Today is the third anniversary of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi’s arrest, and thousands of activists around the world are demanding the reversal of his conviction on charges of blasphemy and ‘setting up a liberal website’. Many gathered at Downing Street today as a letter signed by hundreds of writers and politicians was delivered to Prime Minister David Cameron.
But the Royal Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in London is not amused. Last week, it issued an indignant response to the ongoing campaign for Badawi’s release.
I’m delighted and honoured to have been nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award, for my novella The Good Shabti, published by Jurassic London. However, there are four good reasons why I probably won’t win.
The first reason is the Ceremony of Flies by Kate Jonez (DarkFuse). Our protagonist, who calls herself Emily, is an unreliable cocktail waitress, an unreliable road-trip buddy and definitely an unreliable narrator. We meet her serving drinks in a Las Vegas casino, but before long she is on the run in a 1971 Pontiac Convertible, driven by an equally dubious gambler named Rex. Their journey takes them from the bright lights of Sin City, via suburban Barstow, to ever more remote and decaying locales, until she arrives at what might just be the end of the world.
Jonez’s parched descriptions of this doomed trajectory are fantastic. There are Joshua Trees and Stucco churches, and flies everywhere. The soaring temperature is evoked so well I thought my Kindle might overheat. And there is no let up—Every apparent relief, every opportunity for a cool breeze or a quenching of thirst, is just a further heightening of the characters desperate plight. Is this Emily’s personal hell for the many crimes she has committed? Or some wider vengeance? Continue reading Four reasons why I probably won’t win the Shirley Jackson Award→
The Supreme Court gave free speech a boost last week when it handed down its ruling in a case known as MLA v OPO, and lifted an injunction prohibiting publication of an autobiography.
The case concerned Instrumental, a memoir by the classical pianist James Rhodes. The book includes graphic accounts of the sexual abuse that Rhodes suffered as a young boy, and how music helped him to overcome the mental health issues he suffered as a result. Rhodes ex-wife sought the injunction on behalf of their son, who as Aspergers Syndrome. She argued that, were their son to read the book, it would cause him significant psychological harm. Relying on 19th century case law, she argued that publication would be to knowingly cause this distress, for which her son would have an action in civil law.
The Court of Appeal had accepted this argument and put an injunction in place, even going so far as to provide a schedule of excerpts from the book that should be removed before publication would be allowed. But on Wednesday the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that this was an error. Continue reading James Rhodes wins at the Supreme Court→
An article by yrstrly for Independent Voices, on unintended consequences with revenge porn laws. The issue of gender blind laws (and principles) is relevant to my earlier post about apparently misandrist, racist tweeting.
Last year, when campaigners pushed for a new law to prevent ‘revenge porn’, it was clear who they were hoping to protect: women.
Introducing the campaign to parliament in June last year, Maria Miller categorised the issue as a form of violence against women. All the case studies invoked by campaigners involved women being humiliated by their ex-partners, and MPs discussed the exposure of celebrities like Rhianna and Jennifer Lawrence. The charity Women’s Aid presented examples where women were forced into posing for photographs by abusive partners, saying that “perpetrators of domestic violence use revenge porn as a tool to control, humiliate, and traumatise their victims.”
Last month I was pleased to be invited by Trans World Radio, the Christian broadcaster, to take part in their TWR Today programme. I spoke to presenter Lauren Herd about free speech in the context of blasphemy, offence and freedom of religion.
During the discussion I tried to articulate something that has been bothering me about the debate we have been having about free speech, following the Charlie Hebdo massacre:
… So when even free speech campaigners are making the case for offence, I find those arguments frustrating because I feel that argument has been settled, in favour of free speech.
To be clear: I’m not knocking those campaigners who write think-pieces that defend the right to offend. I’ve published such pieces myself in the past few weeks, as have my colleagues at English PEN. Rather, my frustration is over how much of the debate is still focussed on whether there is any legitimacy in censoring for reasons of religious offence. There is none.
Moreover, it is unfettered free speech that enables the freedom of religion. Lauren Herd gave a pithy and poetic summing up that I predict will become a staple of my rhetoric on this issue:
We may not like hearing attacks on what we believe, but it is that same freedom for one person to express, that allows us to profess what we believe.
A headteacher in Kirriemuir has caused controversy by banner her pupils from studying Black Watch, the National Theatre of Scotland production that I worked on in 2006. What with this history, couple with the free speech work I do for English PEN, this is perhaps the perfect issue for me to write on. Over the weekend, The Sunday Herald published my essay setting the issue in its context.
Free speech controversies are like solar flares. They burn hot and bright. Right now, it is Angus that is feeling the heat. Last week, the Sunday Herald reported that one headteacher in Kirriemuir had pulled Black Watch off the Highers syllabus because it is “offensive”. Parents are angry at the decision, and have demanded an explanation. Continue reading Defending ‘Black Watch’ and free speech in the classroom→
Last week, the Community Security Trust, a charity that records attacks and harassment against Jews living in the UK, recorded 1,168 anti-Semitic incidents in 2014 — double the figure reported in the previous year.
On Monday, a group of British MPs published a report noting that whenever there is heightened conflict in the Middle-East, the rate of crime against Jews in the UK increases. The All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism (APPGAA) also noted that the problem “continues to emanate from Islamist extremists, far-left and far-right groups” and made a number of recommendations to government, the police and the media to combat the issue.
The Scottish Law Commission has said it will include a review of the defamation law in its ninth programme of reform. That’s fantastic news for those of us in the Libel Reform Campaign who want to ensure that the space for free speech is just as wide in every corner of the United Kingdom.
David Leask at the Daily Heraldreported the story and his article puts the review in context. Yrstrly is actually quoted briefly in the piece, but I prefer this quote from my colleagues at Scottish PEN:
We’re not just campaigning on this to plug a loophole – we’re trying to put in place a structure that supports a healthier media landscape in Scotland.
In honour of the publication of The Good Shabti last month, I was invited onto the Tor.com podcast Midnight In Karachi, hosted by Mahvesh Murad. The show is a one-on-one interview format, and the previous guests are all incredibly accomplished SF writers such as Audrey Niffenegger, Patrick Ness,