Thursday, March 02, 2006

We must stand up to the creeping tyranny of the group veto

Timothy Garton AshHow gratifying to hear one of the staunchest defenders of freedom and democracy in Europe over the last 20 years, Timothy Garton Ash, resoundingly reject last month's Stalinist mob tactics of the Danish cartoon protestors, pseudo-judges of Ken Livingston, and jailers of David Irving:

If the intimidators succeed, then the lesson for any group that strongly believes in anything is: shout more loudly, be more extreme, threaten violence, and you will get your way. Frightened firms, newspapers or universities will cave in, as will softbellied democratic states, where politicians scrabble to keep the votes of diverse constituencies. But in our increasingly mixed-up, multicultural world, there are so many groups that care so strongly about so many different things, from fruitarians to anti-abortionists and from Jehovah's Witnesses to Kurdish nationalists. Aggregate all their taboos and you have a vast herd of sacred cows. Let the frightened nanny state enshrine all those taboos in new laws or bureaucratic prohibitions, and you have a drastic loss of freedom. That, I think, is what is happening to us, issue by issue. These days, you can't even read a list of the British war dead in Iraq outside the gates of No 10 Downing Street without getting a criminal record. Inch by inch, paragraph by paragraph, we are becoming less free.

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