HuffPost: Britain Sets An Example With Its Human Rights Laws – Counter-Extremism Policy Must Be No Different

An op-ed version of my chapter appeared on HuffPost UK

To coincide with the publication of Free and Fair, HuffPost UK published an edited version of my chapter on their politics homepage.

Here’s the central message of the piece:

How can FCO diplomats credibly oppose the sinister monitoring of online discussion in China, when GCHQ is running a comparable mass data collection programme in the UK? How can NGOs credibly protest the prosecution of Cumhuriyet journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül in Turkey for ‘revealing state secrets’ when our own Law Commission has proposed that the UK adopt a similar law? And how can activists effectively protest the treatment of writers like Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia, imprisoned for merely imagining a new political system, when the UK Home Office is cooking up mechanisms to shut up our own radicals?

You can read the whole thing on HuffPost UK.

Fair and Free: Labour, Liberty and Human Rights

The hope is always that Fabian pamphlets present ideas that the Labour Party could implement, if elected.

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve written a chapter for Fair and Free: Labour, Liberty and Human Rights, the latest policy pamphlet from the Fabian Society.

Naturally, my section is on freedom of expression and privacy. The hope is always that Fabian pamphlets present ideas that the Labour Party could implement, if elected. I recommend that the next Labour Government should: reform the deeply illiberal Investigatory Powers Act; introduce a public interest defence to Offical Secrets laws; and abandon Home Office attempts to shut down non-violent radical speech. I also recommend that Labour tie any post-Brexit trade deals to respect for human rights. Doing business with rights abusing regimes ultimately makes us all less safe. Continue reading “Fair and Free: Labour, Liberty and Human Rights”

A Better Debate About No Platform? My Speech At the Leeds Beckett Festival of Politics and International Relations

Free speech advocates need to acknowledge that our approach asks people to lay their identities on the table for dissection. If people balk at that suggestion, our response should not be to call them ‘thin skinned special snowflakes’

This is an edited transcript of my speech to the Leeds Beckett Festival of Politics and International Relations Festival, delivered on 15th November 2016.  This first appeared on the Leeds Beckett University Politics and Applied Global Ethics (PAGE) blog.  You can listen to the unalloyed version of the speech on SoundCloud or via the player below.

Some Arguments Against No Platform

I want to first set out my views on No Platform policies. In short, I think they’re bad for free speech and they’re bad for the people they seek to protect.

The idea of No Platform is that it seeks to avoid giving someone the credibility of speaking at a prestigious institution. Those who call for No Platform claim it is not a form of censorship, because the person is subjected to the No Platform rule can always take their words elsewhere. Moreover (they say), legal protections for free speech relate to the government, and since the government is not involved in choosing who speaks at a university there is no real issue. Why can’t we choose who does and does not speak on our campus? Continue reading “A Better Debate About No Platform? My Speech At the Leeds Beckett Festival of Politics and International Relations”

Discussing Fear and Free Speech on Deutsche Welle

This incident was not an anomaly, but part of a wider, worrying trend.

Remember the incident over the summer when a woman was detained by the police, after a crew-member on a Thompson Airways reported her for the ‘suspicious’ activity of reading a book?  Faizah Shaheen spoke about her experiences to the WorldLink programme on the Deutsche Welle English language service, as part of an hour long programme about fear. Continue reading “Discussing Fear and Free Speech on Deutsche Welle”

Discussing Extremism and Free Speech on Sky News

I cannot account for why its taken me until now to blog about this, but last month I was invited onto Sky News to give the English PEN view on extremism, free speech, and the conviction of Anjem Choudhary.

The notorious Islamist preacher had been convicted of supporting terrorism on the basis of Tweets he had posted, pledging allegiance to ‘the’ Caliphate, rather than ‘a’ Caliphate.  The prosecutors argued (successfully, as it turns out) that this constituted support for ISIS. Continue reading “Discussing Extremism and Free Speech on Sky News”

Defending Free Speech for the Far Right

20140128-095704.jpgI had fifteen seconds of fame on Friday, defending the free expression of far right political groups.

The anti-fascist campaign group Hope Not Hate have called for Hungarian politician Gabor Vona to be banned from the UK. He is the leader of Jobbik, a particularly unpleasant far right group that former MP Andrew Dismore calls “the most powerful outwardly fascist political party in Europe”.

Clearly Mr Vona and his supporters have deeply unpleasant politics. But I do not believe they should be banned from entering the UK, and I said so on Al Jazeera TV. Here’s why: Continue reading “Defending Free Speech for the Far Right”

How ordinary people are becoming more savvy in the face of extremism

I think the savviness, such as it is, comes from the way in which ordinary people recognise the value not just in doing something unexpected and open, but in publicising that fact!

Here’s a brilliant story from the City of York:

The EDL posted details about a demonstration they were going to host at our mosque on Sunday on their Facebook page. My first reaction was to let the police know, which I did, but when I really started thinking about it I remembered George Bernard Shaw saying, “If the world’s problems were brought to the Prophet Muhammad, he would solve them over a cup of tea..” I knew we had a sunny forecast for Sunday, and it’s very English to have tea and biscuits in the afternoon, so I thought it would be a kind gesture to invite the EDL in to tell us about their grievances.

I have a couple of comments to make about this story. First, this story represents an alternative vision of multiculturalism, the one put forward by the Dalai Lama when I asked him about the concept, a few years ago: Multiculturalism is about stressing similarities between different cultures.

Second, is it me, or have the British public become savvier at dealing with extremism? I think people have ‘wised-up’ to the power of counter-intuitive gestures. As well as this Muslim take on ‘make tea not war’, I am thinking of things like the London #RiotCleanup that arose in response to the 2011 riots. I also recall gestures of solidarity and defiance, like We Are Not Afraid and the Iranian/Israel Facebook Love-in.

I’ve made other notes on this blog about counter-intutive, unexpected, turn-the-other-cheek style thinking. I think the savviness, such as it is, comes from the way in which ordinary people recognise the value not just in doing something unexpected and open, but in publicising that fact! I note this not as a criticism, just an observation about the way in which people can spread their actions, and therefore their ideologies, through social media. I do not know for sure, my I have an inkling that Mohamed El-Gomati’s idea to invite the EDL to tea was inspired as much by the recent precedent set by the sort of social media campaigns I mentioned above, as by anyhting said by the Prophet Mohammed.

I will try to log more examples of public savviness when they arise in future.

Update

Re-reading this, I think it needs another paragraph. What is noteworthy about year gestures is that they do not come from politicians. Remember when Boris Johnson tried to piggy-back onto the #RiotCleanup goodwill. The examples I mentioned are also examples of leadership, progress, bold action that politicians do not seem capable of initiating. Is that because they lack imagination, or because we are so cynical that we would scoff at the same acts, if a politician tried to initiate them?