Free Speech Has Turned a Corner

Last weekend, we’d nothing planned for the Sunday so the girlfriend and I decided to head over to Hyde Park to deride the Winter Wonderland then find something to do on Foursquare.

Eventually we settled on some epic burgers but before heading to the restaurant, 4sq. showed a historical curiosity nearby that I’d wanted to visit for some time – Speaker’s Corner.

For the uninitiated, this historical “landmark” was established in 1880 to provide a forum for those without access to their own private printing press (or that of a rich friend.) When you picture that time, you can imagine the importance of this.
But in 2011, on a chilly Sunday, who did we have exercising the freedoms of this place?
One racist woman on a mini ladder and an Islamic fundamentalist on a box. So that’s obviously pretty sad, right.

A time and a place

As you’d suspect today, the audience was in less than rapt silence, heckling and humiliating the woman. But while I found it obviously sad that humans use a forum to express such ideas, it seemed sadder to find the hecklers completely missing the point of where they were.

I’m all for confronting bigotry head on with comedy and subversion. But you have to remember that she didn’t come out onto the public street or bus to express her thoughts. She came to a spot where the virtue is the opportunity to say anything and be heard. A place defined by society as a zone of free speech for those who feel they can’t be heard.

Speaking for itself

What’s more, when someone harps on about something so outdated and so foolish to modern sensibilities, the most ridiculous thing you can do to her is actually let her speak. Isn’t that supposed to be a benefit of our modern society- that ideas are free to live or die by themselves?

Sometimes by responding, you don’t more clearly expose the fallacies of their argument so much as highlight the very prejudice and small-mindedness that drives their cause.

Going round in circles

Meanwhile, an American tourist unironicaly persecuted the Islamic preacher for his religious beliefs. Nice to see the colonies have learned a thing or two from the regime they hoped to escape a couple hundred years ago…

The other aspect to all this is that a lone voice in a park is not something to be scared of anymore. Sometimes its the last gasp of air from attitudes of a previous generation just looking for catharsis.

So why not let them exercise this pressure valve of society?

- Max Tatton-Brown

January 3rd, 2012

  • http://www.domesticsluttery.com/ Siany

    I’ve been wanting to go to Speaker’s Corner for ages now! But free speech does have limitations – libel, slander, inciting crime – and I think that in this case, yelling racist abuse falls under that. I see Speaker’s Corner as a kind of archaic blogging platform. You have free speech and you can indeed say what you want (eloquently, or not at all), but you’ve also got to be prepared for a response. Once you’re addressing the public, you’re having a conversation and heckling is a natural part of that. Reacting is a natural reaction.

  • http://MaxTB.com Max Tatton-Brown

    I think it’s a fair point to say you also have the right to free speech in response but if that woman was just greeted with stoney silence and people walking away, I think it’d speak volumes.