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Radio and TV

Thought for the Day – BBC Radio Bristol

Text of Tuesday’s thought:

Bristol’s unique festival of ideas is in full swing. “Festival” is a joyful word, but ideas are not just for fun: they really matter.
It’s not then surprising that there is controversy surrounding one of the speakers. John Bolton was the US Ambassador to the United Nations, and is, for some, a war-mongering agent of US imperialism, a supporter of US military action in Iraq and, if necessary, Iran.
A small but loud minority of people are arguing that Bolton should not be provided with a platform to speak in Bristol. To them, he shares responsibility for the deaths of innocent civilians in Iraq.
Of course, it would be easy at this point to trot out the old clichés about the importance of free speech. But Bolton’s case shows why such freedoms are not easy to defend or maintain. The Festival of Ideas would not, for example, allow an unrepentent murderer to talk, no matter how good their memoirs were. So you can see why people who think Bolton is some kind of murderer object to his appearance.
The trouble is, we don’t always agree on what murderers look like. Many opposed to abortion believe doctors who carry them out are murderers. Some pacifists believe that anyone who chooses to go to war is a murderer. If others disagree, you have to persuade them they are wrong, not force them to change their minds. In the meantime, we all have to accept what we might personally find unacceptable.
One of the hardest things in a democratic society is thus that where we fundamentally disagree about major issues, we have to put up with having people in our midst whom we think do evil things.
Broadcast 13 May

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