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Thursday, November 20, 2008

The right to offend

A Carolyn Davison from Carmarthen takes issue with my views on freedom of speech in today's Western Mail. She is entitled to her opinion.

She asks what example I am setting to 'our youth' by inviting Patrick Jones into the National Assembly:

Surely promoting responsibility and a caring attitude towards others should be a priority rather than putting others down to make oneself feel better! If this man is a Christian, as he claims he is, then he should be putting others’ thoughts, feelings and beliefs before himself.

Christian Voice did not consider the feelings of others when they sought to prevent a poetry reading in Cardiff Waterstones.

I am not doing this for myself nor do I really like or approve of the poems. I am doing it because I believe that in a democratic society people should not be bullied into silence. That is an important value to promote to young people. It is taking responsibility for the freedoms that we all take for granted.

Ms. Davison also asks who is covering the poet's expenses, me or the taxpayers? What expenses? There is no cost to staging this event and any expense incurred by Patrick Jones will be met by himself.
I agree, everyone has a basic right to free speech. But on the other hand of this is true: http://www.foreverdelayed.org.uk/forum/showpost.php?p=1547974, it would appear that Jones attempted to use Waterstones' in a little game against Green.

Personally, I don't think that anyone has the right to abuse the hospitality of a privately owned shop in such a way, nor conduct their private battles there. Waterstones' had a right to boot Jones out, and Green has a right to preach his hateful views.

Anyone giving Jones an outlet for his publicity campaign also has a right to do so.
I am told that it is not true but whether it is or not should not change anything. Patrick Jones still had a right to read his poems without being shouted down.
Anything is deemed as provocation by Christian Voice- homosexuality, Sex Education ,Baltic Centre for The Arts, Islam, Lib Dems in Wales- how they heard about it is no matter - Further, does it merit the response they took? But what is important is the fact that this rumbles on- Venues being threatened by CV, The Assembly and the fact that this could have set a precedent but thankfully Borders have offered to hos the launch of the book- Now, if Waterstones had done the same this would never have gone so far.It is only a poetry book full of poems about loving others, about how unfair and tragic it is for soldiers to be killed in war, about women being genitally mutilated, poems detailing stories of males as victims of domestic violence and about fathers being denied rights to their children- Why isn't anybody talking about these issues in society not about invisible, angry gods that force people to kill others in their egotistical name???
That is the issue
The offending poem "Hymn" speaks in a woman's voice that talks of how religion dehumanises the female- what do you think about that?
Thank f*ck we are not in a recession with lots of people jobs going or debt or drug addicts selling themselves as prostitutes poets need freedom.
Nazi Germany was partly the result of letting economic considerations override individual rights in a recession. That is a lesson we need to learn.
Let us be clear: Christian Voice has a perfect right to demonstrate against the reading, to persuade (peacefully) people not to attend it, or to criticise the contents of the poems; it is the threat to disrupt the proceedings which is illiberal.
Absolutely right Frank.
estion: Did Christian Voice say they would go into the store and disrupt Mr Jones launch? Peter do you support the freedom to spread hate speech about religion?

In answer to the first question, if yes, then CV would be breaking the law, and they would be arrested for disturbing the peace.On the other hand if they were going to demonstrate outside, that's fine.

What I object to (amongst many things) is that Mr Jones is using this (Waterstone and The Assembly reading) as a platform for his views, and not necessarily to promote his work. That is seen by what he has been plastering over cyberspace!

As for that statement from "Cinnamon Press" all I have to say about that. If that is the level maturity that home schooling does for your kids . Then I say its a bad idea.
CV did threaten to disrupt the event. No one else. If you have read the "offending" poem you will see that it is not about hate speech at all- It is a woman's voice talking of the oppression that religion and men have poured over herkind- most religions do -Why are people afraid of discussing this? The most offensive line to me is one not written by Jones but listed in Corinthians " woman must wear a veil but not man for man is the glory of God and....... Man did not come from woman but woman from man"

My concern is more that you are very careful with your handling of this. The last thing I want to see is you being lumbered with the label of being "naive" and "easily misled". Forewarned is forearmed.

Of course you will have been told that it is not true and I can guess whom by.

However, if you look at the thread, rather than just the post in isolation and take a look at the background of the claimant there is nothing on the surface of it that would suggest any motivation for a lie. In fact, the claimant was going to attend the reading and the fear of a riot put her off. A "MySpace bulletin" is not going to appear on Patrick Jones' MySpace page. You can Google for more information about how that works more like email.

You can, and should - in my view - get a researcher in contact with her.

Patrick Jones doesn't have a right to read his poems without being shouted down, that is what free speech means (what little we have of it). However, Stephen Green does not have a right to issue threats, which is what the real issue is.

Good luck, just make sure of this guy Jones.

- Culpepper
Sorry, I wasn't logged in for that last comment. Too early in the morning for me.
Hmm.. Tricky to know what the facts are here..

My concern is that Waterstones are ones being seen as the 'baddies' here, which seems a little unfair.

They are upholding the right to free expression by selling the book - this rather important fact seems to have been overlooked.

Clearly I am taking a risk by saying something I cannot prove and which is 'hearsay', but I did read that a fascist/far right group was emailed with details of the poems.

Whether this is true or not, what does not seem to be in dispute is that the poet was not entirely 100% candid with the shop - Peter I don't think you can say that this should 'not change anything'.

They have a duty to protect public order in a way which doesn't put staff and customers at risk. They would seen be at the sharp end of litigation if they were cavalier with 'health and safety issues'.

Of course, you could argue that if he put some of the poems 'online' then that was 'constructive notice' to the 'world', including, say, BNP supporters or whatever..

But if Waterstones believed that he had taken secretive steps which might foment unrest, then I think you have to understand that, just as for a small, independent bookshop, they might be risking a contretemps where they would be out of their depth and the police would have to called.

It is easier for you as a 'public body' to call upon the resources of security and the 'law' so it is rather unfair to castigate private business that don't enjoy the same privileged relationship.

My final point would be to applaud you for sticking up for free speech - but I do wonder if this is just a 'Provocative PR Exercise' ? Nothing illegal about that, but if the makers of 'Grand Theft Auto' or 'fcuk' clothing do some attention grabbing 'blasphemy' or advertising with a sexual content, do you really see it as your role as an AM to give them a 'platform' in the Senedd, if the advertising is banned [so as to get more free PR] just to uphold 'free speech' ?

By all means continue with this, but please don't go too far down the road of being sucked in to the 'marketing initiatives' of private companies, however well meaning it appears to be.
As you can see from http://peterblack.blogspot.com/2008/11/poetry-reading-at-assembly.html I agree with you regarding Waterstones and their staff.
Waterstones did not believe Jones had taken any steps they merely responded to CV and Stephen Green's threats. Even Cv did not even mention a provocation - if you listen to the radio Wales debate Stephen Green is quite happy to have received a few poems by email.No other group or organisation threatened the bookstore.
I also think this is not the debate as already The Assembly has received calls and emails asking to cancel this reading as are many venues where the author is reading. So where is the provocation or "secret steps" there? It is the poems, the same poems that Trish Law and Morgan are threatened by- their notion of free speech needs to be addressed too don't you think? I have read the book - it moved me it made me think it made me realise that religion diminshes my role as a woman in the world- christian muslim jewish. I also loved the poem about fatherhood. If a portrait of Margaret Thatcher is allowed to hang for 6 weeks then surely a few poems that discuss the world's landscape should be heard?
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