Let’s Never Heil Humza

BY EFFIE DEANS

Nicola Sturgeon once said that independence transcends everything else. This is the main problem with the SNP. It also explains what might appear to be otherwise unrelated issues.

Humza Yousaf has explained that he wants to punish Scots for having insulting conversations at home. While we would retain the right to be offensive anyone stirring up hatred against various protected groups will be prosecuted. What this means is that we would no longer be allowed to speak freely in our own homes.

Let’s just give an example, which is intentionally stirring up hatred against Muslims. Are we saying that that is justified because it is in the home?”

Well it depends on what he means by stirring up hatred.

Let’s say I organised a terrorist group with the goal of bombing and killing Muslims. If I gathered a group of people to carry out that goal, then clearly our conversations would be stirring up hatred. But the crimes that we would be committing are already covered by legislation. If I plan any crime at home, I am liable to get into trouble with the law.

So, if Mr Yousaf does not intend stirring up hatred to mean planning to commit crimes against Muslims what can he mean?

Mr Yousaf wrote on Twitter:

If you invite 10 mates round & it can be proven beyond reasonable doubt that you intentionally stirred up hatred against Jews, why should this not be prosecuted. It would if you did so down the pub but not in your house?

Well again, if I organised a group to beat up Jews or burn down their houses this would be stirring up hatred. But this is already covered by other laws.

Let’s say I invite these 10 friends and we start making anti-Semitic remarks. Let’s say we describe Jewish people in stereotypical and offensive ways. Let’s say we single out Israel for particular hatred and blame Israelis for all the problems in the world. Is this stirring up hatred?

What if these 10 friends didn’t know any Jews and were simply expressing their ignorance and hatred? What if no Jewish person would ever come into contact with their hatred? Is that still stirring up hatred?

Well what if I organised a group of people who were hostile to the Jewish religion. Let’s say that we liked to draw cartoons of Abraham in a grossly insulting manner. Let’s say we liked to depict Adam and Eve having sex and made fun of every story from the Jewish Bible. Let’s say we denied that God existed and depicted Him in an insulting way. Let’s say we made fun of Jewish religious practices and mocked the ceremonies that took place in Jewish homes and synagogues. Would that be stirring up hatred?

It’s still hard to see how it could be stirring up hatred unless Jewish people found out about our group and its actions. I may hate you, but unless you are aware of my hate how have I harmed you? Or does Mr Yousaf think that it is enough that I merely think hateful things or feel hatred towards someone for this to be a crime?

Well what if I stage a play based on the Life of Moses. I might call it the Life of Mo. In this play I might make fun of Moses and the Jewish people who followed him. I might satirise all aspects of the Jewish religion and describe it as lies and nonsense. What if some Jewish people came to my play and found it hateful and said that I was stirring up hatred against them. Would Mr Yousaf like to put me in jail?

The danger of this is that people from the protected groups might find it hateful if for instance I suggested that it is as impossible for a man to become a woman as it is for a cow to become a bull and that if you cut off a bull’s pizzle you won’t get any milk from it. I might likewise say that my understanding of the word “marriage” precludes a man marrying a man or a woman marrying a woman. I might also express that I disagree with the aims of Black Lives Matter. I can imagine that certain people would find these views hateful. If so, would I be committing a crime if they found out that I had been discussing such issues in my own home?   

The problem with Mr Yousaf’s views on hate is that it is entirely unclear where the line is between being offensive and someone else finding my views so objectionable that they amount to stirring up hatred.

What is he trying to achieve?

At one point or another nearly everyone in Scotland has said something hateful in private about someone with one of Mr Yousaf’s protected qualifications. Unless he wants to turn Scotland into a jail it simply won’t be practicable to punish private conversations. But it also won’t be necessary.

Jewish people would probably not object to a play about Moses. Christians won’t mind very much if our religion is satirised. Most people in Scotland won’t mind much so long as I don’t treat them with prejudice or say horrible things to them in the street. We usually allow people the right to disagree about controversial issues and few of us would want to convict someone even if we thought his views were hateful and disgusting. This is because we come from a country that believes in freedom of speech and freedom of thought.

But not everyone in Scotland believes in freedom of speech and freedom of thought. There are some people who think that it is forbidden to change your religion and that doing so should be punished by law. There are some people who think that religious law ought to be expressed in the law of the land. There are some people too who think that their religious books and the major figures of their religions ought to be protected by the law from insult or indeed from being depicted at all. Mr Yousaf is appealing to these people. Why is he doing so? He is doing so to win their votes. He is doing so because he wants to them to vote for Scottish independence. He is suggesting to them that an independent Scotland would be a place that better fitted in with their world view and would indeed protect it. He is doing so because independence transcends everything including freedom of speech and freedom of thought.

The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.