Freedom of Speech on Trial in Britain
While America was busy watching Stormy Daniels recount watching shark week with the President, several events in Great Britain have transpired that are dangerous forewarnings for the United States. Two recent events in particular work in tandem to show the dangers of restricting free speech. First, and less horrific, is the story of the Nazi pug.
Mark Meechan, known online as “Count Dankula”, posted a video to YouTube in September of last year that landed him in hot water with the Scottish police. In the video, Meechan starts off by saying, “My girlfriend is always ranting and raving about how cute and adorable her wee dog is, so I thought I would turn him into the least cute thing I could think of, which is a Nazi.” The video continues to show Meechan attempting to get the pug, Buddha, to do the Nazi salute in response to the calls “heil Hitler” and “gas the Jews”. At the end, Meechan successfully trains the pug to do so, and viewers are left laughing or disturbed by such a sense of humor. The video received 2.8 million views before being removed from YouTube for violating their hate speech policy.
But that was not the end of it. Over the course of the next several months, Meechan faced a barrage of legal issues as the Scottish police charged him with a hate crime. Here in the United States, the FBI defines a hate crime as “crimes in which the perpetrators acted based on a bias against the victim’s race, color, religion, or national origin.” This inherently means a hate crime is an actual crime that occurs, hate being the reason for said crime being committed in the first place. In Britain, however, things are not so simple much to the dismay of those who treasure freedom of speech.
There are a slew of variations on laws that ban certain speech in Great Britain. The legal categories include: obscenity laws, state licensing laws, libel laws, blasphemy laws, national security laws, and prior restraint laws. Meechan was convicted under a code created by the Communications Act of 2003. The act contains a multitude of speech restrictions, but the one under which the conviction was made banned sending malicious communications via social media. The act fails to include a definition of the word “malicious”, nor does it specify what types of social media.
In early March 2018, a Scottish judge convicted Mark Meechan for violating this code of the Communications Act. And while the curtailment of humor began its inevitable descent into an Orwellian future, somewhere else in the once great empire of Britain a sinister counterpart of this case has arisen.
On August 27, 2016, the Daily Mail reported growing concerns in the town of Telford. Over the past 3 years, young girls had been picked up by Pakistani men for the purpose of being sold as sex slaves. Of course, turning adolescent girls as young as 12 into prostitutes is not bad enough. The monsters beat, tortured, and gang raped many of the approximately 1,000 girls.
And this is where free speech is exceptionally important. These girls were often at times allowed to live at home, as long as they kept their mouth shut. Yet, as many in that situation would do, numerous girls reported what was happening to the police. On several occasions, girls in the car with men much older would be stopped by police. However, not one single account records police asking why a young woman who was clearly not the driver’s daughter was in the car. And not one time, did the police take the reports seriously.
Time passed, and the number of women being abused grew with each passing day. In February of 2018, the issue finally received media attention. A slew of outlets picked up the story, but little was known about the men other than their Pakistani origin. Pressure mounted for the police to do something, and finally action was taken. The first thing done was to issue a statement saying the number of girls that had been abused was “over sensationalized”. However, the police have indicted several of the perpetrators (days after they announced the amount of young girls raped was an overblown farce). Eight indictments have been made, and more are expected to come in the wake of this poorly managed tragedy.
But what do the Telford grooming gangs have to do with Mark Meechan and his Nazi pug?
Meechan was convicted for telling a joke. The joke, tasteless or not, was just that, a joke. No actual people were harmed in the making of the video. In courtroom documents, the judge states Meechan “was not in fact, making a joke”. The statement was not that the joke caused emotional distress to Jews who watched it (keep in mind Meechan appeared to the ambivalent Jewish community days after the video), but that it wasn’t a joke in the first place. The idea that can be extracted from this case is clear attempts at humor can be categorized and punished under British law. While this case sets dangerous precedent, it is another example of how law lags behind society. Culturally, the curtailment of humor has been slow at work in western countries. The risk of offending someone has become too great for even entertainers; those whose sole purpose is to offend.
The average police officer in Great Britain is a white male aged between 26 and 40. Who could be more likely to cause a racist incident? The increased negative opinion (justified or not) of the police force in Britain has made officers weary of situations where a question of a nonwhite man may land the curious officer in hot water. This claim is reinforced by behavior; the officers in Telford refused to question why young girls were routinely found in the back of unrelated men’s cars. The fear of violating the right to not be offended has reached the point where the mental and physical abuse of a thousand adolescent teens is the cost.
The curtailment of free speech hides under a variety of faces, but underneath these reasons of “security” and “racism” lie a deep misunderstanding of why free speech exists in the first place. Racism exists, that is clear. Security is a concern, that too is evident. But when a country becomes so restrained that those who seek to do harm have full reign, something has gone seriously wrong. Americans would do well to look past their national news for a moment, and see these unsettling trends in their parent country.