Discourse is prepared, ready and eager to do battle
Weekly in the UK people are prosecuted and imprisoned for exercising their right to free speech. The only effective solution to this crisis would be to somehow make Britain a nation in which this happened less and less. How?
Campaigning might work, if one had years in which to do it. Politics could effect change if one could motivate millions to the cause. Taking action in the courts, though, would be the quickest route, and the one with the most favourable probability profile; but doing so would be a sizeable task and cost a great deal of money.
Time is the one thing people defending free speech do not have in their favour. Accordingly, I specifically established Discourse (Britains Institute for Free Speech) as an organization aimed at countering this challenge in an acutely time-conscious manner.
The knee-jerk psychological assumption that those passionate about protecting freedom of speech might be using the issue as a cloak for validating bigotry has inescapable roots in Europes tragic past. This obstacle must be tackled if prominent individuals are to be encouraged to voice their own fears of the menacing referee that now polices every public conversation.
Freedom of speech is a natural right. The state should only have a limited rigorously-defined jurisdiction to interfere with it. Yet over the decades our states have increasingly thought that it is their business to do so at will.
For us at Discourse the crux of the problem is not supra-national organizations or a clash of civilizations, but the fact that prosecuting a person for saying an unguarded thing on a bus, or a drunken word on Twitter, is normalizing the exercise of a power that, when possessed by the state, it finds irresistible to use.
In Britain mothers whose children are being adopted by force are jailed for telling their kids that they love them, anti-corruption activists are prosecuted for calling politicians rude words online, and Olympic corporatism has led to the criminalization of everyday speech with judges encouraged to deal harshly with transgressors.
Discourse is rigorously apolitical, which means being ruthlessly adversarial, and this has secured us support in mainstream politics and academia. We investigate cases of Islamists prosecuted for violating speech codes just as enthusiastically as we do those faced by their opponents. We dont pick and choose sides.
Thus we sidestep the entire debate on justifying free speech restrictions with reference to social cohesion, simply by arguing that no sane or free society should be using its prison system to punish speech crimes. We also counter the falsehood that it is possible to decouple the benefits of our society from the fundamental freedoms that underpin it. Europes economic model, upon which the financial solvency of all social programmes depend, is contingent on our capacity for innovation, which is in turn premised on the free exchange of ideas.
Such truisms prove that many of the laws we are grappling with are slapdash and ill thought-out. The mass of contradictions that such legislation faces with respect to international treaty commitments have made them ripe for attack. Every one of the small number of such prosecutions that have gone to jury trial in Britain have been thrown out. Crucially, defendants rarely have the financial stamina to persist this far; and we now want to help such people to do exactly that: as after two years Discourse has now grown into a legal network prepared, ready and eager to create precisely such a powerful counter-momentum of case law.
But we can only do so with the help of a fundraising initiative which will allow us to tap into the financial resources needed to underwrite major legal challenges, while also demonstrating our ability to act as an international template.
The future belongs to those who prepare for it, and the current skirmishes for free speech are nothing compared to the battles to come. The potential effectiveness of a truly international community of legal practitioners, dedicated to the protection of this keystone of our liberties, can no longer be ignored.
George Igler, MA (Cantab.), MBA (Sorbonne), is a consulting political analyst. See also: Discourse