A Macabre Game of Happy Families – Another vigil at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia

Today I joined another vigil for freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia, along with friends from English PEN, Reporters Sans Frontiers, the Peter Tatchell Foundation and the Society of Authors. I recorded a short video, documenting the growing number of faces on our campaign placards.
You can watch and share via the embedded player above, on YouTube or Facebook.
Continue reading “A Macabre Game of Happy Families – Another vigil at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia”

Stop calling it 'Revenge Porn'

What’s in a name? Quite a lot, actually. The labels we put on various phenomena, old and new, profoundly affect the way with think about them.
Writing on GenderIt.org, Sophie Maddocks points out that the term ‘revenge porn’ is a wholly misleading name for the non-consensual sharing of intimate images. Its not ‘revenge,’ its not ‘porn,’ its not entertainment, its not a new phenomenon, and it covers a very wide range of behaviour.
I’ve written about ‘revenge porn’ before and may have to do so again, but I will be mindful to use the term ‘Non-Consensual Dissemination of Intimate Images’ (NCII) in the future.

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

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

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”