It is a sad week for democracy and free speech this week.
The terrible events in Paris yesterday mark a turning point in our collective liberties and what is “acceptable” to speak about in public. The people who killed the cartoonists in France yesterday did so in the name of religion, a religion that is taking great steps to distance itself from those actions, but religion nonetheless. Their point was that they were carrying out a punishment for breaking of a blasphemy law, in that those cartoonists drew a picture of the prophet Mohammed and published it. I won’t go into the perceived rights and wrongs of their argument, but to my mind, they had as much right to register a protest at their unhappiness about it as the cartoonists were to draw it in the first place. The law of land says that the magazine/newspaper is entitled to say what it likes, even if it causes offence to certain individuals, and it also states that individuals are entitled not to like it. That is democracy; that is what we in the West pride ourselves on. It does not give people carte blanche to be judge, jury and executioner when wrongs have been received.
There is another side of the “freedom of speech” argument which can be demonstrated by the handling of the Ched Evans affair by the press and on social media recently.
Most people are horrified by the thought of rape (as too am I), and most people are fairly happy that our legal and judicial system – flawed as it may be – is the correct mechanism for bringing the perpetrators of wrongdoing to account and for punishing them accordingly. It is a democratic process by which this young man has been tried and found guilty; he has been punished and he is now living his life post-punishment. If this man had been the local plumber and had gone through this process he would now be in a position to resume his life and get on with his job, but the man we are talking about happens to be a footballer and the circumstances – if you believe everything the Twitterati tell you – are entirely different. Apparently, being a footballer means that somehow you have to be superhuman and never make an error of judgement or put a foot wrong in your life.
But there have been bigger and better footballers than he who have been through the criminal courts and who have been found guilty of just as heinous crimes as rape, and yet they are permitted to carry on with their lives and their careers without the fuss that this young man has. I’m not for one minute advocating he was right to rape that girl (although, in recent days there has been “evidence” to suggest that there was more to the incident than was revealed in the courts and it is far from over yet* (see below)), and I’m not advocating that he ought to resume his career as a footballer simply because he has been in prison and served his time. What I am advocating is that in a free, democratic society such as ours, both he and the club are free to do what they want to do and we as onlookers are free to object to it if we so wish.
BUT, and here’s the rub, it hasn’t stopped there has it? Oldham Athletic have faced a very painful week this week with on-off stories about his potential signing, and they have had a number of sponsors withdraw their support for the club on the pretext that they don’t want to be associated with a “convicted rapist”. Fine. They are entitled to do that if that’s what they feel, and that is the way they can register their unhappiness with the club if they so wish. But the Twitterati have been at it again and 65,000 people have signed a petition saying that the club MUST NOT sign him. Sixty-five thousand?? Where have they come from then? There are only 3,500 season ticket holders at Oldham, and that’s at a very conservative estimate, so who are the rest of these people who are dictating what action Oldham Athletic has to take?
And that’s what it is isn’t it? It’s dictatorship. “Oldham Athletic, you will do as we say”.
But it doesn’t even stop there. Today we hear that there have been death threats – DEATH THREATS – against members of the board at OAFC, and there has been a threat made against one of their daughters that she is going to be raped if they continue with their plans to sign Ched Evans.
Now come on. How on earth does a threat like that achieve anything at all?
I’ll tell you how. It is because mob rule reigns and common sense has died a very public and humiliating death under its feet.
It beggars belief that someone somewhere thinks it’s quite alright to issue a threat to carry out an action in protest at someone else being associated with someone who did that very same action. So, to stop a football club signing a convicted rapist, they issue a threat of rape themselves. My mind is totally blown at the logic that has gone into that argument and the issuing of that threat, and it saddens me to know that on the strength of these threats today the club have withdrawn their offer and Ched Evans will now no longer be playing for them in the future.
Don’t get me wrong, my personal feelings are very mixed about Ched Evans, and whilst on the one hand I’m glad he is now not going to be associated with a local club, on the other hand I am extremely sad to know that the decision has been reached after what is basically an old fashioned witch-hunt.
An excitable mob with sharpened keyboards instead of pitchforks has dictated what is going to happen to an individual person in this, a supposedly free country. With the arrival of death threats and threats to rape in protest at his appointment, it scares me that in our world now, violence and retribution is the answer to being offended or hurt by someone else’s actions. These threats were made by people who are not even connected to either Ched Evans, or the girl, or anything else. They are a bullying, baying mob who have jumped onto a populist bandwagon and their strength is in their number.
The extremely sad thing about the Ched Evans case is that it is likely to rumble on for months and possibly even years yet. The outcome could be that his appeal is successful, meaning that all of this is utterly pointless. But will the same mob who has hounded him out of Oldham (and all the other football clubs associated with him in recent weeks) be howling at the courtroom doors for the big miscarriage of justice should it come to that?
I shouldn’t think so because it just isn’t the same to get the pitchforks out in the name of real justice is it? If it was, then the mob on social media would be shouting loud for him to have a second chance, encouraging others to forgive him, reminding each other that we all make mistakes (some worse than others, granted, but nobody is without fault are we?), or simply shutting up and letting the judicial system take its course in its proper way. It’s obviously much more fun to jump on the bandwagon where pack mentality overrules common sense and perspective.
The way I see it, there is not a huge leap between a rape threat to show your objections over a rapist and the use of a gun to show your objections to a drawing, and that frightens me. Exercising your right to speak freely about what you feel about something is one thing, but carrying out acts of violence – even the threat of them – just because someone has a different view to you is just wrong.
Come on people. Keep your perspective and keep your humanity.
*I didn’t want to get into the details of the case in this post, but this article here will offer some insights that will help you see what I mean about the doubts of the case.