Five Reasons Why I'm Keeping My American Passport
Reader Comments (9)


I see Orwell is as relevant now as ever over there.

For your Continental audience; please remind them that in America, our First Amendment to the Constitution is guaranteed by our Second (and our 3rd through 27th Amendments- except for the 18th :P )

Steve Jones

I'm as concerned about the use of Sharia Law and separate legal systems as anybody. However, there is an obvious logic to this. Beth Din courts operate under precisely the same provisons (that is as courts of arbitration to which the parties involve agree to be bound). I have two basic concerns about this - one is the divisiveness of different legal systems for different ethnic groups. The second is to what extent these rules really are voluntary as far as the participants are concerned. It is one thing for competent parties in full knowledge of the state of national law to agree to binding arbitration. It's a completely different thing for those who are parts of conservative religious and ethnic communities to be bound by these by default (particularly an issue with decisions involving children). There are plenty enough social pressures that can be brought to bear in such communities, without these quasi-judicial arrangements.

The "arbitration court" issues can only cover civil law matters and not criminal sanctions, but that can be a very fine line. In many cases civil financial sanctions can be far worse than criminal ones. Any argument that any one belief system is more responsible than any other in these matters is clearly discriminatory. The proper place for the acceptability of practices is a public one, open to all, and not a closed environment.

A related issue, where the founders of the American constitution got it right in principle, although the practice is different, is the separation of church and state. Of course what the founders really had in mind is no favouring of any one particular Christian church over another (with a few exceptions), although the principle can at least be extended to other belief systems. What didn't quite happen is the separation of religion from politics or even some part of the state (in god we trust on the dollar bill?).

However, what is truly a disgrace in this country is the right of publicly funded schools to discriminate on the basis of religion (or lack of). My view is that no state-funded body should be allowed to do such a thing, and I'd barely tolerate religously-based private schools.


Steve - Thanks very much for your very thoughtful and informed comments. I tend to favour Christopher Hitchens's take on this, in his piece To Hell With the Archbishop of Canterbury, where he wrote, among other things:

Picture the life of a young Urdu-speaking woman brought to Yorkshire from Pakistan to marry a man—quite possibly a close cousin—whom she has never met. He takes her dowry, beats her, and abuses the children he forces her to bear. She is not allowed to leave the house unless in the company of a male relative and unless she is submissively covered from head to toe. Suppose that she is able to contact one of the few support groups that now exist for the many women in Britain who share her plight. What she ought to be able to say is, "I need the police, and I need the law to be enforced." But what she will often be told is, "Your problem is better handled within the community." And those words, almost a death sentence, have now been endorsed and underwritten—and even advocated—by the country's official spiritual authority.

Now underwritten by the state.

He concluded,

It is the principle of equality before the law that really counts . . . The plain statement—"There's one law for everybody and that's all there is to be said"—still stands out like a diamond in a dunghill. It stands out precisely because it is said simply, and because its essential grandeur is intelligible to everybody.

Thanks again for chiming in.


Noel - I generally stay out of the business of being too critical of my adoptive country, which I love, and which has been very good to me. But it is changing. And Jefferson, as always, and eternally, was right:

"A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular; and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inferences."

Resting on inferences is how both freedom of speech (see the Wilders affair) and separation of church and state (re: sharia courts) are left in the UK. At the moment, it doesn't appear to be good enough.

And, yes - Orwell, who remains indispensable, is very sorely missed.

Steve Jones

Tbanks for the response, but I rather guess it would chime with your thoughts. With regard to the Dutch politician banned from entry to the UK, I think we'd also agree on the importance of freedom of speech. Freedom or expression is, of course, robustly protected in the US constitution, although from several people I know in the Southern states, there are certain types of opinion which it is best to be discrete about.

However, on the particulars of right of entry, then the US authorities are not blemish free. For many years Ian Paisley was denied access to US, largely because of political reasons (that is he was unacceptable to a large part of the US electorate). Objectionable as his views may have been, he was in no way connected to terrorist groups (or perhaps I ought to call them armed political units). There was also the ridiculous episode when Yusaf Islam (Cat Stevens) was refused entry to the US in 2004 on "national security grounds" involving the diversion of a United Airlines flight by 600 miles. Of course the loss of a superb songwriter to religion at the height of his powers was a cultural tragedy, and I think he is wrong-headed in a lot of his views. However, there's never been any real credible evidence of him being a "threat to national security" - I think his views were just considered to be unacceptable.

It should also be remembered that in the 1940s and 1950s a large number of left-leaning American cultural figures, like Paul Robeson and Pete Seeger (and his sister, who effectively went to exile) had their freedoms heavily curtailed. Now whatever the acceptability of their views, they were not threats to national security. Perhaps this can be viewed simply as cold war paranoia, but the current "clash of cultures" could be seen as something rather similar. With both there is both a security and a cultural threat, but the latter should be dealt with through open discussion and not suppression of views.

Now this is not to bash one particular country or other, but really to raise a general point. That is that all countries and regimes can, to one extent or another, use means and modes of suppressing argument. Those of us who care for the importance of independent thought and suppression have to oppose such things - even where the views expressed are unpalatable.


Agreed, Steve. All great points.

Allow me to amplify them by once again quoting Mill (another Briton indispensable to the tradition of liberalism): "If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind . . . We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavouring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be evil still."

Or Jefferson again: "For here we are not afraid to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.


If you came back (and didn't just threaten it), to where would you move?



My company has just announced plans to open in the states, so I will keep you posted.


This piece in the Telegraph is well worth reading. It points out what ought to be totally obvious, but it does so in a reasonable, persuasive, balanced way:

Whatever happened to free speech?

Wilders claims that these verses from the holy book of Islam are being used today to incite modern Muslims to behave violently and anti-democratically. You may think he is wrong to say this; you may agree with him; you might, like the lords who invited him to Britain, think it is something worthy of discussion, given the obvious problems caused around the world by radical Islamism and the violence perpetrated in the name of the religion. It is hard, in a free country, to understand why it is a view that must be suppressed.
The very people who in 1989 were demanding the murder of Salman Rushdie for writing a book are today leading the charge against a Dutch MP for making a film. The fundamental difference is that 20 years ago, the government supported free speech; today, it has cravenly surrendered. It is simply not good enough to say that Wilders should not be heard because he might provoke a backlash from those who do not like him or his views. That is not upholding the law. That is appeasement.

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