Thursday, 12 March 2009

Offensive Protests

When the Royal Anglian Regiment marched through the town of Luton on their return from Iraq they were "greeted" by protesters angry over Britain's role in the war and waving placards reading "... Butchers of Basra" and "cowards, killers, extremists". Not surprisingly, many have taken offense at the protest and have called for them to be banned.

So where does "freedom of speech" begin and end?

Most people concentrate on the "offense" when people are "taking offense". Perhaps we should be aware of the "taking" part of the phrase and advise people to just leave the "offense" where it is!

The limits of freedom of speech should be incitement to damage property or person. Most school children know this: "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me!". But abusive behaviour is asking for trouble, emotional animals that we are, and picking fights will soon involve the police.

Interactive Democracy wouldn't completely stop protests, but it would provide a safety valve, offering anyone the opportunity to directly influence the political process. Through ID the majority would make a far bigger and more credible "noise" than a handful of people shouting abuse on the street.

I suspect the Royal Anglians have coped with much harsher abuse than this. Nevertheless, I would have liked to have seen the Sergeant Major call "Halt", "To the right, Salute" promptly followed by each soldier producing a crisp V sign in the direction of the protesters, before resuming their march with glints in their eyes. If you are going to dish it out you ought to be able to take it!

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