Ideas@TheCentre

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No free speech free zones

Oliver Marc Hartwich | 22 July 2011

How free are we really to say what we think? Being formally allowed to say what you think and actually being able to do so are not the same.

Throughout the Western world, freedom of speech is being undermined by the not-so-subtle rules of political correctness. Not playing by them can make you an outcast. Quite literally.

Thilo Sarrazin, one of the speakers at this year’s CIS Big Ideas Forum, has become the most controversial public figure in Germany after publishing a book about the failure of the welfare state and loose immigration policies, both taboo subjects for the PC brigade.

Sarrazin’s courage cost him his job as a central banker and made him an outsider in a well-meaning political discourse. Details are in my recent article ‘The PC empire strikes back’ in The Australian.

Last week, a national broadcaster had tried to arrange a dialogue between Sarrazin and the migrant community. Guided by Turkish-German journalist Güner Balc? and a TV crew, Sarrazin walked around the predominantly Turkish quarters of Berlin. But where they had hoped for a frank exchange between the author and the migrant population, they encountered blank hostility.

Sarrazin was called names, kicked out of a restaurant, prevented from entering a Muslim cultural centre (despite an appointment), and told in no uncertain terms that he was not welcome in parts of his own city. They even put up ‘Sarrazin free zone’ signs on lamp posts.

The meaning was simple: Critics of Islam or multiculturalism will not be tolerated. It also sends a clear message to anyone contemplating to comment on these issues: ‘Beware!’

When societies submit to the rules of what can and what cannot be said, a genuine and honest dialogue becomes impossible. And though it is unpleasant to be reminded that 35% of all Turks and Arabs in Berlin live on welfare, the situation cannot improve by suppressing these facts.

Open societies need a free exchange of ideas, however unpleasant and offensive they may be to some. Freedom of speech is empty and meaningless if you may only say what other people like to hear.

Oliver Marc Hartwich is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies. The Big Ideas Forum at 6pm on 1 August 2011 at The Masonic Centre. Register here.