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"If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear"

George Orwell

Variants of the “The Bullies’ Prerogative”

14. september 2019 - International - af Torben Mark Pedersen

Jaleh.dk

The bullies’ prerogative works, and political opponents of the opinions and speech of other political opponents are able to take advantage of this tactic in order to suppress utterances they dislike.  

We all know of situations where violent people are successful in suppressing the freedom of speech of a group simply because the group fears the possible violent consequences if they utter anything that might trigger that violence. Let’s call it the bullies’ prerogative. The best example, of course, is Islamist terrorists, who, due to threats to anyone who publishes Kurt Westergaard's Mohammed drawing, have been successful in getting the entire Danish press to exercise self-censorship.

In the legal context, it will often be the case that the state restricts the freedom of speech of some people in order to avoid possible violent reactions. A variant of this we have seen in the Jaleh Tavakoli case where social authorities have threatened to deprive Jaleh and her husband of their foster children because of her participation in the public debate.  This has led to her having to stop all participation in the public debate in order to be able to keep her child.

A variant of the bullies’ prerogative was mentioned on the Collegefix.com website a few days ago, where a poll of 1,000 Republican college students showed that 73 percent of Republican students in the United States have failed to express their political views - for fear that doing so might negatively reflect in their grades.

The bullies’ prerogative works, and political opponents of the opinions and speech of other political opponents are able to take advantage of this tactic in order to suppress utterances they dislike.  We have experienced this many times in the Free Press Society, for example when a couple of years ago we invited the Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, to the People's Meeting on Bornholm, where countless leftists used the threat against him as a person as an argument that he should not be allowed to speak at the meeting.

The bullies prerogative can also, absurdly, be turned upside down, and used to shame and try to suppress certain political views and utterances, referencing the fact that there may be a mad man who might be inspired by some otherwise completely innocent and fully legal statements, and using these as a pretext to commit violence or terrorist attacks. In the United States, it has reached a level of absurdity when Trump is blamed for mass shootings committed by racists - simply because he (the same, by the way, includes all former presidents including Obama and Clinton) wants to prevent illegal immigration.

As in these classic examples of the bullies’ prerogative, it is not the de facto criminals who commit the crimes that are often the most dangerous to freedom of speech.  Instead it is all of those who, for political reasons, want to suppress political opponents’ freedom of speech by shaming them or by wanting to enforce the bullies’ prerogative on behalf of the real criminals.