Monday 19 October 2020

Would Samuel Paty have been jailed in Scotland?


Tens of thousands of French people have taken to the streets to demonstrate in favour of free speech. The French Government has responded robustly to the murder of a French teacher, Samuel Paty, who was killed by a Chechen extremist for showing cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad to his freedom of speech class.

The French Government and people have almost universally expressed their solidarity with the M. Paty. No one has questioned his right to show such cartoons. But what would happen to a teacher in a Scottish school who did the same thing? If parents or pupils complained about the class, would the Scottish Government be quite so robust in defending freedom of expression? The answer of course is no.

A Scottish teacher who showed his class cartoons of Muhammad would I strongly suspect be sacked instantly. He might also be prosecuted under Humza Yousaf’s hate crime laws. Mr Yousaf has recently made a few concessions to his bill. He now says that the hate crime legislation would only cover offences where the stirring up of hatred was intentional.

But M. Paty was apparently aware that his freedom of speech class was stirring up hatred. He was threatened by extremists and warned to desist. Nevertheless, he continued with his classes because he believed freedom of speech was more important than these threats. Well when someone his warned that his action is causing hatred and continues to do it, it is reasonable to assume a degree of intent. He didn’t just accidentally show the cartoons while being ignorant of the possible consequences of doing so.

Humza Yousaf’s bill is intended to protect people with certain characteristics (race, disability, age, religion, sexual orientation, transgender) from hate crimes. There is an offence of stirring up hatred against them.

But what if the terrorist lived in Scotland and instead of cutting off the head of a Scottish teacher had instead complained to Mr Yousaf about it. What would Mr Yousaf’s response have been. Would he have sided with the teacher or instead have sided with the refugee from Chechnya who was complaining that the Scottish teacher was stirring up hatred?

The issue of intent has nothing to do with the substance of the issue. I should of course commit no crime against anyone whether or not they have any of the protected characteristics. It is wrong and it ought to be illegal to vandalise a mosque, a church or a temple. It is wrong to assault, murder or steal from someone who is homosexual or old. It is wrong to shout at someone on the street because they are black or French. But it is wrong to do any of these things to an ordinary house or an ordinary person who doesn’t have any of these characteristics.

Freedom of expression does not give me the right to go into a Church and say horrible things to the people taking part in a service. Nor does it give me the right to vandalise or desecrate the church. But freedom of expression ought to give me the right to write about Christianity in any way I please. It ought to give me the right to depict Jesus and other figures of Christianity in a way that I know Christians would find hateful.

I am a Christian, but I do not object to people telling me that Christianity is lies and nonsense. I do not object to people depicting Jesus in cartoons or in ways that I disagree with. Let them make films or draw cartoons, say or do what they want. It does not affect what I believe.

Intent has nothing to do with it. Of course, those people who say Christianity is lies and nonsense intend Christians to be offended. What would be the point of writing arguments against Christianity if they did not?

The whole point of freedom of expression is that it can offend. If I use reasoned argument to say that I don’t think it is possible for a man to become a woman, this will cause offence to some people. Some of them will hate what I say. They may correctly argue that I intended to stir up hatred and indeed succeeded. Well what I wrote wasn’t accidental. So too I might argue that it is an absurd misunderstanding of the verb “to marry” to suppose that a man can marry a man. Some people will find that hateful. Do they have the right to stop me writing it?

A free society is one in which there are differences of opinion and where people are allowed to hold views which other people think are hateful. But this is not the direction in which SNP Scotland is going.

The whole idea that people ought to be protected from hearing or reading views that they find hateful is mistaken and deeply wrong. The French understand this. They defend the right to offend. Humza Yousaf and the SNP are becoming ever more authoritarian. It is quite unimaginable that there would be a free speech class in a Scottish school, because neither Mr Yousaf nor the SNP believe in free speech.

So, I would like to ask Mr Yousaf if M. Paty was Scottish and showed cartoons of Muhammad in a Scottish school would you say he had the right to do so or would you prosecute him and send him to jail? The answer to this question really determines whether Scotland is still part of the Western world or whether we are moving somewhere else.