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Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Why are some opinions still beyond the pale?
March 06, 2012
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Other interest groups are no better. At a university meeting I attended last week one student asked why I didn’t care about Khader Adnan, a Palestinian imprisoned by Israel now on hunger strike for nearly 70 days. I replied that I did care and the world should too. Then I asked how many there had demonstrated against the Syrian regime. Not one hand went up. I left I heard some shouting “Muslim traitor”. I won’t be asked back.

I strongly believe words can hurt as much as blows and that good societies ensure public discourse is not polluted with language that demeans and dehumanises individual citizens because of their class, race, gender, faith, opinions or for other specious excuses. An unrestricted freedom to abuse is an abuse of freedom. Most of us do understand that. Few object to controls on terrorist and fascist hate speech or material put out by paedophiles and rape enthusiasts. But in an avowed democracy it is scary when serious political views are drowned in a frothing sea of rage.

So do we live in a free society or not? Successful Britons know exactly what opinions to express and which ones to suppress. The rest of us could do with a clear guide on right and wrong views that either make or break you.  Here is my starter list. In this Jubilee year, don’t diss the royals. You will get into frightful arguments, be cast out, labelled a fool or blackguard or a pestilent outsider. Bury your republicanism, say with a subject’s smile that the Queen done great. I know now how Catholics must have felt in the days of that other Queen Bess.

Do not proclaim you are a socialist, or opine that Len McCluskey, the leader of Unite, has been unfairly monstered for suggesting that Britons could protest during the Olympics. The right to demonstrate, remember, is only for when nothing much is happening. Cameron denounced the trade unionist as “unpatriotic” and Labour meekly followed. We have been told.

Never argue for redistributive taxation. The LibDems have given up on the 50p top rate, their principles, as ever, as loose as a courtesan’s bloomers. Challenge the anti-tax religion or back mansion or bonus taxes and on your neck will fall the right-wing website Ayatollahs. On immigration, always take the hostile view, even if you are an immigrant. It’s the only way to be truly British. Look at the exemplary Baroness Warsi. To argue for immigration is reputational suicide. And beware torture, a seriously banned subject. We suspect Tony Blair, David Miliband and other Right Honourables have been complicit in the use of torture to crush Muslim men. But we can’t find out.

And finally, the brainwashed public believes all benefits claimants are no-good scroungers, and the differently abled just more convincing shirkers who have hidden their limbs and mobility in cupboards. We should stop the absurd pretence that Britain is the bastion of free expression and a true democracy. Over time the state has become more authoritarian, dissent punished and people manipulated to conform to a single political ideology and approved opinions. Mao himself would be envious of how skilfully and invisibly it is all done.

The Independent

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