Many people support the proposal to increase sentences for those convicted of defacing war memorials to a maximum of 10 years imprisonment. I’m uncomfortable with this but before you jump on me let me explain why. The argument has a few premises and needs to develop. Bear with me.
First, I believe passionately in freedom of speech and freedom of expression so long as people aren’t inciting violence or impacting upon the rights of others.
Second, freedom of speech and expression depends absolutely on there being no legal right not to be offended.
People desecrating memorials are offending others first and foremost and freedom of expression demands no legal right not to be offended.
Offending people is not a crime.
Criminal damage is a criminal offence but why make the penalty for defacing one type of public edifice greater than others if not due to offence?
I’m all in favour of criminal damage charges being brought but my support for freedom of expression means I can’t support any extension of criminal penalty because of offence.
It’s not like we’re discussing someone urinating on a Chelsea pensioner here, monuments are things, however symbolic and they mean different things to different people.
It’s interesting that the further our society goose-steps to the right the more we Revere militaristic symbolism. This is a pattern that the world has seen several times before.
Freedom of expression means prosecuting what has actually happened rather than adding stuff on because we disagree with someone’s sentiment. Many BAME citizens can make a really strong argument against glorifying both world wars which really were white, European wars that colonised people’s were forced to die in by their European overlords.
Not everyone will agree with that viewpoint but it is sincerely held by many.
So prosecute the actual crime – don’t add other penalties just because your perspective differs from theirs. Most UK citizens would disagree with the blasphemy laws some very religious, even theocratic states uphold and the harsh penalties that await those who ‘offend’ the faithful.
How is this any different, except that it’s an offence taken from our perspective rather than from someone else’s?