By Ronald Glenn
Much stink was made late yesterday surrounding the British government’s decision to ban, from the UK, American syndicated radio talk show host Michael Savage while simultaneously welcoming, with open arms, the daughter of Che Guevara.
Savage, whose real name is a very unfortunate Michael Weiner, has been banned from England for his opinions concerning a number of issues, including but not limited to illegal immigration. The merits of his opinions are not as important as the tactic used to silence him. The government of England is proclaiming that Savage is unfit to come in contact with England ’s citizens, putting him in the company of terrorists and thugs of international standing. Much of the Internet reaction to this around the blogging world has been to attack this move by the British government as an attempt to quash free speech. If countries around the world cooperate in this kind of blacklisting, it could be used as a means to stifle political speech as a whole.
Suppose the United States government is particularly aggravated with an Internet site or talk show host but does not wish to look bad by using the legal system to quash opinions which the government opposes. It could, instead, request foreign allies to banish those shows from the air waves or deny the parties in particular the right to travel. If countries do this for each other, this underhanded quid-pro-quo, it could be a way of removing any anti-government opinions from the public forum.
The philosophical reason that is given for this kind of government action is even more disturbing. This is based on a leftist concept that has been used by the left to control discourse on college campuses throughout America. The act of giving an opinion is judged on the same criteria as one would judge a criminal act. The listener is labeled as a victim of the speaker if the speaker says something that is considered “harmful” or causing the listener distress.
I have personally seen this logic used for years by state courts with regard to domestic violence charges. I personally saw a man sentenced to ninety days in jail because his girlfriend stated she felt threatened by what he said. She testified that he had never hit her, did not have a weapon, and did not even enter the house; she said he yelled at her through the door, and she felt scared. The point is, this kind of legal outlook goes more to the “victim’s” state of mind than it does the act itself. If the man had yelled at another woman who did not feel threatened by him, then logic would dictate he did not do anything wrong.
When Michael Savage rants against illegal immigration, the people who are in this country illegally might feel threatened. Similarly, there are advocates of gay marriage who have stated that a minister should not be allowed to preach against it because his speech “causes harm.” Are we to believe that Savage and the hypothetical preacher are criminals?
The fundamental problem with this scenario is the left will never judge itself by the same criteria as it employs in judging the right, because it will claim that it is always telling the truth, and that the truth can never be condemned. In the end, this is not about free speech, but rather is actually about the fact that the governments of the world, free and otherwise, believe people should only be allowed to say what the government believes is true.
The next time you go to movie that is supposed to a comedy, look around the movie theatre and you will see that some people laugh at any given joke and some do not. The joke that is being told does not change, it is the individual’s reaction that is different. Should we ban movies that the government does not find funny? If the government attempts to destroy public discourse, the consequences will be more severe than allowing it to exist. America has always had laws against sedition and caps on public speech. But these were kept within the courts, not allocated to the whims of public officials.
And, in the meantime, don’t forget — England did not ban the head of the American Communist Party. More on that later.
Ronald Glenn has worked in real estate and law for more than twenty years. He now works in Philadelphia, and lives outside the city with his wife. Ron has been writing for America’s Right since January 2009.