The recent terrorist attacks in London have prompted many to consider how the Australian Government should respond. Would banning the publication and dissemination of material that promotes suicide bombings and participation in extremist terrorist activity offend against the right of free speech? Why should such material be treated differently to other publications that dramatise violent conduct? Is there some analogy to racial vilification law?
In playing a constructive role in Australia political discourse, we need to be clear that promotion of terrorism is beyond the scope of free speech protections. Liberty and freedom in a democratic society are not absolute terms. In his famous Essay on Liberty the English philosopher John Stuart Mill recognised that liberty does not mean the licence of individuals to do just as they please, because such liberty would mean the absence of law and of order, and ultimately the destruction of liberty.
It is essential for the maintenance of liberty for the state to restrain conduct which is inimical to the maintenance of civil government or prejudicial to the continued existence of the community. That is why it is key to distinguish between the promotion of terrorism and other forms of behaviour that might be seen to romanticise or condone violence. For example, we must also be careful to acknowledge the important distinction between books which romanticise violence generally, and books which incite terrorism. Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (and the powerful movie by the same name produced by Stanley Kubrick) would qualify as media which arguably promoted violence; especially to those who did not understand the underlying messages of the author and filmmaker. Instead of people being freaked out by Alex's behaviour, they loved it, even egging him on. Copycat crimes based on those in the film sprang up around the United Kingdom, and Kubrick eventually decided to withdraw the film from the UK (only recently, after his...
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