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Speak, liberty

Timothy Garton Ash’s mission to bring free speech to the whole world is hopelessly idealistic. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, says Diane Roberts

Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World

by Timothy Garton Ash (Atlantic Books, £20)

Freedom of speech has always been a vexed, even dangerous, business. Socrates questioned the gods and earned himself a swift trip across the Styx. Here we are, 2,400 years later, and western liberal democracies still struggle over how much free speech is healthy, whether there should be any sort of bridle on it and, now, how to deal with the ever-growing electronic media. Is shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre worse than a Daily Mail story blaming working women for the rise in autism, or Fox News insisting that Birmingham has succumbed to radical Islam to the point that non-Muslims don’t dare breach the A4540? Should govern ment suppress “offensive” speech, say, Chris Ofili’s painting of the Virgin Mary as a black woman with a var nished lump of elephant dung on one breast, David Irving’s Holocaust-denying rants, or Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad? Is the statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College, Oxford a hurtful endorse ment of imperialism or merely a historical artefact? And who decides?

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s May issue: Simon Taylor and Bronwen Maddox on why Hinkley Point C is an expensive gamble that might not pay off. Philip Collins examines Iain Duncan Smith’s tenure as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and Lionel Shriver reveals why she stopped fighting being female. Alan Rusbridger responds to last month’s piece on the Guardian by Stephen Glover. Also in this issue: Nicholas Soames says there’s no such thing as "Project Fear” and Howard Davies reviews Melvyn King’s new book and suggests that we are vulnerable to another financial crisis. Plus Ruth Dudley Edwards examines the fading myths of the Easter Rising and Owen Hatherley suggests it’s time to look for a Plan B to solve London’s housing issues.
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