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Lost tolerance is asking for trouble.

The trouble with using the law to try to control the things we say, and perhaps - if this government had its way - how we think, is that it makes us focus our minds on what other people say, which is not always a good thing.

When I first lived in London in the mid Seventies I used to take the children to "Speakers' corner" on Sunday mornings to listen to the people who came to air their views.

Although mainly men, they were of all ages and sizes from varying ethnic backgrounds.

A few were attired in smart suits, others looked like beggars. Some appeared as if they were acting or delivering a sermon whereas others tried to engage you in conversation.

While many subjects were covered the main thrust of their diatribe was politics and religion.

At times the debate between them and their onlookers became very heated. Threats and abuse were exchanged.

This usually happened when a speaker said something which incensed a particular section or individual in the audience.

These outbursts were few and far between and the police officer patrolling the event would step in to quieten things down before they got out of hand.

The majority of people who went to see this event did so because it was exciting and unusual. It was a "must-see" on the tourist map and attracted people from across the world.

However, it was not taken too seriously. Individual speakers with the most extreme, violent or outrageous views were openly laughed at and shouted down by the audience. They were dismissed for what they were, loud-mouthed bigots.

When the event ended people walked away chattering about the various speakers and topics but they didn't dwell on the extremists who told us our monarchy should be abolished; our church was a sham; our politicians were corrupt and we all came from evil devils.

And this is the crux of the matter. In those days we were prepared to tolerate other people's views, however outrageous they were.

Providing they were prepared to do the same in return.

This is no longer the case because elements within our society have convinced politicians they should be protected from any remark which offends them and, those who transgress should be dealt with by the courts.

Quite apart from putting the police in a very difficult position in trying to determine which remark, and under what circumstance, should be prosecuted we all begin to feel aggrieved by any transgression by those who sought the protection of the law in the first case.

We lose our tolerance if we sense unfairness. Moreover, the more extreme the reaction by those who claim they have been wronged the more we dig our heels in and demand equality.

All of which tends to exacerbate rather than heal the divisions within our society.

The majority of people within this country are now very reticent about expressing their views on religion, race or gender in public. But, they still have them and, without an outlet these may fester and lead to hatred.

This is especially so if they perceive those who demanded the introduction of gagging legislation are allowed to speak or act in an offensive manner with apparent immunity.

While I am not for one moment suggesting we should not protect minorities within our society it should not be done in a way which undermines the freedom of the majority.

Otherwise we are asking for trouble.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Feb 7, 2006
Words:576
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