I recently came across this story out of England over a confrontation at Gatwick Airport between security and David Jones, the creator of the popular animated children’s character Fireman Sam. Jones was detained for an hour for making a comment about a Muslim woman’s hijab at a security checkpoint — a comment deemed racist by a Muslim security guard. The incident is the latest in a series of stories that have raised serious concerns over the state of free speech in England, particularly over the enforcement of hate speech and anti-religious speech (here and here and here and here and here and and here and here and here and here).
The incident occurred when Jones, 67, was going through security. As someone with an artificial hip, he was put through an added search. While this was going on, a woman in a hijab covering her face was allowed through security without having to remove the scarf. Jones reported said “If I was wearing this scarf over my face, I wonder what would happen.” When he cleared security, Jones was pulled to the side and told that he was being detained for a “racist” comment overheard by a Muslim security woman. Security demanded that he apologize and when he refused, Jones says that he was told by an airline administrator and police officer that “we now live in a different time and some things are not to be said.”
He was not allowed to leave until he said that he understood how such a comment “could” have been taken to be offensive. Even if the security officers were found to have exceeded their authority, there still remain the disconcerting glimpse into what the officers thought was the applicable standard.
While Jones said that he was going to file a complaint over the incident, I have not been able to find any copy of the complaint or news report since February. I hope that he does file. While many may find the comment offensive, he did not say it to the woman and is not accused of disrupting the security process. Moreover, I do not see how it is racist if that is the only thing that he said. His comment could be viewed as anti-religious or anti-Muslim. However, I fail to see why such comments are not protected speech. We are seeing a growing trend in the West toward criminalizing speech, as I have discussed in prior columns (here and here and here). This encounter, if proven, would seem a prototypical example of a speech police. “Some things are not to be said” is a chilling message for an officer to give to citizens. Even if detained for only an hour, the clear intent is to deter people from expressing unpopular or divisive thoughts.
The standard for free speech is different in England, where speech has been traditionally more limited than in the United States under the first amendment. However, the loss of freedom in places like England is felt profoundly around the world. When free speech is curtailed in a place like England, it has little chance among nations with less commitment to civil liberties. Indeed, such crackdowns in Western nations serve to legitimate the actions by other countries to deny free expressions to their own citizens.
History has shown that once you yield to the temptation to regulate speech, you quickly find yourself on a slippery slope as other divisive subjects are added to the list. This year, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) declared ominously that “free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war.”
The irony is that speech is now being criminalized in the name of pluralism and tolerance. Speech itself is not protected as one of those guarantees of pluralism. Western government are increasingly applying the circular logic that they will fight intolerance by warning citizens that some speech will not be tolerated. The fact that this simply creates an artificial appearance of unity does not appear to concern governments.
The West seems to have grown weary of free speech. After all, less speech means less division and discord. The growing number of confrontations and arrests for speech violations leaves citizens unsure of what thoughts may be expressed. The result is obvious: a chilling effect for citizens where many avoid the risk of arrest by remaining silent. It is not that Jones’ comment was of any value to society. Indeed, it can be denounced as intolerant. However, it is his right to such speech that holds considerable value for England and other countries.
Source: Daily Mail