Guy Fawkes Night is All About Hate, So Why Are We Outraged When Some Idiots Engage In Hate Speech?

Grenfell Tower 'effigy'

Both readers of this blog will be sufficiently aware of my position on free speech to be able to work out what I think about the news that six people are to be prosecuted for staging a racist ‘Grenfell’ Bonfire Night.

The group made a model of Grenfell Tower and set it alight, then posted pictures on social media.

My take is simple: it’s disgusting, racist and worthy of our opprobrium, but should not be a matter for the police. The ‘message’ of this particular stunt does not appear to have any merit, but its far too close to other kinds of political expression—in particular, satire—that we value, and which must be protected. Continue reading “Guy Fawkes Night is All About Hate, So Why Are We Outraged When Some Idiots Engage In Hate Speech?”

The Neimöllerisation of PREVENT

Families Against Fracking, July 2017

Oh dear. The Home Office have had to point out to the City of York council that anti-fracking groups are not ‘extremists’ and should not be funnelled into the PREVENT programme.

This is an excellent example of the ‘slippery slope’ or ‘boiling the frog’ problem that is so eloquently expressed in Pastor Martin Neimöller’s famous poem which begins ‘First they came for the socialists…’

Laws enacted for a narrow purpose are often deployed more widely in ways that are illiberal and a threat to our civil liberties. For example, the UK law that criminalises ‘grossly offensive’ messages sent online were enacted in 2003 (before the rise of social media) and intended to stop people sending hate mail via email or fax. But now it is being used to criminalise offensive comedians and harass outspoken student activists. Continue reading “The Neimöllerisation of PREVENT”

Someone called the police

In the United States, there is growing discussion on social media about the phenomenon of white people calling the police when they see a black person doing something entirely normal, or when they perceive a black person not showing enough ‘respect’.

When Yale student Lolade Siyonbola fell asleep in the library while writing an essay, someone called the police. When Tenessee real-estate developer inspected a house in Memphis, someone called the police. When Oakland resident Onsayo Abram set up a barbeque in the park, someone called the police.

Today I saw a variation on the theme: someone threatening to call the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when he became annoyed by two women working at a cafe speaking Spanish to each other.

Many people have made the point that this is linked to President Donald J. Trump’s unpleasant rhetoric about ethnic minorities (and indeed, everything). He has set a terrible example which incubates racists attitudes and brings out the worst in people. Others say that this kind of racism was always present in the society and it is only thanks to social media that we know these incidents are systemic, not isolated (it is almost a decade since professor Henry Louis Gates Jnr was arrested for breaking into his own home).

But these incidents also illustrate something about civil rights that I had not understood until I started working for English PEN, and which I don’t think many other people appreciate, which is that ambiguous laws can erode our civil liberties. Continue reading “Someone called the police”

Analogue Apps

I have recently been teaching myself to solve a Rubik’s Cube. This is mainly because my self-image as an intelligent, analytical geek suggests that it’s the sort of thing I should be able to do.

I also want to be able to show off, and in my warped world-view, being able to ‘do the cube’ is something that one can boast about.

Solving the Rubik’s Cube is the International Genius Symbol. Screenwriters use a character’s ability to solve the cube as a shorthand for high intelligence. But as this clip from one such film shows, there is actually a method to solving the cube that can be learnt. Continue reading “Analogue Apps”