Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Why we must fight for free speech for people we loathe

Today’s backlash against censorship just isn’t good enough

At a glance, it seems a fightback against censorship has finally kicked off in Britain. Headlines inform us of a ‘feminist backlash against the censors’, proof, apparently, that the ‘tide [is] turning in the free-speech debate’. Even the Guardian has taken a five-minute breather from demanding restraints on Page 3, lads’ mags and sexist comedians to publish a piece criticising student officials’ No Platforming of radical feminists, telling us that ‘college is about learning to think’. The University of Warwick’s students’ union was forced to backtrack on its scandalous ban on Iranian secularist Maryam Namazie after liberal newspaper columnists raised hell. And the news that Bahar Mustafa, diversity officer at Goldsmiths Students’ Union, will shortly appear in court partly for having tweeted the hashtag #killallwhitemen has been met with near universal condemnation.

On one level, this feels good. At last people are taking seriously a freedom that spiked has been championing since we were founded, which we describe as ‘the foundational freedom upon which every other right we enjoy is built’. But on another level there’s a serious problem with this supposed backlash against censorship, something that ought to make all true free speechers feel uncomfortable. Which is this: for the most part, and certainly in all the recent flashpoint cases mentioned above, people are only defending free speech for people they like. In fact, their new interest in freedom of speech was kindled only when a colleague, comrade or mate of theirs faced censorship. They aren’t defending freedom of speech; they’re defending friends’ speech. And today’s various, distinct, disconnected calls to ‘let my friend speak!’ could actually damage rather that boost that most pressing cause of the 21st century: the fight for the right of everyone – literally everyone – to say, sing, write, depict and think whatever they like.

What we’re witnessing is not a new movement for freedom of speech, but the rise of cliques that deploy the language of freedom in a quite cynical way to defend people who espouse ideas they agree with. So feminist commentators are currently arguing against students’ unions’ banning of Julie Bindel, yet say nothing about the banning of Dapper Laughs by Cardiff University, or the NUS’s nationwide clampdown on ‘laddish banter’ (speech), or the ban on the Sun and ‘Blurred Lines’ on campuses across Britain. They aren’t defending freedom of speech, which is, by definition, undiscriminating, and should apply as equally to a sexist rugby club leader as it should to Julie Bindel; instead they are merely defending speech, in this case Bindel’s speech, the content of which they admire and support.

Likewise, the secularists who defended Maryam Namazie said nothing about the banning of a homophobic Islamist preacher at the University of East London. And Bahar Mustafa and her friends might be terribly concerned about Mustafa’s arrest for tweeting #killallwhitemen – as they should be – but, as I discovered when I debated Mustafa in London last month, they don’t support anyone else’s right to be offensive: not lads, not ‘transphobes’, not people who are critical of Islam – no one.

Indeed, many of those fighting for friends’ speech actively support restrictions on non-friends’ speech. The defenders of Bindel include people who campaigned to end Page 3. In a letter to the Observer denouncing the No Platforming of feminists, various activists and academics called for a return to that time when No Platform was ‘a tactic used against self-proclaimed fascists and Holocaust deniers’. That so many can use the language of freedom of speech to defend people they like while simultaneously giving the nod, or turning a blind eye, to the censorship of people they don’t like – fascists, sexists, Islamists, pornographers – should leave no doubt that we are not witnessing a new fight for freedom of speech. If anything, the ideal of freedom of speech is being damaged, badly, by those who use the language of freedom in the pursuit of the very narrow, self-serving aim of preserving their own political influence.

More here


Anonymous said...

Progressives only want free speech for them, no one else has tat right. This is part of their fundamental belief that only they know the truth and all else must heed them.


Bird of Paradise said...

Anon 1:52. Your so absolutely right these progessivists(Communists)want free speech for themselves only

Alpha Skua said...

We all know liberals hate the U.S. Constitution they want to replace it with various UN treaties

Anonymous said...

Amen Spiked.
In the name of tolerance we now live in an incredibly intolerant society.

Moonbird said...

The hypocracy of liberals you can cut it with a knife