Sunday, 12 April 2015

Mind the Gap - The Difference between Freedom of Expression and Freedom to Insult

The GMH March Meeting shoud have been "Mind the Gap - The Difference between Freedom of Expression and Freedom to Insult” by Anjum Anwar MBE. Unfortunately she was not able to speak due to her father being taken ill suddenly. 

Since many of those attending would not have had the opportunity to read the email forewarning of this it was decided to change the format of the meeting to one of open discussion on the same topic. And as a reference point for the discussion we would use Kenan Malik’s recent blog outlining some of the arguments against the frequently touted ‘I believe in free speech but …’ statements. The meeting thus proceeded on that basis. While there was general agreement with Kenan Malik’s arguments, on the part of most of those present, there was nevertheless a lively discussion. Vice chair Guy Otten was able to proffer the Muslim viewpoint in appropriate places and Aisha Ahmed herself an ex Muslim explained how through her own experiences of dealing with Muslim friends and family, she has observed that: many Muslims; a) are not exposed to critical thinking, b) see any sign of irreverence against the prophet, almost as a personal attack on themselves, but c) don’t wish any physical harm on the perpetrators as a result.

Questions were raised about why some Muslims see it as necessary to kill people for their disbelief, while members of other religions don’t take such a view (although during the time of the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition quite the opposite was the case). No conclusion was reached on this point. Other points discussed included the right to offend, not looking for a fight, discussing one’s views in the workplace (or not) and the need to work productively with others with differing beliefs in the workplace.  There seemed to be a general consensus at the end of the meeting that despite the speaker’s absence the meeting had been worthwhile. And it was suggested that we should repeat the session but from a non-Muslim standpoint, so involving speakers from other (perhaps extreme) religious backgrounds. 

Hustings at Stockport

On Wednesday March 18th Stockport Humanists had a pre-election Hustings with five speakers.

For UKIP Darran Palmer emphasised his desire to pull out of the EU which he said was undemocratic and bureaucratic. He wanted an Australian-style points system for immigrants. Savings made by leaving the EU would be spent on the National Health Service and issues of health tourism and too many middle managers in the NHS would also be addressed.

For the Conservative Party Sid Lloyd said that Labour had ruined the economy although it was not responsible for the recession. He shared the UKIP view of leaving the EU. He defended the coalition and said that there was now a faster growth rate that would be even faster if they had a majority Conservative government.

Martin Miller for the Labour Party announced that he was a Roman Catholic and also works for the Anglican diocese of Manchester. Labour had failed to regulate the markets which had failed to balance supply and demand. They took unprecedented risks with our money and the subsequent collapse in tax revenues led to the deficit. The Tories failed to address the deficit by not getting in the tax revenues. Many people are on zero hours contracts. The economy is smaller than before the recession and investment is needed.

Iain Roberts for the Liberal Democrats wants a fairer society and a stronger economy for everyone. Fewer than 60 Liberal Democrat MPs had made a real difference. He was proud of the pupil premium, the scrapping of ID cards, the apprenticeship scheme, green deals. Under the coalition rich people pay more tax and the poor less. He thinks we need immigrants. He wants to stay in the EU, increase spending on the NHS by £8bn by 2020, have an evidence based drugs policy, build more houses and have a liberal international policy.

Charlotte Farrell for the Green Party believes that humans are rooted in the environment and that a healthy society depends on co-operation. Whilst other parties talk of growth, Climate change means the growth cannot continue indefinitely because of an unsustainable pressure on resources. There is a great deal of debt to the private banking centre much of it involving the poorest 90%. Debt sucks money out of the economy. There needs to be a change in the monetary system so that it is taken from the banks and given to democratic control. The Green Party is the only one with realistic policies to tackle Climate Change.

Questions were asked on:

Religious Selection in Faith Schools. The Greens wished to put admissions policy back to local authority control, UKIP prefers state schools and would revert to Grammar and Secondary Modern schools, the rest had no plans to change the existing system

Retention of the Human Rights Act. UKIP would pull out of EU HR Act and have a UK Bill of Rights. The Conservatives were split and the others would retain it.

Wealth Tax. Greens wanted wealth tax of 2%, Labour would reinstate top rate of income tax and tax assets and wealth, Lib Dems wanted more tax and less welfare reduction, Tories want reduction in tax and more cuts, UKIP would fund everything by withdrawing from EU

How to Restore Faith in Democracy. Lib Dems want better local infrastructure and some devolution; Greens want to give power back to local authorities; UKIP says if roads had been kept up to date it wouldn’t be costing so much; Conservatives point to the Devolution to Manchester of Integrated Health and Social Care; Labour wanted to grow the economy.

Humanist Marriage. Lib Dems were in favour; the other parties had no plans but would personally not oppose such marriages.

Rights for Non-married Couples (same as married?).UKIP wanted to extend Civil Partnerships to non-gays; Labour didn’t want to interfere with the different models of family; Lib Dems wanted no special favours for married couples; and the Greens wanted children and parental responsibilities to be taken into account.

Asylum Seekers. All were agreed that we had a duty to take in genuine Asylum Seekers but should we be taking them from other safe countries such as EU?

Assisted Dying. Labour and Liberal Democrats had not party line and it would be a matter of conscience, Greens thought the law was outmoded as medical science has advanced so much, UKIP wanted a public referendum on the issue, and the Conservative hope he would never be put in that position as right to life superseded everything.

Safety Around Abortion Clinics. None of the candidates wanted women to be intimidated even when they were personally opposed to abortion. But buffer zones were clearly something they had not thought about.

Why Have Faith Schools at all. The Liberal Democrat was uncomfortable about State funded religious schools, but thought there were more important things to worry about, the rest were happy that they should remain.
The evening ended with a brief summing up from each of the speakers