Ian O'Doherty: When even Mr Bean speaks out, we should all listen
Published 20/10/2012 | 06:00
Oi! You! Yes I'm talking to you. I'm talking to the person reading this column and you know what?
I think you're thick and stupid and ugly and fat and did I also mention stupid?
I think you're a waste of oxygen and, by the way, your political beliefs are laughable and your religion is stupid.
In fact, I don't think you have any redeeming features at all and I would really rather that the likes of you didn't even read this piece.
Well, what do you think of that?
Okay, the previous words were obnoxious, rude, deliberately offensive and, frankly, not what at all what I think about you, gentle reader.
After all, it's you lot that keep me in a job.
Well, for the moment, anyway.
No, those opening lines would, if written in Britain, today potentially fall under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, and would therefore be guilty of breaking the law.
In fact, in an increasingly censorious society, not just in Britain, but here in Ireland as well, people are on the one hand becoming increasingly wary of what they write or say in public.
Yet, conversely, they're becoming increasingly vile and abusive on message boards and Twitter and so forth where they vomit forth all sorts of hideous nastiness.
It's a strange and rather interesting social anomaly -- increased timidity in public and increased abusiveness from the safety of anonymity.
Rowan Atkinson has been a leading campaigner against the creeping erosion of British people's right to free speech and this week he launched a campaign outside Westminster where he says he wants the Act repealed.
The wording of the law, which prohibits "threatening, abusive and insulting words or behaviour" is far too vague, according to Atkinson and his fellow campaigners.
In fact, they say that it is now being used by over- zealous police who seem to prefer wasting their time pursuing complaints from people who are annoyed by something rather than actually cracking crime.
The comedian complains about "the outrage industry -- self-appointed arbiters of the public good encouraging outrage to which the police feel under terrible pressure to act."
The idea that some words are good, some words are bad and some words are actually criminal to utter is something that should scare us all.
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about allowing someone to go up to a black person and call them a 'nigger' or something like that but . . . maybe, in a way I am.
To do something like that would as reprehensible as it is incomprehensible, and I would heartily cheer if said black individual promptly knocked seven shades of the proverbial out of the person who had made the insult. They would deserve every punch they received.
But should it really be a criminal matter worthy of investigation by the police?
This conundrum is certainly at the upper end of the scale of the bounds of free speech and stretches, to the very limit, the maxim of not agreeing with what someone says but fighting to the death to preserve their right to say it.
And I suppose if you say something like that to someone's face then you can't, in all fairness, complain if they do go and object to the authorities.
But what if that racist idiot simply used the word in general conversation about black people in general? Or if he said it about a celebrity he would never meet?
Or if he said it about the rap act Niggers With Attitude?
That's where we should really start to worry about freedom of utterance being chipped away.
We have seen, in Britain, some really bizarre arrests that would be truly hilarious if they weren't such harbingers of a terrifying future, where there is a list of criminalised words that free citizens are criminally prohibited from saying.
For example, an elderly couple who are devout Christians went to a gay pride rally and handed out passages from the Bible -- they were promptly arrested by police following complaints from some participants on the march who said they felt 'offended and threatened' by the elderly couple.
How ironic that a minority which was once so genuinely persecuted and oppressed has now become the oppressor of people who hold different views.
But the shoe fits both feet.
A gay rights group was arrested while protesting against the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Now this charming group openly calls for the murder of all gay people yet they were the ones who claimed that they felt 'offended and threatened' by the members of Outrage, the group behind the protest.
That weird moral gymnastics is equally prevalent here.
Following the assassination of the brilliant Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn (the most inspirational European politician of my lifetime) I debated his murder with an Imam on Irish radio.
When he defended Fortuyn's killing and then added that all gays should be thrown from the tallest building, I called him a savage and said he should return back to whatever desert cave from whence he came.
The result of the debate? Well, there were calls for me to be prosecuted for inciting racial and religious hatred.
As for the Imam?
Well, he was merely expressing his moral, cultural and religious feelings and these should be respected.
Ah yes, it's a strange world.
And that is why we should all pay attention to Atkinson's campaign to preserve common sense.
God knows, there's not much of it left ...