Roger’s Rules

Why do the Brits hate free speech?

What is it about the Brits and free speech? Why do they hate it so? They didn’t used to. But nowadays their libel laws muzzle domestic criticism of radical Islam and have even sought to muzzle American authors making such criticisms. The Archbishop of Canterbury thinks that Britain needs new laws to prevent “thoughtless and cruel” speech. Really? What about people, like His Grace, who advocate (or at least acquiesce in) the institution of Sharia law in Britain? Who would like to take the measure of that species of thoughtlessness, not to mention the resulting cruelty should what the Archbishop described as “unavoidable” come to pass?

And then there is the story about prohibiting British Olympic athletes from criticizing China when they go to Beijing for the Games. “British Olympic chiefs are to force athletes to sign a contract promising not to speak out about China’s appalling human rights record – or face being banned from travelling to Beijing.” Yes, that’s right, if you are British and you want to swim or pole-vault or throw a discus in Beijing you have to leave your political conscience at the door. Belgium–that great moment to independence and freedom–has banned its athletes from expressing any political opinion about China while at the Olympic Games as has China’s future colony, New Zealand. As the Mail notes, other countries, including the United States, Canada, Finland, and Australia “have pledged that their athletes would be free to speak about any issue concerning China.”

The Chinese haven’t gone quite as far as Hitler, who inveigled the Brits into insisting that British athletes at the 1938 Olympic Games in Berlin line up and welcome their hosts with the Nazi salute.

The British team salutes, Berlin 1938
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But they applauded Britain’s initial decision to muzzle its athletes. According to The Daily Mail, which reported the story, this latest effort to stifle free speech “immediately provoked a storm of protest.” Indeed, according to the London Telegraph “British Olympic officials were forced into a climbdown” on the issue:

Following protests, the association’s chief executive, Simon Clegg, claimed there had been no intention to “restrict athletes’ freedom of speech” and said the wording of the contracts would be changed.

Well, that’s nice. But the habit of pre-emptive capitulation is hard to break. Britain once was a cradle of liberty. In recent years, giving itself over increasingly to the dictates of political correctness, Britain has been more the grave than the cradle of liberty. It is a woeful spectacle, not least because freedom gained is relatively easy to maintain. Once lost, it requires the dedication of Hercules to regain.