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Diary Elsewhere

Notes on #Batley

Last week, a controversy erupted in Batley, Yorkshire, after a teacher showed his class a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed, during a discussion about the Charlie Hebdo massacre of 2015.

The school has many Muslim students and some of their parents were angry at the teacher for having done this. As we are all probably aware by now, some branches of Islam (not all) consider any depiction of the Prophet to be undesirable and blasphemous.

Where there is an alleged blasphemy, free speech rights are engaged, and people like me become motivated to opine. In this particular case, I was not so much motivated as mobilised: TalkRADIO called me at short notice to chat to Kevin O’Sullivan about it. Here’s our conversation, the first draft of my thoughts on the matter.

There is more to say, however. As I have come to realise whenever such controversies kick-off, there are usually several issues rolled up in the debate. I think it’s more intellectually honest to post ‘notes’ on what those issues are, rather than posting a piece of unequivocal click-bait that condemns one side or the other.

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Diary

How Legal Drafting Chills Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly

Borrowed from @jamesdmorris twitter feed.

Parliament begins to debate the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill today. Following the scenes of heavy-handed policing at the vigil for Sarah Everard this weekend, there is perhaps a greater degree of attention being paid to the proposals than the government may have hoped for. The measures to update the common law offence of nuisance are a particular focus for those of us worried about state encroachment into civil liberties. Doing something that might annoy someone else should not be the basis of a criminal offence that carries a ten-year prison sentence.

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Elsewhere

Speaking at the Muslim Council of Britain on Islamophobia and Free Speech

On Tuesday evening I participated in the launch of Defining Islamophobia: A Contemporary Understanding of How Expressions of Muslimness are Targeted, a report published by the Muslim Council of Britain.

I wrote a short article for inclusion in the report, explaining why I think the new definition of Islamophobia that the report recommends would be a good thing for free speech. Ambiguity is the ally of censorship, and so a narrower definition of Islamophobia — one that is rooted in racism, rather than an opposition to Islamic ideas and theology — should reduce the chill on free speech.

The full report may be downloaded from the MCB website, and the launch event is available to view on Facebook. My contribution, where I expand on some of the issues I raise in my article, is at around 29 minutes.

Update

I also published the text of my article on SSRN.

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Diary

Sweat The Small Stuff, Revisited

Previously on this blog, I’ve written about the need for activists to be an ‘awkward squad’ — a group of people who can be relied upon to kick up a fuss about small and innocuous infringements of human rights. If we wait for the egregious human rights violations to happen before we speak out, its already too late.

A good example of this might be the recent spat between Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch MP, and The Huffington Post. Last week, the Minister tweeted out screenshots of an email exchange between her communications team and Nadine White, a news reporter at the website’s UK Bureau.

No-one has been censored here. The minister simply expressed public annoyance with the journalist’s slightly pushy email manner. So its not a free speech issue, right?

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Elsewhere

Law Commission Consultations on Hate Speech and Online Communications

In December, I worked with English PEN on their responses to two important Law Commission Consultations: Hate Crime, and Reform of the Communications Offences. The two documents we submitted are on the English PEN website, along with an explanatory blog post.