The right to voice unpopular, or even untrue and unpleasant, opinions is essential to free speech – and free speech is one of the most basic values of any liberal democracy.
Free speech cannot flourish when the individual may express only those opinions which the state has decided it will permit. Once that happens, it evokes George Orwell’s nightmare of the Ministry of Truth, in which the state throttles all independent thought and destroys free expression completely.
That is why the arrest of Mr X is so disturbing. Mr X has not committed a crime in this country. His offence is to have published opinions on his website, which he writes from his home in country C, that question whether children and infants do not in fact enjoy sexual intercourse with adults.
His opinions are wrong and offensive – but error and offensiveness are not grounds for banning an opinion, still less for imprisoning the individual who expresses it.
Approving of paedophilia is not a crime in A but it is illegal in B. The authorities in B want to punish Mr X for his views – and they have asked the courts here to help them. They want A to extradite Mr X so he can be tried and sentenced for his “thought crimes”.
The legal system in A should have no part in this process. It is a blatant attack on free speech.
Michael Moorcock: What’s your position on free speech?
Andrea Dworkin: I don’t think the British understand US law. Here, burning a cross on a black person’s lawn was recently protected as free speech by the Supreme Court. It’s obviously a big subject, but the First Amendment, which keeps Congress from making laws that punish speech, doesn’t say, for instance, that I have a right to say what I want, let alone that I have a right to say it on NBC or CBS. After I have expressed myself, the government isn’t supposed to punish me. But women and people of colour, especially African-Americans, have been excluded from any rights of speech for most of our history. In the US it costs money to have access to the means of speech. If you’re a woman, sexual assault can stop you from speaking; so can almost constant intimidation and threat. The First Amendment was designed to protect white, land-owning men from the power of the state. This was followed by the Second Amendment, which says, “. . . and we have guns”. Women and most blacks were chattels, without any speech rights of any kind. So the First Amendment protects the speech of Thomas Jefferson, but has Sally Hemmings ever said a word anyone knows about? My own experience is that speech is not free; it costs a lot.
“Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely for views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.”