Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Blip: Freedom to burn poppies

There’s a news story making the rounds at the moment about someone on a social networking site burning a poppy and it’s sent pretty much everyone that I’ve seen react to it into a frenzy of social outrage. It’s now being treated like the worst human rights offense to come out of modern society and nobody seems to be grasping the full picture. Let’s go from the beginning

Why might this guy have burnt a poppy?

First off, what is the symbol of a poppy used for?  Poppies are used for remembrance with regards to first world war, although recently this has spread to honouring soldiers of all kinds even alive ones that have suffered in any way due to war, which, incidentally, I do disagree with because it seems like a corruption of the whole ‘poppy’ message, but I digress. If poppies are a symbol of war, burning a poppy could easily be seen as a statement of anti-war.

Also, as far as I know, in a society deemed to be democratic and opinion-allowing, we are at our liberty to hold anti-war opinions and to express them through words or gestures. This would suggest that burning a poppy is a perfectly acceptable way to conduct yourself. But maybe this wasn’t what he was doing.

Why else might he have done it? Remembrance day is a national commemoration of the soldier who died in WWI (and since) and it has grown significantly in popularity, which means it is represented on the news and other T.V.  Programmes. The prevalence of poppy badges in shops and being worn by celebrities and newscasters leads to a fair amount of pressure about the whole thing. If you refuse to wear a poppy or you just happen to not wear one, you can be made to feel quite bad about it. Thus, burning a poppy could also be a social protest to the pressures of social life. However petulant it might seem, this is still a perfectly valid way to act.

Despite this, he was arrested. He hasn’t been charged, as there is nothing to charge him with but he has been arrested nonetheless. Surely this needs little more explanation as to why it’s a violation of his freedom of speech. Whether it is offensive or obnoxious is irrelevant. Whatever you think about the guy that did this has no bearing on his freedom. ‘Freedom of speech to say nice things’ means nothing. Regardless of your own opinions of this guy’s actions, he is entitled to do so. If you start placing restrictions of freedom of speech, you ruin it entirely. An easy way to demonstrate this is through the common theme among what people have been saying:

“I believe in freedom of speech and all that but this is just too far”

So you can say what you want but when it’s something I don’t like, you lose that right. Smells like hypocrisy on toast to me. 

As Ally Fogg said in a recent Guardian article on the subject: “Beware the tyranny of decency.”

Looking at it from a somewhat lateral perspective and the outrage makes even less sense. We have a right to burn things. As long as it isn’t dangerous and it doesn’t violate any laws, burning just about anything is allowed. We also, supposedly, have a right to express our political and social opinions; this includes the right to protest. Another right we are told we have is not to be arrested without a suspicion that we have committed a crime.  These rights are worth standing up for, even fighting for if necessary because as soon as people stop protecting them, they disappear.

Most of all, we should all of us stick up for every single individual’s right to offend. 

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