As you will no doubt be aware, the membership list of the British National Party (BNP) recently became public thanks to the internet. People all over the country have been checking to see if anyone they know is on the list. It has been a major story in the media. And there have been tweets galore on twitter.
Now I would like everyone just to stop for a minute, take deep breath and consider what is going on. This is still a free and democratic country. And as far as I know, that means you are allowed to hold whatever views you like. Even if they are extreme and objectionable to the majority of the population. You and I may not agree with them, but they are legally entitled to hold them. The moment we dictate what a person can and cannot think, then we have moved away from a society that values free speech.
“I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write”*
In this country we like to think we have a right to privacy. We don’t like it when we see Government trying to erode this privacy away. Even those people who hold opposing views to you have that right. Less than ten days ago we remembered those men and women who have given their lives defend this country and it’s freedoms. And now we see the privacy of a small group of people being public ignored.
To publish this list was wrong, but to keep publicising it is even worse, for two reasons. Firstly we should be respecting their right to hold these views and therefore afford them the privacy that we would expect. Secondly, by keeping it in the public eye, just gives more publicity for their cause. If you wish to challenge their beliefs, you should engage them in debate, and that way show them you’re point of view.
Publishing this list, I feel, is the first step on what could be a dangerous path. First we publish a list of people with views that the majority find objectionable. This leads to mobs attacking these people (we’ve seen it before when the identities of sex offenders have been made public). From there, it is only a small step to making these people wear badges to show who they are. And then, the final solution to the problem would be to make it illegal to hold these views, and send the offenders to “camps” to be re-educated.
If you believe that a citizen of a free, democratic country has the right to privacy and free speech, then those rights extended to everyone, not just those you agree with.
* Attributed to a letter written by Voltaire to M. le Riche on 6th February 1770. See here