Is Freedom of Speech In Danger?
by Marc-André Lavigne
Two weeks ago, a debate took place in the United Kingdom on whether Donald J. Trump should be allowed into the country. The debate took place after a petition that had over half a million signatures asked for Parliament to ban Mr. Trump from ever coming into the UK, following a statement he made at a rally. Trump shared his plan to ban Muslims from coming into the USA until certain issues are solved, due to his outrage over the number of attacks on US soil that have likely been motivated by terrorist organizations or radical Islamist convictions.
In the debate, the Labour party supported the petition with one of their members, Tulip Saddiq, saying: “I draw the line on freedom of speech when it actually imports violent ideology. His words are poisonous. They risk inflaming tensions between vulnerable communities.” In the Conservative party, the members were of the opinion that Parliament should not act upon this petition with one of the MPs, Adam Holloway defining the motion as an embarrassment to the UK and that it was making them “look intolerant and totalitarian.”
Before I go any further into the subject, I would like to clarify that I do not support Trump’s opinion on how to solve national security issues in the US. But to me, this debate on banning Donald Trump for his comments represents a major setback in terms of the view people had on freedom of speech and freedom of press after the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in France just over a year ago. People around the world, including some of the British MPs, posted on social media the hashtag #JesuisCharlie after the attack that was provoked by the journal’s caricatures and depiction of the prophet Mohammed. According to Siddiq, Donald Trump’s comments are dangerous as they could provoke tensions and his influence is detrimental to the people of the UK, thus justifying her position on banning Donald Trump from the UK as well as denying his right to freedom of speech.
When I compare these two events, I notice that while some people took a stand for freedom of speech after the Charlie Hebdo attack, those same people decided to deny Donald Trump from having the same freedom of speech. Then, they condemned and criticized him for making a commentary that I feel was centered on a valid concern for national security, and was less inflammatory than the journal’s caricatures. So this whole debate has led me to think that people either forget really quickly about past events or that the double-standard on freedom of speech continues to make itself more present in society.
So what would the repercussions be if Parliament ever decided to ban Trump from the country? I think that they would have succeeded in increasing levels of censorship, as well as creating an environment where conflicting opinions, reflections, or persons can be condemned and banned for being “too controversial”. Is it just me, or does my vision of this hypothetical situation resemble an oppressive regime? It seems a bit extreme to envision this issue leading to an oppressive government or society, but as I was told many times by other people, baby steps.