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The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, for the opportunity to address some urgent issues. I think it would be a mistake to confine our attention today to the Danish cartoons and their aftermath, regrettable though all that is, or indeed to the recent court cases. These fall within a larger moral and social landscape. We are faced with moral climate change, which is comparable to other forms of climate change and equally dangerous.
The 1960s swept away the old moral certainties, but getting rid of them has not made us happier or safer. Hence, the invention of new quasi-moralities out of bits and pieces of moral rhetoric; the increasingly shrill language of rights; the glorification of victimhood, which enables anyone with hurt feelings to claim high moral ground; and the invention of various "identities," which demand not only protection, but immunity from all critique. It was this messy but potent combination of neo-moralities that generated the religious hatred legislation, of which your noble Lordships, rightly in my opinion, took a dim view recently.
It is not just the invention of new moralities that should concern us; it is the attempt to enforce themto enforce, that is, newly invented standards that, in some cases, are the exact opposite of the old ones. How else can we explain the attempted ejection of protestors, whether from a party conference or even, yes, from Parliament Square? How else can we explain the anxiety not only of religious leaders but also of comedians when faced with the proposed religious hatred legislation? How else can we explain the police investigation of religious leaders, such as my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester or the chair of the Muslim Council of Britain for making moderate and considered statements about homosexual practice? As the crimes in question have to do not with actions but with ideas and beliefs, what we are seeing is thought crime. People in my diocese have told me that they are now frightened to express their opinions down at the pub on matters of considerable public interest today for fear of being reported, investigated and perhaps even charged. I did
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not think that I would see such a thing in this country in my lifetime. The word for it is tyrannysudden moral climate change enforced by thought police.
The answer cannot be simply to repeat the old 18th century slogans of "tolerance" or "freedom of speech", as if they were straightforward concepts that would commend themselves and restore everything to sanity very easily. They are not. The Enlightenment modernism, where those concepts find their natural home, is busy crumbling under the post-modern critique. Let us not fool ourselvesthat is where we are culturally. In that climate, tolerance and freedom are reduced to mere licence and then are quietly redefined so that we will not any longer tolerate dissent from the new party lines that emerge. Intolerant tolerance is one of the greatest obstacles to genuine freedom of speech.
Whose freedom are we talking about anyway? Notoriously, the freedom of my fist ends where the freedom of your nose begins. Similarly, the freedom of my speech has always been curtailed by the freedom of your honour, as the laws of slander and libel have always recognised. Part of the problem of freedom of speech is that it is often the media that are most in favour of it, although they themselves often cheerfully censor information that cuts against editorial policy.
Freedom of speech is useless if it is only selectively enjoyed and if it is not combined with appropriate responsibility. It needs to be set within a larger context of social and cultural wisdom. We have to find a way through the post-modern morass, not to go back to the Enlightenment modernismwe cannot do thatbut in order to go out the other side into the construction of a new world of civility and mature public discourse. For that, freedom of speech has to be reciprocal. It needs the disciplines of interaction, of patient listening and attention.
To that end, we must take the religious dimension seriously as part of the whole and not wave it away as dangerous or irrelevant, as some these days are inclined to do. The increasingly shrill attempts to banish religion from public life are, I believe, self-defeating. Rather, we in the Church are committed as a matter of urgency to working on public issues with the other great households of faith. I mention particularly the new Christian-Muslim Forum, launched just last week, to stand alongside the Council for Christians and Jews, the Three Faiths Forum and similar bodies.
In these initiatives, tolerance is not the point. I can tolerate someone standing on the other side of the street; I do not need to engage with them. Tolerance all too easily supposes that all religions are basically the same and that they can all be discounted for purposes of public life. Thanks to the 18th century, that is what many people still believe. But tolerance is a parody of something deeper, richer and more costly for which we must worka genuine and reciprocal freedom. It is a freedom properly contextualised within a wise responsibility. It is freedom not to be gratuitously rude or offensiveI totally agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, said about thatespecially
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to those who are already in danger on the margins of society, but freedom to speak the truth as we see it while simultaneously paying great attention to listening to the truth as others see and speak it and to work forwards together from there. That is so in matters of religion; it is so in matters of public policy; it is so in matters of sexual morality; and it is so in areas where all those issues and others rightly overlap and interlock. It is precisely that sort of wise, responsible freedom that is at risk if honestly held beliefs, clearly and respectfully expressed, are likely to get you into trouble with the law. We must learn fresh wisdom before the moral climate changes irreversibly and the sea rises to engulf the moral lowlands where we presently live.
