A collaborative blog for Current Affairs and Policy Debate

The rumoured Wooton Basset march, and political theory

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Prologue: As others have pointed out in the intervening two-day period from when I wrote this note; any planned protest would have to go through official police procedure and notify them of the specific time it would take place, in any case, so it’s a little more complicated than the protesters having an unqualified right to march. As such, this note is more a riposte against what I consider knee-jerk liberal arguments in favour of the possible march.

David Weber

I am generally derisory about the practice of citing political theory in an argument, but it doesn’t really matter, as my opponents in this case most likely won’t be. The more ideological people are, the more they generally like political theory. So I’ll call a truce, because I want to strike out against one ideological argument in particular here.

It’s the liberalism for liberalism’s sake argument again. We have seen the argument gain a certain amount of credibility in the wake of the BNPs fairly disastrous appearance on Question Time, and the BBC managing to gain record ratings for Question Time into the bargain. Now we are seeing it renew itself with increased vigour in favour of the Islam4UK march in Wooton Basset. However, I feel there may be one small difference here.

In that the two events are not remotely analogous. This isn’t a media platform, it’s a planned protest, and the two have very different circumstances to consider. Firstly, in order for the argument to hold any weight, one must assume that allowing the protest group to deliberately show maximum insensitivity to mourners is a price worth paying. This contrasts with Question Time, where people had a free choice whether or not to engage with the BNP.

Secondly, one must consider what the effect of such an inflammatory march — far more so than the BNP’s appearance on Question Time, which itself was only a minor change from their previous status, having been on the Andrew Marr show and several other political programmes — is on society. And I don’t think many liberals agree that there can be no restrictions on individual liberty. That is, after all, why the distinction exists between “liberal” and “libertarian”. Liberals are not without common sense, some of the time. They are perfectly willing, often when it suits them, to cite Mill’s “harm principle”.

And the fact is that I can’t think of a more apt analogy here than crying “fire” in a crowded theatre. The march is calculated to pour salt into the fresh wounds of grief that people will be wanting to quietly come to terms with. There is no need for this, and it is not likely to prove of any benefit to Islam4UK’s cause. It seems like an arbitrary attempt to simply stir up bad feelings and social tension. As such, it is a far cry from the ordinary constructive criticism that protests often seek to bring. And therefore it deserves to be treated differently, if indeed it is.

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