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Fire! Fire! Fire! Now you’ve heard it. Not shouted in a crowded theatre, admittedly. As I realize, I seem now to have shouted it in the Hogwarts dining room. But the point is made, everyone knows the fatuous verdict of the greatly overpraised Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who asked for an actual example of when it would be proper to limit speech or defy it as an action, gave that of shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre. It’s very often forgotten what he was doing in that case was sending to prison a group of Yiddish-speaking socialists, whose literature was printed in a language most Americans couldn’t read, opposing President Wilson’s participation in the First World War, and the dragging of the United States into this sanguinary conflict, which the Yiddish-speaking socialists have fled from Russia to escape.

In fact, it could be just as plausibly argued that the Yiddish-speaking socialists who were jailed by the excellent and over-praised Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes were the real firefighters; were the ones who were shouting ‘fire’ when there really was fire in a very crowded theatre indeed. And who is to decide? Well, keep that question, if you would, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, I hope I may say comrades and friends, before your minds. I exempt myself from the speaker’s kind offer of protection that was so generously proffered at the opening of this evening. Anyone who wants to say anything abusive about or to me is quite free to do so, and welcome, in fact…at their own risk. And before they do that, they must have taken, as I’m sure we all should, a short refresher course in the classic texts on this matter, which are John Milton’s Areopagitica, Areopagitica being the great hill of Athens for discussion and free expression, Thomas Paine’s introduction to The Age Of Reason, and I would say John Stuart Mill’s essay On Liberty, in which it is variously said. Also, I’ll be very daring and summarize all three of these great gentlemen of the great tradition of especially English liberty in one go. What they say is it’s not just the right of the person who speaks to be heard.

It is the right of everyone in the audience to listen and to hear, and every time you silence somebody, you make yourself a prisoner of your own action because you deny yourself the right to hear something. In other words, your own right to hear and be exposed is as much involved in all these cases as is the right of the other to voice his or her view. Indeed, as John Stuart Mill said, if all in society were agreed on the truth and beauty and value of one proposition, all except one person, it will be most important–In fact, it would become even more important–that that one heretic be heard because we would still benefit from his perhaps outrageous or appalling view. In more modern times, this has been put, I think, best by a personal heroine of mine, Rosa Luxemburg, who said that the freedom of speech is meaningless unless it means the freedom of the person who thinks differently. My great friend, John O’Sullivan, former editor of The National Review, and I think, probably my most conservative and reactionary Catholic friend, once said, “Uh… It’s a tiny thought experiment.” He says, if you hear the pope saying he believes in God, you think, well, the pope’s doing his job again today. If you hear the pope saying he’s really begun to doubt the existence of God, you begin to think he might be onto something.

Well, if everybody in North America is forced to attend school training in sensitivity on Holocaust awareness and is taught to study the final solution, about which nothing was actually done by this country, or North America, or the United Kingdom while it was going on, but let’s say, as if in compensation for that, everyone’s made to swallow an official and unalterable story of it now. And it’s taught as the great moral exemplar, the moral equivalent of the morally lacking elements of the Second World War, a way of stilling our uneasy conscience about that combat. If that’s the case with everybody, as it more or less is, then one person gets up and says, “You know what, this Holocaust? I’m not sure it even happened. In fact, I’m pretty certain it didn’t. Indeed, I begin to wonder if the only thing is that the Jews brought a little bit of violence on themselves.” That person doesn’t just have a right to speak, that person’s right to speak must be given extra protection because what he has to say must have taken him some effort to come up with; might be–might contain a grain of historical truth; um…might, in any case, give people to think about why do they know what they already think they know? How do I know that I know this except that I’ve always been taught this and never heard anything else? It’s always worth establishing first principles.

It’s always worth saying, “What would you do if you met a Flat-Earth Society member?” “Come to think of it, how can I prove the earth is round?” “Am I sure about the theory of evolution? I know it’s supposed to be true, here’s someone who says there’s no such thing, it’s all intelligent design. How sure am I of my own views?” Don’t take refuge in the false security of consensus and the feeling that whatever you think, you’re bound to be okay because you’re in the safely moral majority. One of the proudest moments of my life, that’s to say in the recent past, has been defending the British historian, David Irving, who is now in prison in Austria for nothing more than the potential of uttering an unwelcome thought on Austrian soil. He didn’t actually say anything in Austria; he wasn’t even accused of saying it; he was accused of perhaps planning to say something that violated an Austrian law that says, “only one version of the history of the Second World War may be taught in our brave, little Tyrolean republic, the republic that gave us Kurt Waldheim, a Secretary-General of the United Nations, a man wanted in several countries for war crimes. You know, the country that gave–that has Jorg Haider, the leader of its fascist party, in the cabinet that sent David Irving to jail. You know the two things that have made Austria famous, given it its reputation by any chance?

Just while I’ve got you, I hope there are some Austrians here to be upset by it. Well, a pity if not, but the two great achievements of Austria are to have convinced the world that Hitler was German and Beethoven was Viennese. Now, to this proud record, they can add, they have the courage, finally, to face their past and lock up a British historian who’s committed no crime except that of thought and writing and that’s a scandal. And I can’t find a seconder, usually, when I propose this, but I don’t care. I don’t need a seconder, my own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, anyplace, anytime, and anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number… get in line… and kiss my ass!

