and summer, and such images as a picture of a torch, the five-ringed Olympics symbol, that godawful logo designed for this year’s games, or a panorama of the London skyline. As Cohen puts it: “Britain is at the start of an experiment in the criminalisation of everyday speech; a locking down of the English language, with punishments for those who use it too freely.”
These rules don’t just apply to advertisements. As Fraser Nelson explained at the Spectator website, the magazine recently receiving the chilling advice it “should not refer to the Olympics for the duration of the Games otherwise we ‘could be taken off newsstands (and also liable to prosecution).’” To its credit, Nelson noted, “We responded in the only way The Specator knows how: by publishing a cover involving the Olympic rings and mocking the censors, in a brilliant piece by Nick Cohen.” But smaller enterprises – local shopkeepers and the like – can’t afford the legal risk that a basic assertion of free-speech rights might entail. So it is that, as Nelson outlines, UK authorities have managed to get a butcher in Weymouth to remove a “display of sausages in the shape of the Olympic rings,” to prevent a small Surrey village “from running an ‘Olympicnic’ on its village green,” to force a florist in Stoke-on-Trent “to take down a tissue paper Olympic rings display from the shop window,” and so on.
“We value freedom of speech far too little in this country,” concluded Nelson. “The British taxpayer has forked out a fortune to host the Olympics – but they should come here on our terms, respect our freedoms and respect the right of British people to do and say what they please.” Nelson echoed Wilders and Sabaditsch-Wolff: “We badly need the equivalent of America’s 1st amendment protection: a clear right guaranteeing freedom of speech as paramount.” For us Americans, one lesson of all these goings-on in Europe is clear: while the champions of free expression in the Old World hold up our Constitution as a model, let’s redouble our struggle against all of our misguided fellow countrymen who, in the name of one or another species of specious progress, would consign that precious document to the ashheap of history.
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