“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”
–François-Marie Arouet, “Voltaire”
Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of François-Marie Arouet before, but the argument his quote is part of is one which is well versed – free speech. His writings greatly influenced the French and American revolutions, and he wrote extensively on philosophy and religion.
History lesson aside, we all agree that free speech is a pretty good thing. It lets us voice our opinions (supposedly) in a manner of our own choosing, be they criticism of the government, the landlord, the bin-man or just being controversial with a joke over someone’s mum. Although I would prefer you wouldn’t about mine. She doesn’t get those kinds of jokes and it just ends up being embarrassing for all involved.
Would you however, die for the right of supporters of Raoul Moat on facebook, who hail him as a hero despite the “callous” crimes; as described by David Cameron, he committed? The facebook group, now nearly 38,000 strong at the time of writing, has caused, to put it mildly, “caused a stir” in the national media.
It has also been a catalyst for debate over the motives of Raoul Moat, who dramatically captivated the nation during his week long run from police after shooting dead 29 year old Chris Brown, wounding ex-girlfriend 22 year old Samantha Stobbart and critically wounding 42 year old PC David Rathband, who is now blind as a result of his injuries.
The Prime Minster during yesterday’s Parliamentary session of questions was asked by the Conservative MP Chris Heaton-Harris to request Facebook take down the offending page, to which David Cameron replied:
“As far as I can see, it is absolutely clear that Raoul Moat was a callous murderer – full stop, end of story – and I cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy for this man. There should be sympathy for his victims, and for the havoc he wreaked in that community; there should be no sympathy for him.”
Downing Street later issued a statement to Facebook saying of the Prime-Minsters “dismay” at the page, to which Facebook replied:
“Facebook is a place where people can express their views and discuss things in an open way as they can and do in many other places, and as such we sometimes find people discussing topics others may find distasteful; however that is not a reason in itself to stop a debate from happening.”
Public opinion is still divided on the topic– and it brings me back full circle to the opening quote. It is also where we as Students can come into the discussion. The liberal tradition of free speech is firmly ingrained into university, academia and western democracy. It is how we are able to reason in order to make an effective argument using the facts.
The argument here is about free speech – and responsibility. And what is right and wrong. And values – the list goes on and on, but the quote is relevant to them all. Should society and politicians put down “moral” limits for what we can say? Should we work it out for ourselves? How important is free speech? In this case the facts however they are spun, have resulted with two people in hospital with injuries, one person dead and a shaken community. This also leaves out the string of offences he committed before this incident.
As human beings, let alone students – we must decide in our everyday lives what actions are reasonable and what is not. Should we subscribe to the majority view of what is reasonable – unreasonable, right – or wrong? These are all questions which we all have to answer for ourselves – be they during drunken conversations in the early morning (guilty as charged…), or joining a facebook group.
So, what will it be – would you die for the right of Raoul Moat’s supporters to hail him as a “hero”? Do you think Free speech is important enough to defend? Have I left you with more questions than answers during this article? If the answer is “Yes”, then it has succeeded.
Sources used in aiding the writing of this article:
SHIRBON, E. and CASTLE, T. (07/2010) Facebook resists No 10 pressure over Moat tributes. Reuters. United Kingdom. Available from: http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKTRE66D32920100714 [Accessed 15th July 2010]
Prime Minsters questions: Wed, 14 Jul 2010 (2010). TV, online. Produced by BBC Parliament. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00t3ssz/Prime_Ministers_Questions_14_07_2010/ [Accessed 15th July 2010]
CARTER, H. and TRAN, M. (07/2010) Facebook snubs MP’s calls to drop Raoul Moat fan page. Guardian.co.uk. United Kingdom. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/jul/14/david-cameron-raoul-moat [Accessed 15th July 2010]
WIKIPEDIA (2010) Voltaire. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voltaire [Accessed 15th July 2010]
MARTIN, D. and CHAPMAN, J. (07/2010) Cameron’s fury at thousands who joined Facebook tributes to “callous murderer” Raoul Moat. Daily Mail Online. United Kingdom. Available from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1294700/Cameron-fury-Facebook-tributes-Raoul-Moat.html?ITO=1708&referrer=yahoo [Accessed 15th July 2010]