This is a cross post of the main part of a post originally posted at Harry’s Place on May 16th 2012, 7:55 pm
The Independent is currently running a debate on the selling of Nazi flags.
The problem I wish to highlight is the actual question up for debate. The headline of the article poses the question: “Should Amazon be selling Nazi flags?” Yet, in the article, the introduction poses the “crucial question” as follows: “should flags that represent a racist and offensive ideology be up for sale?” These are two different questions. If the second one is the actual question that John Rentoul and Matthew Bell were posed, then the question is not worded in a way that makes it clear what is exactly being asked. Does it mean that Nazi flags should be banned from sale or does it mean that businesses should freely choose not to sell Nazi flags? The lack of clarity in the question does not make answering it with a simple “for” or “against” easy. Finally, at the end of the article, a third variant is posed: “do Independent readers agree or disagree with the sale of new Nazi flags?”
John Rentoul answers “For” but without knowing the question it is unclear to what. He certainly seems to be for the sale of Nazi flags and suggesting that the sale be ridiculed. However, he does not discuss Amazon as an outlet for their sale. What he actually says is this:
It is easily mockable that Amazon lists Mein Kampf as something “frequently bought together” with a swastika flag, but once someone suggests banning the sale of books, we can surely see that a line has been crossed into curtailing freedom of expression.
The implication from this sentence is that either Amazon sells the flags or the sale of the flag is banned. This is not the answer I would give. What I would say is that there is no curtailing of freedom of expression by Amazon not selling the flags: the flag manufacturer would have every right to advertise the flags on its own web site and sell them there or they could try and locate a different retailer for the vile product. And, indeed, this is my position: I would not ban the flags from being sold but I would hope that retailers such as Amazon refused to facilitate their sale.
Matthew Bell has also answered the question for the Independent and his answer to the mysterious question is “Against.” But what he is actually against, I am not sure, and nor, it seems, is Norman Geras. Bell ends his contribution as follows: ”[D]o we want to live in a society where you can pick up a new, giant swastika flag with your weekly shop? Probably not.” But he declares earlier: “And as with any other trade, making it illegal won’t make it go away, it just pushes it underground.”