Now, I don’t know how many of you feel you’re not grown-up enough to decide this for yourselves and think you need to be protected from David Irving’s edition of The Goebbels Diaries, for example. Out of that book, I learned more about the Third Reich than I had from studying Hugh Trevor-Roper and A.J.P. Taylor combined when I was at Oxford. But for those of you who do, I’d recommend another short course of revision. Go again and see not just the film and the play but also read the text of Robert Bolt’s wonderful play, Man For All Seasons. Some of you must have seen it where Sir Thomas More decides that he would rather die than lie or betray his faith. At one moment, More is arguing with a particularly vicious witch-hunting prosecutor, a servant of the king, and a hungry and ambitious man. More says to this man, “you’d break the law to punish the devil, wouldn’t you?” The prosecutor, the witch-hunter, says, “break it?!” He said, “I’d cut down every law in England if I could do that, if I could capture him.” More says, “yes, you would, wouldn’t you? And then when you corner the devil and the devil turned around to meet you, where would you run for protection? All the laws of England having been cut down and flattened, who would protect you then?”

Bear in mind, ladies and gentlemen, that every time you violate or propose to violate the free speech of someone else, you are making a rod for your own back because the other question raised by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is simply this: “who’s going to decide—to whom do you award the right to decide which speech is harmful?” Or who is the harmful speaker? Or to determine in advance what are the harmful consequences going to be that we know enough about in advance to prevent? To whom would you give this job? To whom are you going to award the task of being the censor? Isn’t it a famous old story that the man who has to read all the pornography to decide what’s fit to be passed and what is fit not to be is the man most likely to become debauched? Did you hear any speaker in opposition to this motion, eloquent as one of them was, to whom you would delegate the task of deciding for you what you could read? Who would, to me, give the job of deciding for you and relieve you of the responsibility of hearing what you might have to hear?

Do you know anyone? Hands up. Do you know anyone to whom you would give this job? Does anyone have a nominee? You mean there’s no one in Canada good enough to decide what I can read or hear? I had no idea. But there’s a law that says there must be such a person, or there’s a subsection of some piddling law that says it. Well, to hell with that law then. It’s inviting you to be liars and hypocrites and to deny what you evidently know already. About the censorious instinct, we basically know all that we need to know, and we’ve known it for a long time. It comes from an old story about another great Englishman. Sorry to sound so particular about that this evening, Dr. Samuel Johnson, the great lexicographer, author of the first–compiler, I should say–of the first great dictionary of the English language. When it was complete, Dr. Johnson was waited upon by various delegations of people to congratulate him, of the nobility of the quality; the commons, the lords; and also by a delegation of respectable ladies of London who tended on him in his Fleet Street lodgings and congratulated him.

“Dr. Johnson,” they said, “we are delighted to find that you’ve not included any indecent or obscene words in your dictionary.” “Ladies,” said Dr. Johnson, “I congratulate you on being able to look them up.” Anyone who can understand that joke, and I’m pleased to see that about 10% of you can, gets the point about censorship, especially prior restraint, as it’s known in the United States, where it’s banned by the First Amendment to the Constitution. It may not be determined in advance what words are apt or inapt. No one has the knowledge that would be required to make that call, and more to the point, one has to suspect the motives of those who do so–in particular, the motives of those who are determined to be offended; of those who will go through a treasure house of English, like Dr. Johnson’s first lexicon, in search of filthy words to satisfy themselves and some instinct about which I dare not speculate.

Now I am absolutely convinced that the main source of hatred in the world is religion and organized religion, absolutely convinced of it. (Applause) And I’m glad that you applaud because it’s a very great problem for those who oppose this motion, isn’t it? How are they going to ban religion? How are they going to stop the expression of religious loathing, hatred, and bigotry? I speak of someone who’s a fairly regular target of this and not just in rhetorical form. I have been the target of many death threats. I know within the short distance of where I’m currently living in Washington, I can name two or three people whose names you’d probably know who can’t go anywhere now without a security detail because of the criticisms they’ve made of one monotheism in particular.

This is in the capital city of the United States, so I know what I’m talking about. And I also have to notice that the sort of people who ring me up and say they know where my children go to school– and they certainly know what my home number is, and where I live, and what they’re going to do to them and to my wife and to me, and who I have to take seriously because they have done it to people I know– are just the people who are going to seek the protection of the hate speech law if I say what I think about their religion…which I am now going to do.

Because I don’t have any, what you might call, ethnic bias. I’ve no grudge of that sort. I can rub along with pretty much anyone of any, as it were, origin or sexual orientation or language group…except people from Yorkshire, of course. Who are completely untakeable. And I’m beginning to resent the confusion that’s being imposed on us now, and there was some of it this evening between, uh, religious belief, blasphemy, ethnicity, profanity, and what one might call multicultural etiquette.

