So today my Twitter timeline was filled with lots of Tweets that said something like
Dear Amazon, stop selling this offensive book that advocates hitting children to ‘train’ them [link] Please RT.
I didn’t RT.
Not because I think physically punishing children is a good idea. I personally don’t smack my child, never have done. I love my child more than I could ever express, and the idea of anyone raising a hand to her in violence is fairly horrifying to me.
I don’t want to diminish the harm caused by abuse in its many forms. I fully support the right of any individual to live their life free of the threat of abuse.
It wasn’t because I think American right-wing Christians are mostly decent folk. My personal experience is that they’re often the sort of people I’d class as “terrifying lunatics”.
So why not?
Well, because I try as hard as I possibly can to support the notion of free speech. That’s very easy and simple when I’m reading blog posts by liberal, white, middle-class writers who broadly hold the same political viewpoint as me. It’s still pretty easy when I’m reading The Daily Mail, because after all, who else would give that tool Richard Littlejohn a home?
But when someone excuses rape? Or makes racist remarks? Or advocates violence against a toddler?
Well, then it’s very far from easy.
The thought of someone hitting my daughter or any child sickens me. Of course it does. I’m not going to try and defend the book in question – I find the idea of it (and that’s all I can say, not having read it) abhorrent.
But I still think it’s important not to get caught up in ‘ban the book’ campaigns.
Let’s not forget that in this country there ARE procedures and laws in place to prevent the publication of material that breaks the law – the Obscene Publications Act and the Criminal Justice Act for starters. If you believe a book breaks the law because it is obscene, or it incites hatred and violence, then the right thing to do is to call the police and report a criminal offence. But being wrong, or stupid, or rude, or offensive, or writing about how you happen to be a really, really terrible parent – that’s not against the law. As the CPS website reminds us:
“When deciding whether or not to prosecute such offences, we also have to bear in mind that people have a right to freedom of speech. Free speech includes the right to offend. Indeed the courts have ruled that behaviour that is merely annoying, rude or offensive does not necessarily constitute a criminal offence.”
And that’s what the Tweets were referring to – this “offensive” book. Well, I hate to break it to you, but there are a whole stack of books on Amazon that I guess most of us would find offensive. Just type ‘white power’ into the search box. Or don’t. No really. Don’t. It’s just upsetting.
Ultimately, though, if you don’t believe a book breaks the law, but it offends and upsets you, well – don’t read it.
Or read it, and then challenge it. Write about why you think the author is wrong. Use free speech as your weapon, don’t make it your victim.