The misleadingly named European Council on
Tolerance and Reconciliation (ECTR) is a campaign group backed by European Jewish leaders, and a gaggle of former EU heads of state and government. It calls for pan-European legislation outlawing antisemitism and criticism of religion, coining a
phrase, 'group libel' to mirror the muslim phrase 'defamation of religion'.
The group recently published a document proposing to outlaw antisemitism as well as criminalising a host of other activities of what the group deems to be violating fundamental rights on religious, cultural, ethnic and gender grounds. The group
cleverly heads the list with some justifiable prohibitions, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, polygamy, but then slip in extensive censorship and blasphemy items, eg criminalising xenophobia, and creating a new crime of group libel
, ie public defamation of ethnic, cultural or religious groups.
The proposed legislation would also curb freedom of expression on grounds of a bizarre definition of 'tolerance'. The document twists the meaning of tolerance to try and justify the end to the right of freedom of expression:
Tolerance is a two-way street. Members of a group who wish to benefit from tolerance must show it to society at large, as well as to members of other groups and to dissidents or other members of their own group.
There is no need to be tolerant to the intolerant. This is especially important as far as freedom of expression is concerned: that freedom must not be abused to defame other groups.
But the document goes much further, calling for the criminalisation of overt approval of a totalitarian ideology, xenophobia or antisemitism.
The group has now appointed Tony Blair as chairman.
Comment: Tony Blair's plans to tackle extremism will stifle free speech
Index on Censorship considers Tony Blair's proposals on hate speech to be dangerous and divisive. Blair has defended plans to lower the the barriers on what constitutes incitement to violence and make Holocaust denial illegal. Jodie Ginsberg,
CEO of Index on Censorship said:
These suggestions, far from protecting people, are likely to have the opposite effect, driving extremist views underground where they can fester and grow Instead, we should be protecting free expression, including speech that may be
considered offensive or hateful, in order to expose and challenge those views.
Individuals should always be protected from incitement to violence and that protection already exists in law, as do stringent laws on hate speech. Further legislation is not needed.
Comment: NSS criticises Tony Blair's plans to entrench religion in public life across Europe
The National Secular Society (NSS) has criticised Blair ahead of his appointment as chair of the ECTR as ill thought out and counter-productive .
The former Prime Minister has defended proposals lowering the barriers to what constitutes incitement to violence and pan-European plans to make Holocaust denial illegal and to entrench state funding for religious institutions
The NSS is adamant that measures such as 'group libel' would be counter-productive, have a massive chilling effect on free speech and would be likely to restrict the open debate necessary to resolve problems.
Keith Porteous Wood, NSS executive director, said:
Britain already has draconian legislation on religious insults -- a possible seven year jail term with a low prosecution threshold. Politicians have already called for the outlawing of Islamophobia, playing into the hands of those intent on
closing down honest debate about and within Islam.
There is no need for more laws, and the ones we already have fail to adequately protect freedom of expression. A robust civil society with a deep commitment to free expression is our best hope for challenging and countering bigoted narratives
and misguided views. Driving extremist views underground will only allow them to fester and allow their proponents to present themselves as martyrs.
Outlawing Holocaust denial completely undermines the West's defence of freedom of speech at home and abroad and removes our moral authority to propound freedom of expression abroad. No one has the right in a plural society not to be offended
and ideas should not be proscribed but people should be defended from incitement to violence.
A European-wide Holocaust denial law would be exhibit A in every response from dictators abroad - and Islamists at home - when we criticise their appalling human rights records or challenge their rhetoric and beliefs.
The NSS has also accused Blair of being confused over the role of religion .
For Mr Blair to dismiss those intent on justifying violence in the name of religion as abusing religion and using it as a mask reveals that his enthusiasm for religion has once more led him to misunderstand one of the roots of this problem.
While few would suggest that extremists' interpretations of their faith are mainstream in today's society, it is naive and counterproductive to deny the role that such interpretations play in their religio-political motivations.
Comment: BBC to be forced to report the news under a narrow set of acceptable values .
Tony Blair's new role as chairman of the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation (ECTR) is in fact supporting an organisation that is a
danger to free speech. Paul Nuttall, UKIP Deputy Leader and MEP for the North West, said the ECTR wants public broadcasting companies like the BBC to be forced under legal statute to report the news under a narrow set of acceptable values
. He explained:
Tony Blair is joining an organisation that explicitly wants to see legislative control of news output.
The ECTR sent a framework statute to members of the European Parliament with the intention of it becoming law that frankly caused great concern. It included dictatorial powers to demand that 'public broadcasting (television and radio) stations
will devote a prescribed percentage of their programmes to promoting a climate of tolerance'. It also called for private and public media to be controlled by a Media Complaints Commission driven by a narrow set of acceptable values.
The ECTR also called for certain new 'thought' crimes to be regarded as aggravated criminal offences, such as the 'overt approval of a totalitarian ideology, xenophobia'. This is very dangerous stuff and is utterly against the great tradition
of free speech in this country. Do we really want our news reports to be dictated by a political organisation led by Blair?
Even worse is that Mr Blair's organisation also proposes re-education programmes, which brings to mind the 1930s. It proposes young people 'convicted of committing crimes listed will be required to undergo a rehabilitation programme designed to
instil in them a culture of tolerance'. It's very worrying that in championing the ECTR, Mr Blair appears to want to enforce an Orwellian-style 'Ministry of Information' regime upon the population without taking it to the ballot box.
Offsite Comment: Tony Blair has just joined the crew of reckless muzzlers
7th June 2015. See article
by Nick Cohen
Moves by Blair, Cameron and co to end tolerance of intolerance will create a country unable to be honest with itself.