Monday, January 17, 2005

The Europeans get things completely wrong, as usual

So, Harry's decision to dress as a Nazi at a recent fancy dress party for the privileged and inbred has brought up the issue of banning racist symbols in Europe. Now, trust me when I tell you that no one is more disgusted by Harry's behaviour than I. But frankly what do you expect when you let cousins marry? I suspect that, unlike some of his ancestors, Harry is not a Nazi sympathizer (he is however a monarchist and they don't come off looking too good in my world either). The reason that what he did was so obscene is that, because he has been given such a privileged place in society by nature of his birth, he has to be held to significantly higher standards than anyone else (that's right, we own him. If he doesn't like it, he should renounce his position and become a commoner). But what he did was not a crime, nor should it be.

The proper response to this is not to ban the symbol. Silencing free speech is never the correct answer to anything, certainly not fighting fascism. I don't care what your first year semiotics class taught you, the symbols are not the issue. People have the right to believe what they want. Yes, I think that the Nazi swastika is a hate-filled image and that anti-semitism is indefensible. But if you start putting limits on speech then where does it end? And who gets to define what is acceptable speech? And what possible benefit is there to driving this kind of thing underground and further sidelining people who already have extremist opinions? People are allowed to have unpleasant thoughts, what they are not allowed to do is act on them. If Europe thinks that it has a problem with racism (and I have no doubt that it does), it should think about how to confront this problem. But it should not simply ban racist symbols and pretend that the problem doesn't exist.

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