Our Indifference to Liberty

From the BBC: ‘Galloway under investigation over Israel remarks

“Calls by George Galloway for Bradford to be “declared an Israel-free zone” are being investigated by West Yorkshire Police. Officers said two complaints had been made about a speech he made urging the city to reject all Israeli goods, services, academics and even tourists.”

A man calls for a certain group of people to be ostracised and some people pick up the phone and call upon the State police to act against him as if he has committed a crime. This is a desperately illiberal act and yet it is greeted by the media with perfect indifference as if normal and by the police as if valid. A disturbing sign of the times. A call for ostracism, however irrational, does not present a clear and present threat to persons or property and therefore is not a crime – i.e. an act that may be prevented by force or retrospectively punished.

Our indifference to liberty is the greatest threat to our children’s in the future.

Whether Galloway’s proposal that Israeli’s should be ostracised is justified and therefore should be acted upon can only be decided by reason and evidence, and to some extent by the personal morality of the individuals in his community. When we reject reason we are left with force. If the people who were seemingly so offended and incensed by Galloway’s speech had no State police to confidentially call upon at the touch of a button, then would they have chosen to use force against him so readily? Without a group of men with guns to call upon they would have been forced to consider the consequences of this choice before making it because there would be no escaping them. Having done so they may still have chosen to use force against Galloway (i.e. threaten, intimidate or assault him) but their actions would be subject to judgement by the community. How would the community react if they did this? Their decision to act aggressively against Galloway could come at a high cost; it could mean losing friends, business partners or a job. It could mean being ostracised themselves. Or not, of course, but these negative outcomes are a possibility at least.

Get the police to intimidate Galloway at your behest, however, and you’re shielded from the negative consequences of your choice. This is why having a State apparatus to call upon with the power to use force against people guilty of no crime is not conducive to preserving liberty; it removes individuals from the consequences of their decision to use force, and therefore makes them much likely to resort to using it.

To deploy the State apparatus of coercion against people who make speeches, however unpleasant, is to reject reason; and the more we choose force over reason the more we feel the need for a bigger and more pervasive State apparatus. The more powerful it then becomes the more capable we believe it is of solving society’s problems, but as State power grows liberty necessarily shrinks. And without liberty there is no society. State power doesn’t solve social problems, it destroys society.

Few will be troubled by the State increasingly prohibiting and punishing ‘extreme’ or ‘offensive’ speech because this seems to be merely an enacting of the public will; it seems to be the State defending and protecting us. Until, that is, the day comes when we can only think, say and do what the State allows us to. At this stage, if we still have it in ourselves to find this objectionable we will regret our past indifference to our liberty, but by then it will be too late.

We must not be indifferent to liberty. We must speak out about and push back against every violation of it and threat to it, even if that means defending people we don’t like. I don’t particularly like George Galloway and I don’t agree with his call to ostracize Israeli’s but he has committed no crime in doing so, and if I’m indifferent to his liberty, then ultimately I’m indifferent to my own.

“He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.” ~ Thomas Paine

Most probably the police will visit and search Galloway’s home, interview him and not take any action against him. But the point is they shouldn’t be involved at all. We are living in a society where a man, however disagreeable, after making a speech, is being “investigated” by men with guns. Should we not, as creatures who are free by nature, be morally outraged by this?

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