Belgium in Brief: The limits of free speech

Belgium in Brief: The limits of free speech

On occasions when we wonder whether lawmakers have lost their minds, it's reassuring to know that a bit of media consternation and public outcry can still bring them to their senses – even when the right course of action seemed to be staring them in the face.

For a previous example of a snappy turnaround, the Christmas culture debacle comes to mind. Interestingly, yesterday's announcement by Ypres city council to withdraw the permit it had granted for a far-right festival also concerned a cultural event that, astoundingly, had not been recognised as either disrespectful or downright dangerous.

The festival lineup featured musicians with close ties to extremist and neo-Nazi groups, leading critics who were clearly better informed than the city council to warn people of colour or of the LGBTQ+ community to stay well away from the area.

With Belgium reaping the benefits of a festival-packed summer that almost universally foster a spirit of warmth and inclusivity, it is a shame to think that these celebrations could be so contradicted by such an unabashed platform for extremism.

The organisers disparaged the decision as a ploy by the far-left as an attempt to suppress free speech. Without delving into the logical fallacy of such a claim, it is worth contemplating the term "free speech" – a phrase appropriated time and again as a justification for inciting discrimination and dismissing positions that you don't have a valid argument against.

Too often we forget that freedom is not an unequivocal good: one person's freedom can be to the direct detriment of another. When this is the case, it is vital to highlight right from wrong and not be afraid to say what shouldn't need to be said.

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