Monday, October 30, 2006

Flag burning in the UK

The London Metropolitan Police want to criminalise flag burning. Their reason?

Tarique Ghaffur, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, told BBC Radio Five Live that Britain was seen as soft on extremist demonstrators. "There appears to be a growing public perception that policing of demonstrations is unduly lenient," he said. "The reason this is a great country is the tolerance of people. If they start to see images of people who seem to be 'getting away with it', that starts to erode."

"Getting away with" what, exactly? This isn't about violent protests - the police can already arrest and charge those who run riot and smash windows. Neither is it about those who supposedly threaten lives - the police have shown they are willing to prosecute those who make abstract statements advocating killing people (at least if they're Muslim - the BNP of course gets a free ride for much, much worse). No, what these protestors are "getting away with" is voicing unpopular opinions that the government does not want to hear. The opinions themselves are not criminal, and cannot be criminalised - so instead, they are trying to create a new offence of flag burning to use as a proxy to allow them to arrest and harass those people for their views. Just another step on the UK's road away from being a free society...


I saw an article earlier this year that went over some of the arguments against similar legislation in the US. Basically it came down to the legal definition as to how the flag looked and, then, how easy it would be to get your point across while still being inside the law.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/30/2006 12:15:00 PM

A step New Zealand took a quarter-century ago: Flags, Emblems and Names Protection Act 1981 Section 11(1)(b).

Posted by Anonymous : 10/30/2006 12:48:00 PM

Anon: indeed - and subsequently gutted by the affirmation of freedom of expression in the BORA. That law is now effectively a dead letter, and I am seeking an MP to front a Member's Bill to repeal it.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/30/2006 01:13:00 PM

Hang on, doubleyou-tee-eff?

"This country is great because it's tolerant. Therefore we need to become less tolerant."


Posted by Repton : 10/30/2006 02:17:00 PM

Argh, flag burning again. Honestly, I can't see why the proponents of such arguments around symbolism and meaning in flags don't see the illogic in chanting "The flag symbolises what we stand for, you shouldn't be able to burn the flag". What is it we stand for again...

...which is something that always pissed me off in the NZ flag debate - the old 'soliders fought and died for this flag, if you change it it dishonours them'. Bollocks, they fought and died for the very freedom of changing the flag, to challenge, debate and protest... it was the Nazis who fought for the flag. Damn, just invoked Goodwin's law.

Posted by Lewis Holden : 10/30/2006 04:41:00 PM

I guess the flag symbolizes whatever it is that the person burning it thinks it symbolizes.
Probably the nation. So burning it is the equivalent of saying "I want to (and will?) burn the nation" or something similar.

If we were to decide that that was not legal (along the lines of saying "I want to AND WILL burn some of the citizens in this nation" might be illegal in an individualistic country) then that would not be a big problem.

Posted by Genius : 10/30/2006 06:38:00 PM

This is one of those litmus test issues that expose right-wing "libertarians" as the phoneys they are (OK, not all, but many).

A very clear principle here. Legitimate concerns about the act of burning (public safety, use of accelerant etc.) and about incitement to violence, are already covered in law. Therefore all that remains is the symbol that is burned - and that's about freedom of speech. Nothing else.

Cue deafening silence from those who pretend to believe in this freedom, but only when it is themselves and their allies under threat from "lefty PC Big Brother Nanny State blah blah".

Flag-burners usually being "rent-a-mob radicals" protesting against their powerful friends, the right-wing libertarians are suddenly missing in action.


Posted by Anonymous : 10/30/2006 08:10:00 PM


Fair enough. I used quotes (implying my doubts) for "libertarians" in the first instance but not in the second. I will rephrase that then, as a test of true versus phoney libertarians.

That Supreme Court ruling you linked to was interesting, given that the Court has since been significantly changed by the appointment of "freedom-loving" (note quotes!) conservatives. God knows what freedoms the current Court would squash.


Posted by Anonymous : 10/30/2006 09:12:00 PM

I/s - what do you mean breaking windows. all you need to do to get arrested these days is to read a text out loud near parliament.

Posted by sagenz : 10/31/2006 05:50:00 AM

yes there should be no need for a special law OR any special law would mark a line in the sand where things to one side were prohibited (like case law).

Posted by Genius : 10/31/2006 07:29:00 AM