Monday, February 09, 2009

Criminal Boordom

A senior British diplomat faces prison term for anti-Semitic remarks:

A senior diplomat in the British Foreign Office has been arrested for inciting religious hatred after he launched into an anti-Semitic tirade at a London gym, the Daily Mail reported on Monday.

Witnesses told the British newspaper they heard diplomat Rowan Laxton shouting "f**king Israelis, f**king Jews" while watching a TV report of Israel Defense Forces operations in Gaza from the seat of an exercise bike.

He also reportedly shouted that IDF soldiers should be "wiped off the face of the Earth."

The Daily Mail said Laxton continued the tirade even after he was approached by other gym users.

A complaint was later filed to police and Laxton was arrested and charged with inciting religious hatred, which carries a maximum seven-year prison term. He has since been released on bail [emph. added]
Seven years. Raskolnikov only got eight, for crying out loud. Britain's laws are Britons' business (thank God), but I marvel at how laws written as prohibitions against incitement to religious/racial hatred are broken by the mere expression of religious/racial animosity--even those which leave an individual alienated from his fellows. Laxton, married to a Muslim woman and moved to anger by the carnage taking place in Gaza, was making no friends at the time of his "offense", and suffered not only the immediate opprobrium of those around him, but likely would have suffered professional loss in the ensuing scandal. Normal societal prohibitions--and the exceptional requirements of a public, political figure--were working as they always do in some form or fashion to regulate behavior as determined by the dominant cultural milieu. Yet still, this is not enough--and will never be enough, for some.

Prohibitions on expression, being the product of zealous paranoia, will not stay still. Once a given expression becomes a crime, privileges of place and privacy must fall away, unprotected; what one first cannot say at work (no longer merely a professional requirement) he soon cannot say in public (no longer a question of manners or moral community): at the grocery store, in an elevator, at the gym, as above; and, if this advance is not arrested, eventually at home. Certainly not in front of the children (and there will always be those who automatically assent, "but of course you can't say that, and of course, never in front of the children!"). Once a word or phrase becomes criminal, one can only speak it if it passes unheard like the proverbial tree in the forest (but, as that riddle has no answer, some will anguish over the question, if hate speech occurs and there is no one to hear it, has a hate crime occurred?). And if the spoken word is prohibited because it's deemed too much a menace, the same word written is immediately fair game, because it is the meaning that has been criminalized. Here too it is the communication of a thought that is prohibited. One cannot write it, because eyes might find it.

What one can never say one is forbidden from thinking--because any evidence of that thought is punished; his thoughts have no greater freedom than criminal activity that is deliberately concealed. Yes, one's thoughts are always his own little kingdom, kept by himself, but what becomes of him, and his thoughts, when the State determines that they must remain there, kept to himself?
Criminalized speech is, by necessity, criminalized thought.

It will still surprise most Americans, but prison terms for offensive speech are much less remarkable in most of the world than they are here. The Haaretz link to the above story sighed, "One Born Every Minute" (alongside a photo of a swastika spray-painted on a wall, bundling the story in with the latest "wave of anti-Semitism" narrative to follow an Israeli military offensive). Don't despair guys, soon there'll be one jailed every day, until we've rounded them all up. What could go wrong?


mnuez said...

Though I'd say that we probably disagree about Israel's overall righteousness in general, I agree with you ENTIRELY about this guy, and, if it's any consolation, most open, loud and proud Jews such as myself similarly agree that people shouldn't be arrested for exclaiming their hatreds.

I mean of course the matter isn't ALWAYS so simple such as in instances where one actually DOES mean to LITERALLY incite or perhaps similar cases where good arguments could be made either way, but opinionated people such as myself REALLY dislike seeing unpopular opinions considered as crimes. To be sure, I wouldn't mind knocking this guy's teeth out but that's MY job, not the government's.

And Dennis, keep writing. The future needs you.


Anonymous said...

This Idaho case was very disturbing.

Horst Mahler just another victim in a LONG list of thought crime prisoners.

NOT an exhaustive list but suggestive:

See also: