'Feeling-Crime'? REALLY?!

I am pretty sure that everyone has that one friend who has an absolutely colossal catalogue of gratuitous or riotous jokes and anecdotes stored away in their brain. Occasionally they […]

I am pretty sure that everyone has that one friend who has an absolutely colossal catalogue of gratuitous or riotous jokes and anecdotes stored away in their brain. Occasionally they may bring one out, leaving people either awkwardly laughing, or standing covering their mouths with one hand due to being shocked and appalled by what they have just heard. While someone may be offended and might give the joker a strong verbal chiding as they try to forget such an unpleasant or borderline sadistic punchline, usually nothing really comes of it and it is soon forgotten as people get on with their day with maybe a couple of lingering thoughts of ‘that guy is a bit of a dick’.

But it appears that in this country, ‘being a bit of a dick’ is fast becoming a criminal offence, as we have another cavalcade of cases appearing in court featuring people who have said something on the internet and had it deemed offensive. Matthew Woods was sent to prison on the 8th of October for 12 weeks for making some rather tasteless remarks on Facebook about April Jones, the five year old girl currently missing in Wales, and Azhar Ahmed was similarly sentenced to community service on the 9th of October after several strongly-worded comments wishing death upon British troops in Afghanistan.

More and more often, people are being arrested and sometimes sent down for posting comments on Twitter or Facebook. To me this is not only absurd, but it is also a dangerous and, to use a cliché, Orwellian precedent to set.  How can we possibly legislate what we as a society deem as offensive? The very nature of being offended is an utterly subjective concept, and what one person finds utterly outrageous and disgusting could be thought to be just fine and dandy by someone else. What possible standard can we try to introduce to say one thing is acceptable and one thing is not?

Yet this country appears to be trying a rubber stamp approach, fencing off certain areas in order to create some kind of safe and nicey-nicey world in which, god-forbid, anyone finds something offensive and has their gentle sensibilities hurt.  This is a very slippery slope and the threat of it, whilst sounding alarmist, is very real. When we start muzzling people like this, it can only end badly, especially when we have decided that it is mere case of majority rules in which, if enough people have their feelings hurt, someone can get locked away.

Free Speech is something that all of us in this country seem to take for granted. Nowadays, it is being cracked down upon and whittled away to the extent in which we are prosecuting people for hurting people’s feelings. Free Speech does not only cover saying what your opinion is without reprisals; it also gives you the right to be as foul, unpleasant and vile as you feel the need to be.

Sure, people may find  what you say unpleasant, but no one has the right not to be offended. Sure, people can kick and scream and whip up a fuss but that is in their right as well since in the same way that no one has the right not to be offended and no one has the right to be free from criticism. But now, if we are saying that if enough people find something offensive we can chuck the object of their animosity in jail, all of this just breaks down, and we are heading dangerously close to censorship.

Do I condone or agree with what people like Woods and Ahmed have said? Of course not, but the right to be able to say (and write) what we want when we want without fear of the state stepping in is something that is priceless. I dread to think how far we can travel down this road of ‘Feeling-Crime’, but we need to wake up as a nation and stand against it. I imagine  that a lot of people are utterly appalled by the comments that this current pair of apparent criminals have made, and are standing nodding with pleased looks on their faces, happy to see these men locked up. I challenge them to just really think about what this all means and consider whether teaching these fairly ineloquent and less than charming men a lesson is really worth starting to cut the cords tenuously tethering us to our sense of the worth of Free Speech.

With these two cases ending in prosecutions, in a sense the damage is done, but it is not damage that is unfixable. As a country, we need to remember why Free Speech is so important to us, and just frankly get over it if we are offended. We need to put our foot down and simply say that this has gone too far. Woods and Ahmed must have their convictions overturned; we cannot allow this precedent to stand.

I hope more people will join this cause before it gets to the state in which law enforcement not only have the right to punish people for slightly nasty comments, but to freely censor any film, literature, music or art that is considered to disagreeable for the seemingly delicate British public.