GeneralBoris Johnson, Free speech and the right to provoke

Boris Johnson, Free speech and the right to provoke


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By Shafiq Kyazze

Boris Johnson’s recent remarks about Muslim women have re-ignited the never-ending debate about free speech. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, the former London mayor said, “if a female student turned up at school or at a university lecture looking like a bank robber” he would ask her to remove her burqa to speak to her.

The former foreign secretary defended his views by stating it is “sensible” to be able to read each other’s facial expressions, and humans “must be able to see each other’s faces”.  But he further added: “I am against a total ban because it is inevitably construed – rightly or wrongly – as being intended to make some point about Islam.”


The Muslim Council of Britain accused Mr Johnson of “pandering to the far right”, and Labour’s David Lammy called him a “pound-shop Donald Trump”.

Comedian and free speech champion Rowan Atkinson defended Mr Johnson in a letter to the times stating, “All jokes about religion cause offence, so it’s pointless apologising for them.”

Boris later refused a direct order to apologise for his remarks issued by Tory party chairman Brandon Lewis on Twitter and called demands to apologise “ridiculous and an attack on free speech”.

Asking Boris to apologise due for his offensive comments towards some Muslim women makes perfect sense. It’s absolutely fine to not want people’s feelings to be hurt when addressing them or issues pertaining to them, especially those containing touchy topics like people’s clothing (there has to be an element of courteousness in one’s speech).

However, advocating for speech restriction is a ludicrous move, if Britain was to go down the root of government speech regulation, discussion of certain topics would be regarded as taboo, with those daring to address them being ostracised or worse still imprisoned for uttering offensive remarks.

Furthermore, it would create an aura of fear driven by the opposition of thought and discussion of certain topics which would impede the growth and development of Britain as a nation. Famed author George Orwell perfectly depicted a society with speech regulation in the dystopian novel 1984.

In this dystopian society, government organisations things such as thought police existed with a tight regulation on what is correct or wrong in so far as two plus two equalled five on one day and four on another day. Everything depended on what the government wanted the answer to be and those who dared to say or even think anything contrary would be purged.

An illustration of 1984 by George Orwell (Source: Amino Apps)

Speech regulation can be used by some against their opponents. A simple observation of contemporary British and American politics paints the perfect image: anyone who has a different opinion than those on the left on issues such as Brexit, immigration, gender pay gap, Black Lives Matter or Donald Trump, for example, is called a racist and politically incorrect bigot who should be locked up.

Comedian Rowan Atkinson, who has said it would be pointless for Johnson to apologise (Source: Frostsnow)

It has become a common joke that the go-to response for a leftist during a debate is to call someone “a racist white privileged man, a white nationalist or a bigot.” According to the leftist dictionary, the term racist also means someone who politically disagrees with you or is politically incorrect.

Disagree with some on the right and you will earn yourself a new title – ‘unpatriotic traitor’, ‘snowflake’ or even ‘social justice warrior’. In the US those who criticise the country’s horrendous foreign policy are called unpatriotic traitors who have zero respect for the greatest nation on Earth. Whenever Colin Kaepernick takes a knee for the national anthem during NFL matches, he is lambasted by many on the right, labelled unpatriotic and told that he has no respect for veterans who fought for his freedom, the sort of freedom that restricts him from discussing certain topics. According to the right-wing dictionary, freedom also means saying anything you want as long as you stay patriotically correct.

Boris Johnson offering reporters tea outside his home (Source: PA)

Put simply the left has political correctness while the right has patriotic correctness. Let’s imagine any of these two groups was handed the power to control what we should and shouldn’t say or do. The result would be catastrophic.

To those on the left still advocating for speech control, how would you like it if Donald Trump dictated what we should and shouldn’t say? To right-wingers, do you think you’d be able to criticise socialism with Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders regulating speech?

Lack of free speech is the essence of an oppressive authoritative state so whether you agree or disagree with Boris’ comments, we can all agree that it s a wrong move to advocate for governmental speech regulation.

Shafiq has a strong background in philosophy and history having been exposed to such issues at a very tender age. He has a voracious interest in economics, history, politics, philosophy and social issues. He is a Chemical Engineering student at The University of Manchester.

Shafiq is also an avid Barcelona fan and is currently a writer at TCS Network.

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