Free to spread hatred

Kenan Malik ("Protect the freedom to shock", 13 August) seems to think that he is revealing some hitherto undiscovered truth when he argues that a "vibrant and diverse society" should encourage "offensive speech". John Stuart Mill said much the same nearly 150 years ago. Malik, like Mill before him, is right to argue that because an opinion causes offence is not a good reason for prohibiting it. But this does not begin to address what is at stake in the debate over free speech for fascists.

Last weekend, the police mounted a huge operation to protect a British National Party "festival of British culture" near Welshpool in Mid Wales, only a few days after the authorities had banned an anti-racist carnival initiated by the Anti-Nazi League in Burnley. The British state thus defends the civil liberties of fascists at the same time as it denies those of anti-fascists.

These realities render Malik's cliche- ridden fulminations against "liberal orthodoxy" quite irrelevant. Are we seriously supposed to regard the BNP's leader, Nick Griffin, as a daring intellectual transgressor comparable to Galileo or Darwin? Malik appears to believe that the miasma of barbarian prejudice and third-hand ideas that passes for fascist ideology occupies some refined intellectual sphere in which open-ended debates can be pursued. In reality, Nazi words serve to legitimise and encourage racist attacks, to humiliate and isolate blacks, Asians and asylum-seekers, and to build support for a politics of hatred, subordination and exclusion.

Alex Callinicos
Department of Politics, University of York

This article first appeared in the 20 August 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Ulster enters the endgame

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When will the government take action to tackle the plight of circus animals?

Britain is lagging behind the rest of the world - and innocent animals are paying the price. 

It has been more than a year since the Prime Minister reiterated his commitment to passing legislation to impose a ban on the suffering of circus animals in England and Wales. How long does it take to get something done in Parliament?

I was an MP for more than two decades, so that’s a rhetorical question. I’m well aware that important issues like this one can drag on, but the continued lack of action to help stop the suffering of animals in circuses is indefensible.

Although the vast majority of the British public doesn’t want wild animals used in circuses (a public consultation on the issue found that more than 94 per cent of the public wanted to see a ban implemented and the Prime Minister promised to prohibit the practice by January 2015, no government bill on this issue was introduced during the last parliament.

A private member’s bill, introduced in 2013, was repeatedly blocked in the House of Commons by three MPs, so it needs a government bill to be laid if we are to have any hope of seeing this practice banned.

This colossal waste of time shames Britain, while all around the world, governments have been taking decisive action to stop the abuse of wild animals in circuses. Just last month, Catalonia’s Parliament overwhelmingly voted to ban it. While our own lawmakers dragged their feet, the Netherlands approved a ban that comes into effect later this year, as did Malta and Mexico. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, North America’s longest-running circus, has pledged to retire all the elephants it uses by 2018. Even in Iran, a country with precious few animal-welfare laws, 14 states have banned this archaic form of entertainment. Are we really lagging behind Iran?

The writing has long been on the wall. Only two English circuses are still clinging to this antiquated tradition of using wild animals, so implementing a ban would have very little bearing on businesses operating in England and Wales. But it would have a very positive impact on the animals still being exploited.

Every day that this legislation is delayed is another one of misery for the large wild animals, including tigers, being hauled around the country in circus wagons. Existing in cramped cages and denied everything that gives their lives meaning, animals become lethargic and depressed. Their spirits broken, many develop neurotic and abnormal behaviour, such as biting the bars of their cages and constantly pacing. It’s little wonder that such tormented creatures die far short of their natural life spans.

Watching a tiger jump through a fiery hoop may be entertaining to some, but we should all be aware of what it entails for the animal. UK laws require that animals be provided with a good quality of life, but the cruelty inherent in confining big, wild animals, who would roam miles in the wild, to small, cramped spaces and forcing them to engage in unnatural and confusing spectacles makes that impossible in circuses.

Those who agree with me can join PETA’s campaign to urge government to listen to the public and give such animals a chance to live as nature intended.


The Right Honourable Ann Widdecombe was an MP for 23 years and served as Shadow Home Secretary. She is a novelist, documentary maker and newspaper columnist.