Friday, January 20, 2006

Freedom Of Speech and Animal Rights

Ben Macintyre's article in the Times today is superb; I think I agree with just about every word. (Although, of course, Richard has pointed out some of the hypocrisies of Germanic countries and their supposedly liberal nature).

TODAY DAVID IRVING, the infamous and discredited British historian, languishes in an Austrian jail. Just writing that sentence makes me feel happy. The next sentence is much harder to write. He should be released.

Macintyre makes the argument that keeping him in prison is an abuse of free speech: the right to freedom of speech includes the right to be demonstrably, hopelessly wrong. I agree, and have written to that effect before. If we disagree with someone, we should combat them by arguments, not by gagging them.

Where, then, does that leave me when considering the animal rights protestors in Oxford? Every time I go to my library, I have to walk past some of the demonstrators who seem determined to keep up a permanent vigil outside of the proposed laboratory. The entire area is permanently teeming with police officers. And, I despise the animals rights protestors and what they stand for. Not just because of their violent tactics, but because I think their arguments are morally corrupt too. Without animal testing, there's a pretty strong chance I wouldn't be sitting at my computer typing this today.

Does that mean I should want them to be arrested when they make their demonstration? To a certain extent, I do. Why? Because their tactics are those of harassment and intimidation, and on other occasions clear incitements to violence. Walking out of my library yesterday, I saw a group of people shouting at every single employee who left the building, chanting "shame! shame! shame on you!" I haven't been there at that time every day this week, but I'd be willing to bet that they do similar things every single day. They certainly use a megaphone to shout at passers-by constantly. That, as far as I am concerned, is harassment. It wouldn't be tolerated if that happened at other places, and I am at a loss to understand why it is allowed there.

What I don't decry, however, is their right to make their argument - despite it being hopelessly wrong. There are ways of making that argument, however, that do not involve intimidation and the threat of violence. You argue with logic and rhetoric, not with baseball bats. There are plenty of other groups that spend time in Oxford city centre with whom I disagree; however, I do not have for them the visceral dislike that I have for animal rights protestors. That is because they are willing to engage in debate, and even accept when you have a valid point. Rather than costing taxpayers' money and police time, I would like to see the animal rights protestors spend a little more time trying to make their argument, rather than shutting down a city centre and relying on threats of violence and harassment.