Sex, Politics and Censorship

By Alibhai-Brown, Yasmin | The Independent (London, England), September 9, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Sex, Politics and Censorship


Alibhai-Brown, Yasmin, The Independent (London, England)


DON'T GET me wrong. I am not turning into a follower of Peter Hitchens who, in his new, desperately nostalgic book, The Abolition of Britain, bemoans our descent into immorality and pornography, which started with the obscenity trial of Lady Chatterley's Lover. "Batty" (according to Will Hutton) Hitchens longs for a return to good, old-fashioned censorship and reverence for establishment authority. I don't. But I do think that a society without any restraints becomes morally corrupt, and that "censorship" has become a meaningless word used in the same way as "Communism" in the United States .

Once something is denounced as "censorship", all intelligent discussion and dissent flee the arena. Have you ever had a serious debate with anyone on what "good" and necessary censorship might be? Or how political manipulation in this country is getting worse while we amuse ourselves with empty freedoms that allow us to watch sex and violence wherever we direct our eyes in public spaces? Or on the consequences of all this?

You only had to listen to that glib libertarian James Ferman, the outgoing director of the British Board of Film Classification, talking to John Humphrys on his radio series, On the Ropes, to realise that those who believe they are leading us to liberation have no idea about the coarse and unhappy prison they have put us into. In talking of his achievements, Ferman quite forgot to mention a speech he himself made to the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence that Pulp Fiction glamorised heroin so much that it might have increased usage.

I think it is time for us to tackle the issue of censorship with more maturity and to define the term with greater honesty. Censorship cannot exist without power. Those people who burnt The Satanic Verses in Bradford were accused of censorship when what they were doing was expressing their rage at their own lack of any power in this country.

I believe that any kind of political censorship is absolutely wrong. Until I was 23 I lived in a country, Uganda, where free political debates had never been allowed. On my first day in the UK, I watched some politician laying into Edward Heath, who was the Prime Minister in 1972. I started sweating, thinking the man was going to be arrested and killed when he left the studio.

So, relatively speaking we are free to question.

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