It’s quite common now for people to use the expression, for example, “anti-Islamic racism” as if an attack on a religion was an attack on an ethnic group. The word “Islamophobia,” in fact, is beginning to acquire the opprobrium of the– that was once reserved for racial prejudice. This is a subtle and very nasty insinuation that needs to be met head-on.

Who said, “what if Falwell says he hates fags? What if people act upon that?” The Bible says you have to hate fags. If Falwell says he’s saying it ’cause the Bible says so, he’s right. Yes, it might make people go out and use violence, what you gonna do about that? You’re up against a group of people who will say, “you– don’t you put your hands on our Bible or we’ll call the hate speech police!” Now what are you gonna do when you’ve dug that trap for yourself?

Somebody said that anti-Semitism and Kristallnacht in Germany was the result of ten years of Jew-baiting. Ten years?! You must be joking! It’s the result of 2,000 years of Christianity, based on one verse of one chapter of St. John’s gospel, which led to a pogrom after every Easter sermon every year for hundreds of years, because it claims that the Jews demanded the blood of Christ be on the heads of themselves and all their children to the remotest generation. That’s the warrant and license for and incitement to anti-Jewish pogroms. What are you going to do about that? Where’s your piddling subsection now? Does it say St. John’s gospel must be censored?

Do I, who have read Freud and know what the future of an illusion really is, and know that religious belief is ineradicable as long as we remain as stupid, poorly-evolved mammalian species, think that some Canadian law is gonna solve this problem?

Please, our problem is this: our prefrontal lobes are too small, our adrenaline glands are too big, and our thumb-finger opposition isn’t all that it might be. We’re afraid of the dark, afraid to die, and we believe in the truths of holy books that are so stupid and fabricated that a child can see through them – and all children do, as you can tell by their questions. And I think religion should be treated with ridicule, hatred, and contempt. *BRAVO* And I claim that right. Now let’s not dance around; not all monotheisms are exactly the same. At the moment, they’re all based on the same illusion – they’re all plagiarisms of each other, but there’s one in particular that, at the moment, is proposing a serious menace not just to freedom of speech and freedom of expression, but to quite a lot of other freedoms too. And this is the religion that exhibits the horrible trio of self-hatred, self-righteousness, and self-pity. I’m talking about militant Islam. Globally, it’s a gigantic power. It controls an enormous amount of oil wealth, several large countries and states with an enormous fortune. It’s pumping the ideology of Wahhabism and Salafism around the world, poisoning societies where it goes, ruining the minds of children, stultifying the young in its madrasses, training people in violence, making a cult of death and suicide and murder.

That’s what militant Islam does globally; it’s quite strong. In our societies, it poses as a cringing minority whose faith you might offend, which deserves all the protection that a small and vulnerable group might need. Now, it makes quite large claims for itself, doesn’t it? It says it’s the final revelation. It says that God spoke to one illiterate businessman in the Arabian Peninsula three times through an archangel, and that the resulting material, which as you can see when you read it, is largely plagiarized from the Old and New Testament, almost all of it, actually, plagiarized ineptly from the Old and New Testament, is to be accepted as a divine revelation and as the final and unalterable one. And that those who do not accept this revelation are fit to be treated as cattle, infidels, potential chattel, slaves, and victims. Well, I tell you what, I don’t think Muhammad ever heard those voices; I don’t believe it. Now, the likelihood that I’m right as opposed to the likelihood that a shepherd who couldn’t– businessman– who couldn’t read, had bits of the Old and New Testament re-dictated to him by an archangel, I think puts me much more near the position of being objectively correct. But who is the one under threat? The person who promulgates this and says, “I’d better listen because if I don’t, I’m in danger”? Or me, who says, “No, I think this is so silly, you can even publish a cartoon about it.”

…And up go the placards, and up go the yells and the howls and the screams “BEHEAD THOSE!” This is in London, this is in Toronto, this is in New York, it’s right in our midst now. “Behead those! Behead those who cartoon Islam!” Do they get arrested for hate speech? No. Might I get in trouble for saying what I’ve just said about the Prophet Muhammad? Yes, I might. Where are your priorities, ladies and gentlemen? You’re giving away what’s most precious in your own society, and you’re giving it away without a fight, and you’re even praising the people who want to deny you the right to resist it. Shame on you while you do this. Make the best use of the time you’ve got left.

This is really serious. Now… if you look anywhere you like–because we’ve had invocations of a rather driveling and sickly kind tonight of our sympathy, “What about the poor fags? What about the poor Jews, the wretched women who can’t take the abuse? and the slaves and their descendants, and the tribes who didn’t make it and were told that their land was forfeit.” Look anywhere you like for the warrant for slavery, for the subjection of women as chattel, for the burning and flogging of homosexuals, for ethnic cleansing, for anti-Semitism–for all of this, you look no further than a famous book that’s on every pulpit in this city and in every synagogue and in every mosque. And then just see whether you can square the fact that the force that is the main source of hatred is also the main caller for censorship. And when you’ve realized that, you’re, therefore, this evening, faced with a gigantic false antithesis. I hope that still won’t stop you from giving the motion before you the resounding endorsement that it deserves. Thanks awfully. Night-night. Stay cool! :)

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