To see an office so clearly labelled ‘PEN’ with its door kicked in is personally chilling, and I feel the intimidatory censorship of my Kurdish colleagues quite acutely.
Ordinarily, I am a couple of degrees removed from the people who are persecuted for standing up for free speech. But an e-mail that was sent to me over the weekend brought the perils a little close to home.
On 2nd February 2016, the offices of the Kurdish PEN Centre in Sur Amed (Diyarbakir) were attacked. Photos provided by my colleagues at Kurdish PEN show the door to their office was bashed in, and the abstract statues in the courtyard were decapitated. Continue reading “Attack on my colleagues at Kurdish PEN”
I’d previously written off the Asher’s case as exactly analagous to the case of the homophobic Bed & Breakfast owners. But Peter Tatchell’s article has persuaded me otherwise.
Remember the controversy about the ‘gay cake’? Last year, a bakery in Belfast refused to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan. A court ruled that the bakers had discriminated against a customer on the basis of his sexual orientation, contrary to equality legislation. The customer, Gareth Lee, was awared £500 in compensation.
The case will be considered in the Appeal Court this week. Ahead of the hearing, the veteran gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has published a surprising article defending the bakery. There’s a version on the Guardian comment pages, and a longer version sent to Peter’s mailing list.
I recommend reading the entire article, but the crux of Tatchell’s argument is this:
It is discrimination against an idea, not against a person.
The bakery refused to support and propagate the idea of same-sex marriage. Lee was not refused service because he was gay, but because of the message on the cake.
This is a subtle point but also a persuasive one. The implications loom large. Tatchell asks:
Should a Muslim printer be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed or a Jewish one the words of a Holocaust denier? Will gay bakers have to accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs? … If the current Ashers verdict stands it could, for example, encourage far right extremists to demand that bakeries and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim opinions. It would leave businesses unable to refuse to decorate cakes, print posters and emblazon mugs with bigoted messages.
Freedom of expression and freedom of conscience surely means the freedom not to engage in the commerce of distributing ideas that you oppose.
I’d previously written off the Asher’s case as exactly analagous to the case of the Bed & Breakfast owners who refused service to a gay couple—This blog has previously discussed the issues raised by such cases. However, Peter Tatchell’s article has persuaded me otherwise.
The Medium of Icing
Who would have thought that patrsies are political! Almost 10 years ago, this blog also discussed the Medium of Icing.
This week, the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was criticised for publishing a shocking cartoon about migrants and rape culture.
It features a depiction of the terrible image of drowned three year-old Aylan Kurdi alongside what appear to be some dirty old men, chasing women Benny Hill style.
Continue reading “Even the most offensive art can have two meanings”
“Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
Its worth me writing a little more about my views, lest people make incorrect assumptions.
My post earlier this week about a feminist society apparently colluding in the silencing of women has been widely shared in the past few days. There have been hundreds of new visitors to this blog. With this in mind I think its worth me writing a little more about my views, lest people make incorrect assumptions.
In particular, it is worth noting that my post is not part of a wider pattern criticising feminism, feminists or anyone fighting for equality. Instead, it is part of a fairly consistent pattern defending freedom of expression. Previous posts about Goldsmiths College were in defence of the SU diversity officer Bahar Mustafa, charged (wrongly, in my opinion) under the Malicious Communications Act over her ill-judged but not illegal #KillAllWhiteMen tweets.
I have also seen my article discussed in the context of the perceived decline in critical thinking at universities, both in the United Kingdom and the United States. In September, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt wrote a widely discussed Atlantic article ‘The Coddling of the American Mind‘ that is perhaps the most complete example of this, although there have been many others.
In all such articles, the concepts of ‘trigger warnings’ and ‘safe spaces’ are both held up as examples of what is wrong with today’s students. Continue reading “Hooray for Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces and Political Correctness”
There was another free speech skirmish on a UK university campus this week, when the ex-Muslim activist Maryam Namazie was heckled by students at an event at Goldsmiths College.
East London Lines, a online newspaper run by students including many from Goldsmiths, reported the incident after it happened, and have written a follow up in which I am quoted for English PEN.
I want to say a little more in a personal capacity.
The video of the event is available online. Continue reading “Why Are Goldsmiths’ Feminists Applauding the Silencing of Women?”
Do extremists continue to preach underground when they get banned?
Earlier this week I sat down with the author N Quentin Woolf, host of the Londonist Out Loud podcast, to talk about free speech, its value and its limits.
The audio of our discussion has just been published. You can listen via the Acast player below, and there are download and iTunes links on the Londonist website. Continue reading “Discussing the Limits of Free Speech with The Londonist”
Earlier this week I spoke to journalist Kapil Summan on behalf of English PEN and the Libel Reform Campaign, on the issue of reforming the UK defamation laws.
The Defamation Act 2013, you will recall, reformed the law in England & Wales. But MSPs at Holyrood and MLAs at Stormont have yet to legislate for their jurisdictions.
I extemporised on why reform in required in both places! Kapil wrote up two versions of the interview, for Scottish Legal News and Irish Legal News.
The fact the Defamation Act seems to be working as Parliament intended is precisely what we were after so we’re going into this … with confidence that the Defamation Act is a very strong blueprint for reform in other jurisdictions.
English PEN is working with Scottish PEN on a campaign to reform the law of defamation in Scotland. I wrote an opinion piece for the Herald’s ‘Agenda’ slot, which was published in the paper yesterday. There was also a news report about it, giving more information about corporations that sue.
The law of defamation in Scotland is woefully out of date.
It has not been reviewed since 1996, before the Scottish Parliament was re-established.
During this time, the internet has evolved from a hobbyist’s plaything into the centre of public discourse, and yet defamation law has failed to adapt to digital communication. Continue reading “Let’s ban corporations from using law to silence their critics”
In an enlightening article on Little Atoms about ‘safe spaces’ and free speech, Marie Le Conte writes:
While discussions of identity and privilege online haven’t always been constructive in recent times, it’s hard to deny that this isn’t something cis straight white men will ever get. This, of course, doesn’t mean that they never get picked on, or that their lives must therefore be perfect; it’s just that they’ll never know what it feels like to be continuously attacked for what they represent, not who they are.
The phrase “its just that they’ll never know what its like” jumped out at me, because in its absolutist form I think its very wrong. Cis straight white men might not know what its like; and they will certainly never know what it is to be picked on in this way; but it is certainly possible that they can know what it is like to be picked on… because those who have experienced it can describe it to them! Continue reading “Do cis white straight men know what its like?”