Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Freedom of Speech

The Pub Philosopher argues that Hizb ut-Tahrir shouldn't be banned. I must say, I agree with him. Last November, Belgium outlawed the Flemish "Vlaams Blok" for being too right-wing. I wrote then:

The question will be asked, why do they seek to silence us? Banning these parties outright is giving fertile ground for conspiracy theorists to develop and work their evil ways... A democratic society demands debate, even if it is uncomfortable. The way to combat opponents with whom we may disagree vehemently is to defeat them in such debate. If their arguments are incoherent and rambling, then demonstrate this to all and sundry and they will quickly disappear.

I still agree with that now. We should force the radical clerics, the Islamofascists out into the open, engage them in debate and rout them totally and utterly. There are existing laws to deal with incitement to commit crime which we can punish them under if necessary, but supressing them is not the way forward. If we're right about defending freedom, it's the only logically consistent way of dealing with these extremist groups.

But there's another, self-interest argument here, too. Do we really think that the radicals and extremists will go abroad and sink into obscurity? Do we really think that bombers in Beeston are going to be unable to contact these extremists? Of course not. We live in a global world, with communication to the other side of the planet available at the click of a button. The Islamists know this - and they will find ways of staying in touch with suicide bombers here. Banning the groups in Britain will be as successful as razing Fallujah to the ground - the insurgents will simply go elsewhere.

The Vlaams Blok has a very strong cautionary tale for us. There's a new party in Flanders now, the Vlaams Belang. To paraphrase a well-known saying: "if it looks like the Vlaams Blok and sounds like the Vlaams Blok, it's probably the Vlaams Blok". Banning them didn't shut them down. It was as effective as using a sticking plaster to heal a broken leg. We shouldn't be going in for cosmetic change. We should show our fundamental belief in freedom, democracy and debate and engage the extremists in it. That's the way we'll win our war.