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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Since I’ve been talking about free speech lately and my view that it has its limits, I thought I would take note of a couple of things going on across the pond.

Ken Livingstone is the Jew baiting Mayor of London, first elected in 2000 in what was London’s first ever election for mayor and re-elected in 2004 with a healthy majority.

He has a history of welcoming and praising people who we would consider terrorists - and generally criticizing western policies toward the Arab world and siding with the Palestinians in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict - to the point of defending suicide bombing as a tactic.

Given London’s considerable Muslim population of over 600,000 and with eleven candidates in 2000 and ten in 2004 splitting a total voter turn out of under two million in both years, it isn’t surprising that he triumphed in London’s first mayoral election and won re-election easily.

With his pro-Arab, anti-Jewish, anti-Israel stance, his policies for London as described in the 2004 election result link above - are of little influence on the outcome. He could probably run and get elected as often as the Daleys of Chicago - father and son.

Nonetheless, I disagree with the action taken by England’s "adjudication panel" which "suspended" him for four weeks for insulting a reporter who happened to be Jewish by telling him he was just like a concentration camp guard - doing his job only because that was what he was paid to do. Livingstone doesn’t get along with reporters, specially reporters from conservative papers and this isn’t the first time he’s made silly comments to members of the fourth estate.

If the concept of free speech in a democracy having some limitations is to find support and acceptance among the populace, the worst thing a government or a government body can do is to ban or punish silly speech - which is what Livingstone’s comments were. There was nothing dangerous in his attempt to berate and perhaps insult the reporter. It wasn’t some inflammatory comment made in a public speech. If it hadn’t been caught on tape, very likely no one would have known or cared about it. It would have been between Livingstone and the reporter and they could have duked it out or continued to hurl insults at each other and nobody would have been any the wiser nor injured in any way.

The Brits are naturally on edge since the bomb attacks of last July that killed dozens people riding London buses and trains - and it was not a surprise when they sought to fashion new laws to deal with the threat of terrorist attacks. I applaud the conviction of Abu Hamza who preached murder and mayhem in his notorious Finsbury Park Mosque. How much more open and how much better a solution to a perceived threat to the security of the United Kingdom than our approach of spiriting people away to a primitive hell hole in Guantanamo and holding them there for years without charge!!

The "glorification of terrorism" law may have its flaws - but at least it’s an open and understandable law. People like Abu Hamza will be prosecuted in open court. Not for criticizing the British government or it’s policies. Not for claiming that the Holocaust never took place. Not for attacking Gays or Jews or anyone else. Free speech will still be protected in England. But a specific kind of speech - speech in the same category as yelling "fire" in a crowded theater or "bomb" as you’re boarding a plane, will no longer come with a "get out of jail" card. Rather it will have a "you may go to jail" card attached.

But to confuse those kinds of laws and those kinds of prosecutions with the nonsensical things that Mayor Livingstone says privately or at least in a one on one confrontation, makes them a little more difficult to accept.

Free speech is a precious thing - a bedrock of free societies. When we start to fiddle with it, we need to be damned sure to get it right. Britain’s Adjudication Panel didn’t and needs to take a hard look at itself before it arrives at any more decisions like the one it imposed on the idiot known as Ken Livingstone.