We should be free to ban haters like Trump

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - POL­I­TICS TULIP SID­DIQ

IFEEL LUCKY to live in a coun­try where the right to speak one’s mind is val­ued highly. Our vi­brant me­dia is re­lent­less in pro­mot­ing the range of views that Bri­tish so­ci­ety has to of­fer. The re­sult is a healthy, if heated, de­bate over where we draw the line be­tween what is free speech and what is hate speech.

It’s a fun­da­men­tal ques­tion for to­day’s so­ci­ety: what should peo­ple be free to say, and when do words be­come so harm­ful that we need to im­pose re­stric­tions. What is merely of­fen­sive and what could in­cite violence? Many ar­gue that Bri­tain should in­tro­duce an equiv­a­lent of Amer­ica’s First Amend­ment — a fun­da­men­tal and un­equiv­o­cal right to free speech. Oth­ers say that free speech can­not be ab­so­lute. It must come with re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Of­ten pre­sented as black-and­white, spe­cific ex­am­ples from the past year show the re­al­ity of the “free speech or hate speech” ar­gu­ment is more of­ten a shade of grey.

Should the far right ever be al­lowed to march through the mul­ti­cul­tural area of Gold­ers Green? Should so­cial me­dia sites take ac­tion against per­sis­tent racist abuse? Should stu­dents be able to es­tab­lish ‘‘safe spa­ces’’ on cam­pus, to ‘‘pro­tect’’ them from opin­ions they see as harm­ful?

The start­ing point for an­swer­ing th­ese ques­tions must be the law.

The Hu­man Rights Act 1998 es­tab­lishes that free­dom of ex­pres­sion is not ab­so­lute. It can be lim­ited to pro­tect ‘‘in­ter­ests of pub­lic safety or na­tional se­cu­rity.’’ The Racial and Re­li­gious Ha­tred Act 2006 de­nies en­try to the UK to those who ‘‘in­cite racial or re­li­gious ha­tred’’. Lastly, the Equal­ity Act 2010 states the need to tackle prej­u­dice and pro­mote un­der­stand­ing.

As al­ways, law is all about in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Words such as ‘‘ha­tred’’ or ‘‘prej­u­dice’’ are far from straight­for­ward. Ad­di­tion­ally, laws re­lat­ing to pub­lic or­der com­pli­cate the pic­ture fur­ther. But that’s not to say they haven’t been used. More than 100 in­di­vid­u­als have been banned from Bri­tain un­der the pro­vi­sions of th­ese laws. Th­ese peo­ple range from ho­mo­pho­bic hate preach­ers, to ex­trem­ist blog­gers such as Pamela Geller.

The case of Don­ald Trump once again re­veals the chal­lenge of re­solv­ing the ‘‘free speech or hate speech’’ ques­tion in Bri­tain.

Re­cently, I called for Mr Trump to be banned from this coun­try. This wasn’t be­cause he of­fends me – al­though he does! Nor was it be­cause I am scared of de­bate. I did so be­cause I be­lieved his words could have a dan­ger­ous, gal­vanis­ing ef­fect on the rad­i­calised few within our frag­ile com­mu­ni­ties. In my time as a Cam­den Coun­cil­lor, we acted to pre­vent in­di­vid­u­als from pro­mot­ing hate speech.

Af­ter com­plaints about hate speak­ers across the bor­ough, we cre­ated a cross-party task force to tackle the prob­lem. In prac­tice, it meant speak­ers had to ap­ply through the coun­cil be­fore be­ing given plat­forms to speak at cer­tain lo­ca­tions. Those de­nied a plat­form in­cluded Holo­caust de­niers, re­li­gious speak­ers pro­mot­ing misog­yny, and groups ad­vo­cat­ing Is­lam­o­pho­bia and an­ti­semitism.

Now a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, I be­lieve politi­cians of all stripes have a duty to pro­tect cit­i­zens and foster good re­la­tions be­tween di­verse groups. For me, draw­ing the line be­tween hate speech and free speech will look dif­fer­ent in ev­ery case, but us­ing the law to limit free­dom of ex­pres­sion must de­pend on clear ev­i­dence that this is nec­es­sary to pre­vent in­cit­ing com­mu­nity ten­sions.

We must not pre­tend ban­ning Trump would present a wa­ter­shed mo­ment in the Bri­tish ap­pli­ca­tion of free speech laws. This is a is a re­cur­ring de­bate at the Home Of­fice and one that reg­u­larly chal­lenges our col­lec­tive con­science. Ban­ning Trump would a sym­bolic move to show that politi­cians are not above the strong hate laws that we are proud to have in our coun­try. Our laws must not ex­empt any in­di­vid­u­als, no mat­ter how pow­er­ful or wealthy they are.

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

Up­set: But should Don­ald Trump be banned for his hate-filled speeches?

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