Dear Tories — do not ban extremist literature. It will make extremism even more violent
A few months ago, the Home Secretary Theresa May had proposed to make extremist literature illegal by putting specific policies in the Conservative Party electoral manifesto for the upcoming general election. According to a briefing note in the last Conservative Party conference: “the Conservative manifesto will contain pledges to introduce banning orders for extremist groups and extremism disruption orders for extremists who spread hate but do not break existing laws.”
What is even more strange with this law are the exceptions related with the law. Seems that because of lobbying of Conservative peers, Oxford and Cambridge Universities are able to ignore this law. Is this a proof that hearing ‘’controversial’’ and ‘’extremist’’ opinions should be the realm of the Oxbridge elites?
Even if combating extremism have noble intentions, having this policy is dangerous for many reasons and could well foster even more extremism. First of all, what is extremist speech? How do we define it? Who defines it? These are all questions which are too important to be left to any particular person. Why? Because the definition of extremism based on one person is not the same as another person. It varies in function of who we are, what we believe in, how we live. One thing is sure, it’s not up to someone at the Home Office to determine what is extremism is in a free society but the reader themselves in their own quest for truth.
What is seen as extremist today could be well be seen as mainstream in a few decades. The best example of this phenomenon in the past is homosexuality or eroticism, which was censored only a few decades ago in Britain. Or being critical of organised religion or the Royal family, as this was seen as a big taboo not so long ago in British history. These topics are hardly radical today (especially when some mainstream hack like Owen Jones is espousing these views), but they were seen as very radical (or extremist) not so long ago.
The other problem with banning extremist speech is that the best tool to combat extremism is to know which are people having those views believe in. To know the enemy as the old saying says. This is why anyone opposed to socialism should read Marx and Engels. Another good example is a book by a guy called Adolf Hitler called Mein Kampf. As much as this book is xenophobic and anti-Semitic (and banned in Germany for many years), it’s important for anyone to read this book in order to understand this era of human history and the motivations behind the horrors of the Third Reich regime and how someone like Adolf Hitler was able to get so rapidly in power because in part of his own propaganda. The same could be said about any extremist literature. Banning this kind of literature would remove the possibility for people to be able to fight the arguments of extremist people.
Furthermore, like everything which is illegal (like drugs), banning some kinds of texts on the grounds of extremism will create a black market like this was the case in the former Soviet Union with texts which were considered as bourgeois or reactionary. A black market also means that it will associated with shady elements, which is hardly an improvement from today while requiring more and more policing.
But the strangest thing is that for people who are pushing from a smaller state like the British Conservatives, it seems very contradictory to put more policing powers into censorship, especially when this will result in a bigger, more intrusive state. There is no doubt that the case for a smaller state should do done with a respect in individual liberties in order to have a certain consistency. If this is not done, people are right to be skeptical of your intentions and your double standards.
It’s indeed easy to say Je suis Charlie for politicians, but what is far more difficult is having policies who reflect the same values that people at Charlie Hebdo are fighting for. Some even lost their lives for this cause, which is to be able to use satire against any group or religion.
This is exactly why we should fight extremism with our pens. Whatever an individual is a scholar in Oxbridge or some random guy living in a squat in East Glasgow, extremist speech should be legal, only to better fight it.