There is an interesting story out of England that shows the rising expectations among people that speech is regulated to prevent unpopular expressions. A man was photographed walking past Parliament with a small child on his shoulders and waiving an Islamic State flag. What I saw was a demonstration of free speech that is a testament to Western values. What many in England saw was an outrageous failure of the police to arrest the man.
All civilized people reject and despise what ISIS represents. There is also a huge irony in this man enjoying the freedom of speech and freedom of religion that is not just rejected by ISIS but subject to the death penalty in areas under its control. However, this is not about who he is or what ISIS is. There is little question on both counts. It is a question of who we are in the West.
The Metropolitan police insisted that the carrying of a flag is not clearly illegal: “While support of and membership of ISIS is unlawful it is not a criminal offence to advocate the creation of an independent state.”
That has led to a torrent of criticism on social media from people who are demanding less freedom of speech from their government.
We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in England ( here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Much of this trend is tied to the expansion of hate speech and non-discrimination laws.
Of course, many in the U.S. reacted angrily when CNN reported breathlessly that an ISIS flag was seen at a gay rights march — without realizing that it was a parody using sexual images.
The response to this photograph shows that people have become almost conditioned to expect government regulation of speech. Few consider their own views as potentially subject to such prosecution. It is the speech of others that they want curtailed or denied. The trend in England and Canada told greater and greater speech regulation is a great disappointment, but to see citizens call for less freedom is truly alarming.
By the way, targeting such individuals and groups for prosecution is a self-defeating effort. It makes them martyrs and allows them to point to our own hypocrisy in espousing Western values and freedoms. I have long been a critic of the German laws banning certain symbols for the same reason. It has done little to stop the rise of fascist groups. They simply changed the symbols slightly or went underground. It is better to let people like this man work in the open and for intelligent people to answer bad speech with good speech. Forcing them into the dark recesses of society does not deter their message. It only makes them (and the danger) less visible for society.