Thoughtcrime

The latest post by Geeklawyer, specifically the first paragraph, caused me to think about the differences between inciting hatred and violence.

Geeklawyer is glad that the ultra right wing extremist British National Party (BNP) leader Nick Griffin was acquitted of charges of using words or behaviour intended to stir up racial hatred. He is of the view that only speech which incites, or is genuinely immediately likely to do so, violence & discrimination should be unlawful. If hating $(todays_unpopular_group) is lawful, and even this government is not proposing to make it illegal to hate Muslims, then inciting hatred should not be an offence either. Inciting violence yes, inciting opinions no. Criminalising incitement because it makes it easier to prevent violence is not the answer since it has knock on effects on free speech.

What is basically being said here is that hate is a feeling and/or opinion – it is not something physical and is many cases results in no detriment to the hated object so far as physical action is concerned. In the UK we have the right to free speech and so we can enjoy hating whatever or whoever we want without fear of being arrested. Even when the hatred is voiced it still counts as opinion and we still have the right to freely say what we want.

However, it is when that hatred is expressed as violence that a line is crossed. Here, Geeklawyer is saying (and I completely agree), is where the law should come into play – violence is illegal. But, then, why is it also an offence to incite racial hatred when all you are doing is expressing your opinion?

Until I read this particular paragraph by Geeklawyer, I assumed that inciting racial hatred and inciting violence are one and the same. Indeed, that is probably what was assumed when the case against Nick Griffin was started. However, they are actually very different.

Hate is opinion. Violence is action.

On that basis, is incitement to racial hatred is just extended thoughtcrime? If that is illegal then why stop there? What is the difference between me saying “I hate [racial group 1]” compared to “I hate [political party 2]”? In both cases people might be offended? To go even further, what is the difference between a group of my friends saying the same thing? In the former I would be breaking the law by expressing my opinion to a group of friends whereas in the latter I would not just because one group is categorised by race and the other by political alignment. Do we really need to protect the general public from offence, as suggested by Gordon Brown:

Any preaching of religious or racial hatred will offend mainstream opinion in this country.

If we do, (and as you probably have gathered, I do not think we do) then there should be a blanket rule and not one based on race. That’s discrimination.