Violence and Thought Crime

As an avid and curious reader you sometimes read something that for an instant leaves you breathless. Today on the 26th of June I read on article on Techdirt. I appreciate Techdirt a lot because this website simply addresses less popular topic in a very informative manner. The article in question was this one about “thought crimes” and the media. The context is the complex situation with “Islamic fanatics” and violence.

Before I continue let me clarify a number a of things.

  1. The idea of thought crimes scares me. People think and some thoughts are unconventional. To criminalise thought is dangerous for individuals and society on the whole.
  2. The media are the media. From printed, to digital, word of mouth and social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
  3. Islam is a religion of many people. Like Christianity and the Jewish religions it is what it is, namely a world view expressed in a values, secondary beliefs, traditions, symbols, heroes, some sacred works and a divine being that started it all who is worshipped. Most religious people I have personally met want to live in peace.
  4. The “violence” I mention in the first paragraph is often called “terrorism.” Derived from the noun terror the -ism indicates a specific teaching of sorts to strike fear through violence and destruction. The term “terrorism” has been widely abused in recent years. At the core it is simply violence, nothing more and nothing less.

The full text of Theresa May’s speech is to be found here. It is well written and conveys a simple message in many words. This message is “we do not want terrorism in our country, “ which I can understand. People want to live in peace and prosperity without having to worry about violence that can harm or kill them.

Violence starts with thinking that violence can be justified. In case of immediate self-defence yes. Otherwise it depends but for religious or other beliefs the answer is no. The tricky part is the “thinking” part. Thoughts lead to an expression of those thoughts and that expression is called personal opinion or a personal story. To monitor what people “express verbally” is one thing but to make “verbal personal expression” in some cases criminal sets dangerous precedents.

Western Europe and the U.S. especially have emphasised over the years that in the “developed west” you can express your opinion freely. I am of the opinion that freedom of expression should be absolute to keep discussions completely open even if you have to face people stuck in dogma and stupidity. Making certain verbal expressions criminal creates a double standard at the cost of the open discussion of ideas.

When it comes to threats there are in my opinion two options. You confront the person who threatens directly or report the threat and decide to continue or not. I have been in such situations and my response has always been to confront first to check whether the intent to harm is really there. When the intent to harm is really there you prepare do defend yourself and report the threat. Why confront first? Show no fear and the person who threatens knows that you are no push-over. 

The first lesson in dealing with people who claim they know better or act in a superior manner is simple. It is one of the things children do. Ask “why?” and do not take no for an answer. If you have experience with bullies you know that bullies do not like talking about their reasons. Even when they do at one point their own words can no longer justify what they do to their victims. This also applies to religious people who justify violence and governments who have repressive regimes.

The context of the “Islamic fanatics” who justify violence is so prickly that libraries have been filled about this topic alone. Also the quotation marks function to emphasise something else. There are Muslims who consider the violent fanatics to be non-Muslim. To each their own opinion. Among the Christians I grew up with some Christians regarded fellow believers of different orientations as less “Christian.” I personally never understood nor agreed. You share divinity and book, deal with it.

Today is a day in the year 2015. The media are all around us and the internet and social media connect many people. People have opinions and some opinions are believed by others. When an opinion encourages violence against others the best response is to publicly question that opinion. Ask “why?”, “how?” and “how so?” even when the answers might disgust you. The fact that people have their thoughts is part of life. Making certain thoughts and their verbal expression criminal, disables publicly questioning them.

In light of the recent violent attacks the violence and the thoughts behind them has to be questioned. To say “I do not want to know” or “I shall not allow these verbal expressions” might be pleasant in the short-term. In the long-term it does not help to address anything. To understand violent organisations like I.S.(I.L) and others you have to find out what led to their actions.

Violence can be stopped by asking “why?” Thoughts are thoughts, not crimes…


It is very difficult to write about this topic without writing A did this and B did that. Keep an open mind before life becomes like “1984” and others decide on what you are allowed to think.