Lord Giddens: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, for initiating this debate. We get only six minutes each to perform; I am not sure that I would define that as freedom of speech, but nevertheless the noble Baroness has an immaculate sense of timing.
In the light of the massive furore in the world about the aforementioned Danish cartoons, and while accepting what the right reverend Prelate said about having to fiddle with it in a larger context, I should like to pursue the implications of that event. One of the things that this global encounter shows is the extraordinary nature of the new global age in which we live. It is driven not by the marketplace but by telecommunications. When the cartoons were re-published, there was an immediate explosion of reaction in so many different countries ranging from Pakistan, Indonesia, the Lebanon, the West Bank, Gaza, to, in a milder version, here in London.
There is another side to it which I think is worth considering: check the Internet. We see all these dramatic and violent events, but there is unbelievable debate taking place on the Internet with an enormous diversity of positions being expressed around the world. There is a kind of electronic cosmopolitan debate under way about what seems to many in the West as a rather limited set of cartoons.
That attitude did not last for too long. But a number of newspapers have subsequently published headlines saying, "We are all Danes now". A Danish newspaper stood up for freedom of speech, so we should stand up for it. I therefore ask: are we all Danes now?
I have a couple of brief comments about freedom of speech which touch on some remarks that have already been made. Many people assert the idea of freedom of speech as though it were an absolute value, but obviously it is not an absolute value. It is an instrument to produce a more effective and liberal society, and it is always surrounded by conventions.
The comedian Lenny Bruce said that he had to say the "F" word in public, which was well before it was ever said on television or in any other public setting.
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He had to say, "'F' the government". Many on the Opposition Benches may want to say, "'F' the government", but fortunately they do not say it in your Lordships' House. It is right and proper that they do not say it. There are always conventions that restrict what we say in a variety of contexts.
We have to distinguish between freedom of speech and a free society because the two are not the same. Freedom of speech is the necessary condition for a free society, but it is by no means a sufficient condition. It has to be hedged by attention to the sensibilities of others and the damage that speech can sometimes do, and by attention to the other values that we hold. As has been mentioned, freedom of speech is always limited in law in all democratic countries in respect of libel, slander, obscenity, sex exploitation of children and many other offences. That is right and proper.
Europe is the home of freedom of speech, but I remind noble Lords that Europe is also the home of the Holocaust. In Germany, the Netherlands and Austria, you can be imprisoned for making public remarks about the Holocaust. You can be imprisoned for Holocaust denialsomeone is on the point of being imprisoned for thatand for making various kinds of anti-Semitic remarks. These, in a sense, are our sensitivities. They are a part of our sacred values in a European context.
Are we all Danes now? I will give three answers within my six minutes. Yes, we are all Danes now if that means that we must stand up against the use of violence to stop us doing something that is part of the conditions of life in democratic society. Many people who run abortion clinics in the United States live in fear of Christian activists who have bombed such clinics and attacked and murdered people in them. Dr David Gunn was murdered outside an abortion clinic in the United States in 1993. In case noble Lords think that it cannot happen here, the Christian activist movement says that it will and that we must prepare for a war over the issue. We must stand up to the use of violence to deny free speech.
Are we all Danes now? Yes, in the sense that we must stand up to religious fundamentalism. We must deny the right of fundamentalists to speak for the wider spectrum of religion, whether Christian or Muslim. I found it heartening, after an Islamic group had invaded a Christian quarter in the Lebanon and rampaged around, that Christians and Muslims got together and staged a joint march. That is exactly what we should do in the face of such assaults.
Are we all Danes now? No, in the sense that the cartoons should not have been published. They were not published primarily in terms of the two principles I have just enunciatedat least, that is certainly not clear. They were published in an increasingly xenophobic society, which is increasingly hostile to some expressions of Islamic religiosity and religious culture. They were published in the knowledge that they would have dangerous consequences in Denmark, though I do not think the editor realised that it would be a global explosion. However, we must pay attention to the sensitivity of the sacred values of
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others. We live in an essentially secular society, but sacred values have particular purchase, which must be respected.
In conclusionI have got to seven minutesthere is a battle going on across the world. It is not a battle between Islam and the rest or between Islam and the West, because it is going on within the West. It is a battle between fundamentalism and cosmopolitanism, and we must ensure that the cosmopolitans win.
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