Homophobia breeds when we silence opinions we don’t like. For democracy’s sake, Jan Moir owes no apologies for her opinions, just coherent reasons, says Adrian Tippetts.
A columnist cocooned in the Kensington offices of Associated Newspapers is the least likely person to provide an educated insight into Stephen Gately’s death and how it could have been prevented. Jan Moir has no medical qualifications we are aware of and her only known skill is stringing sentences together. Even so, commentators are, after all, paid to speculate and pose uncomfortable questions. A young man has dropped dead, for goodness’ sake. Of course we are concerned who the third man might be, though we are no better informed at the end of her completely forgettable piece, since sexual activity is not in and of itself fatal, however many people are involved.
Demonising sexual activity and upsetting the snow white image of the recently departed is ill-timed, spiteful, bordering on the hysterical. But that is an issue she must resolve with no one but Gately’s close friends and family. It is not an attack on the gay community, and she has no business to apologise to the nation for this.
Anger is justified, though, when she makes the ludicrous, nonsensical claim that this single incident has anything to say about same sex partnerships across the whole nation. Underneath it lies the insinuation that “this is what gay people are like aren’t they?” Slanderous and demeaning gibberish her comments may be, I cringe at the way the gay community deals with unpleasant opinion like this. Complaints to the Press Complaints Commission have topped 22,000 and now adding to the stupidity, the Manchester-based Lesbian & Gay Foundation (LGF) has even reported her article to the police as a hate ‘incident’.
The LGF’s slogan is ‘ending homophobia, empowering people’. But silencing viewpoints is more likely to breed homophobia than end it. How, other than by debate, does one challenge prejudice? When we deny the freedom to speak each time we hear something we don’t like, as Thomas Paine reminds us, everyone becomes a slave to their own opinions.
Freedom of speech is not just about the right to speak your mind. It is also the right to listen, to have opinions of all sides exposed to scrutiny. It has no value without the freedom to think differently. Moir gives expression to doubts that are lingering in the back of many people’s minds. For all we know, there may even be a grain of truth, somewhere among her bizarre utterances.
Reason is a far more formidable weapon than an ASBO in searching for the truth. With Moir, as with a BNP member or a fanatical religious street preacher, I simply ask her to give us the extraordinary evidence that backs up her extraordinary claims, and the matter is closed. So far, she has been subjected to a wave of abuse and condemnation. Understandable it may be, it does not call her reasoning to account.
When we bully people with opinions we don’t like into silence, or threaten them with court action, we are in effect acting as judge and jury over what may be said or thought. The sinister consequences of this route to totalitarianism were spelt out in Robert Bolt’s ‘A man for all seasons’, a play about the trial of Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas More. Before his fall from power, More is concerned a devious courtier may be plotting against him. But even so, he resists calls from William Roper, his son in law, to have him arrested, as the plotter in question has broken no law:
- Roper: “So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!”
- More: “What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?”
- Roper: “Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!”
- More: “Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s. And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!”
Moir only hurt people’s feelings; there is no law against that. She called for no harm against any individual. Banning hurt feelings may seem an easy route to utopia. But who is to decide which feelings are more sacred and to whom do we award the task of deciding, in advance, the possible consequences of speech?
I don’t feel like awarding this task to the LGF, especially after being told that because I opposed the decision to report Moir, I myself am now part of the problem. Well, I refuse to recant before this self-appointed inquisition. For the LGF should bear in mind the slippery slope they risk dragging us all down. Hurt feelings is the excuse given by fanatics, determined to be offended enough to throw acid in the faced of unveiled girls in Kabul. The BNP’s Nick Griffin finds our very presence “creepy”. Should we award his feelings the right to protection, too? Or how about the screaming, placard-waving Christian fundamentalist crackpots at gay pride: might I be arrested for ridiculing them because they believe the Earth to be 6,012 years old?
Before you scoff at these scenarios, bear in mind that after Channel 4 exposed the imams who called for the murder of gays and Jews, West Midlands Police first sought to prosecute the programme makers. They reasoned these revelations in the resulting documentary, ‘Undercover Mosque’, could potentially incite hatred against the whole Muslim community.
The way to avoid this nonsense, therefore, is to defend to the death the right of others to say what we disagree with, especially when they are as appalling as Moir’s. We must have faith in the critical abilities of people to reason and think for themselves. We become a fairer, more democratic, less bigoted society when we open debate and scrutinise all opinions.
To hell, therefore, with an apology from Moir: all I want from her is a coherent reason why the death of one individual calls into question every same sex relationship from Land’s End to Lerwick. I will not rest until I get one. Further than that, she should take inspiration from the 1st Duke of Wellington’s famous retort, ‘publish and be damned!’, and face the consequences.