High hopes, low expectations

In the last days of 2005, leading thinkers and scholars from around the world share their fears, hopes and expectations of 2006. As Isabel Hilton asks: What does 2006 have in store? (Part one)
Timothy Garton Ash
22 December 2005

You ask what I hope and fear in 2006. I hope – against hope – for an agreement in the Doha round of the world trade talks and for further movement from the United States on climate change. These seem to me probably the two most important things for the world at the moment. I have read somewhere that John F Kennedy had two in-trays on his desk, one marked “Urgent” and the other marked “Important”. It's a vital distinction: too often the urgent crowds out the important. These two, however, are both important and urgent; with the added difficulty that the urgency of doing something about the industrialised and industrialising countries' contribution to global warming will not be apparent to most people until it's too late. So that's what I hope. (When I say “hope” I don't mean “expect”.)

What do I fear? I both fear and expect many more horrors in 2006, some of them unavoidable. Let me single out just one threat, because it seems to me avoidable. This is the unnecessary curbing of free speech. The British government is still trying to introduce an ill-conceived, ill-drafted bill on Incitement to Religious Hatred which would plainly reduce our freedom of expression. A woman gets a criminal record just for standing at the end of Downing Street reciting the names of the British war dead in Iraq. Another receives a police caution for speaking critically of homosexuality. Soon they'll be turning Speakers' Corner into a police training-ground.

Meanwhile, one of Turkey's leading novelists is dragged through the courts, and threatened with a three-year jail sentence, simply for saying what is historically, factually true, that “a million Armenians and thirty thousand Kurds had been killed in Turkey”. And - to be consistent – I'm not very happy about David Irving being locked up in Austria. I find his denial of the Holocaust deeply offensive, but what's sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. So long as it does not result in direct harm to others, people should be free to say what they like – wildly, offensively, even abusively – about religion, history and politics. Here is important ground on which we must stand and fight, with the help of openDemocracy, in 2006.

Happy New Year!

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