Sunday, January 14, 2007

Free speech, even for ballerinas ?

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"
Would Voltaire allow Simone Clarke to carry on dancing ?
There is controversey in London at the moment over a ballerina. Her name is Simone Clarke. She is 36 years old and principal dancer with the English National Ballet.

Outside of her work, she also happens to be a member of the British National Party (BNP). This is essentially an anti-immigration party that has historically been associated with skinheads and some violence but now under its Cambridge-educated leader, Nick Griffin, is trying to appear to espouse a more sophisticated agenda towards immigration than simply "send them back on a boat".
Many members of London's liberal establishment feel that Simone Clarke should loose her job. Her membership of the BNP, they argue, is incompatible with working at a publicly funded arts body. Her very membership is helping the BNP to gain respectability.
I would disagree with this and I feel Voltaire would too. Mere political views, even if unpalatable, cannot be grounds for sacking someone in a country that claims to value free speech. Of course, free speech has been shown to have its limits in recent years. Those who incite violence or terrorism whether nationalists, extreme muslims or others can now be prosecuted.

However membership of a political party that challenges multiculturism and immigration seems in a different league. Simon Clarke has committed no offence. The fact that she has a child with her her Cuban-Chinese boyfriend, Yat Sen-Chang also suggests it is naive to see her as old style far-right racist.

She simply expresses an opinion. As it is not possible to "tolerate" views you agree with but by definition you can only "tolerate" something you dislike or disagree with, I feel she should be accorded some toleration.

Simone should be allowed to speak freely and dance freely. To do otherwise will not only give the lie to the fact that Britain allows free speech but also make a martyr of her and ultimately boost the BNP.
We should trust that the truth will prevail in any climate of free speech and democracy. Otherwise, we hint that we actually lack faith in the values we claim to support and these values cannot survive unless we silence or sideline any real dissent.
So as Voltaire once wrote, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it". Carry on dancing Simone.


cw-patriot said...

A very odd situation.

The fact that some people are apparently arguing that Ms. Clarke should not be allowed to perform in a publicly-funded ballet troupe simply because of her political leanings smacks of small-mindedness.

Their argument is that, because her political affiliation lies with a party that is in the minority on the political spectrum (no matter the party’s beliefs), therefore she ‘marches to the beat of a different drummer’ than most of her countrymen, so she should be banned from a publicly-funded occupation?

Do she, and her fellow BNP members, pay taxes just like those who are suggesting that she lose her job? Of course she does. She and her fellow BNP members financially support the National Ballet, relatively, to the same degree as her detractors.

The liberal establishment needs to re-think the meaning of liberty, and stop attempting to insert a litmus test for employment in a publicly-funded organization. Ms. Clarke inherited the freedom to mold her own political beliefs – which should have no bearing on her career. Not in a society that still considers freedom more precious than political power.

~ joanie

James said...

I largely agree with your comments here.
Political censorship won't be limited to the BNP. Wasn't there one European country (?Belgium) which recently attempted to penalise a political party on the grounds it opposed the EU?
On a slightly different note, wouldn't it be better if the ballet learnt to survive without state subsidy? Then those who opposed one of its employees could just take their custom away, and there wouldn't be an issue of public money being used to employ someone with 'dubious' political views.


Luis said...

Thank you for your comments.

Joanie- I agree totally- you are right to point out that the ballerina pays taxes just like everyone else. If her support for a minority party, even if it is extreme, is to prevent her from dancing for a publicly funded ballet, why stop there ? Should workers in the Post Office be required to sign political statements regarding their views and membership of parties next ?

James- little is surprising when it comes to Belgium ! You are right to put "dubious" in quotes as who decides what is dubious ? Today maybe dubious is those who are very strongly against immigration, then maybe those who oppose the EU. Maybe in a different age those who oppose a war will be barred from public employment.

It is a dangerous precedent regardless of where on the political spectrum you sit and one that should be opposed by all those who support freedom.