Free speech

For real free speech on campuses!

In October 2020, Gavin Williamson wrote to all university vice-chancellors “requesting” they adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism, and insisting on action before Christmas… or else. In February the government announced plans to appoint a “free speech champion” whose job will be to ensure freedom of speech and expression is not stifled at UK universities. The role is embedded in the Office for Students (OFS), which would have the power to impose fines on institutions if the OFS find they have suppressed free speech. New legislation...

Uphold free speech, fight antisemitism

David Miller The government’s new attempt to police freedom of speech and academic freedom on University campuses — e.g. to withhold registration if a University is deemed not be complying — should be opposed. Universities already have a statutory duty to uphold free speech (in the 1986 Education Act). The new push is a demagogic attempt to push back against “wokeness”, linked to reactionary attempts to promote historical pride in such things as colonialism and slavery. However, there are real pressures against free speech and the right to organise on campuses. There have been many free-speech...

Cancel culture and trans rights

Much is said in the right-wing press about 'cancel culture'; the phenomenon of people facing a public backlash for things that they have said or done in the past. Cancel culture, what it is and how it operates, is laid out capably and convincingly by left-wing YouTuber Natalie Wynn, known as ContraPoints, in her video “Canceling”. In this she lays out the way in which cancel culture operates. A particular viewpoint or action (confirmed or alleged) by an individual or group is abstracted and essentialised into an often vague assertion about the character or nature of that individual or group...

Stand and be counted

This article by the Algerian socialist-feminist Marieme Helie Lucas, responding to the beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty by an Islamist assailant on 16 October, was first published on the Feminist Dissent website. We republish it, with the author's permission, to promote discussion. Assassinations by decapitation or by the sword – which are highly symbolic of all Muslim extreme-right organisations (Al Qaeda, the Taliban, GIA, al-Shabab, Daesh, Boko Haram, etc.) – are not a new phenomenon in France. Several cases have already happened in recent years. It points at the will of the...

When "free thought" turns against science

Over the months there have been a number of anti-mask demonstrations, most of them fairly small, and certainly well on the fringes of public opinion about the Covid-19 pandemic. On 29 August that shifted up a notch. A number of larger demonstrations were held in Europe. In London, several thousand of people, at least, crowded into Trafalgar Square to hear speakers including David Icke and Piers Corbyn. As Levente Zékány reported in Solidarity 561 there is a crossover between these demos and the wider-ranging QAnon and “Save our Children” demonstrations. Within the milieu are people committed...

"Don't let the police divide us"

On 23 July, the Guardian reported that four residents in Haringey were ordered by police to remove their “White Silence is Violence” banner. One of them, Meghann Foster, spoke to Natalia Cassidy from Solidarity. Why was it that the police contacted you and your housemates? During June’s Black Lives Matter protests we made a sign that said “White silence is violence”, after which we hung it from our flat window facing out onto the street. We had no issues for a month until the police knocked on our door and said someone had complained about the banner and that we had to take it down. We decided...

Woke vs liberal?

A letter to US literary and political magazine Harper’s signed by 150 writers and academics, Noam Chomsky, Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, and others, argues there is an increasingly intolerant and intellectually constrictive culture on the left (see here). It has sparked fierce debate, including a counter-letter (here) signed by a similar number of (less prominent) writers and academics. Critics argue that the Harper’s signatories create a problem where none exists, or dramatically exaggerate it; and in fact they are defending the powerful and privileged against militant criticism. A lot of...

Selina Todd and the Twitter storm

A social media storm broke out after a feminist conference in Oxford on 29 February asked Oxford University historian Selina Todd to hand over her two-minute opening address to a colleague, following threats by some speakers to boycott the event. Todd is associated with Women’s Place UK, which was set up to oppose progressive reform of laws on transgender rights. In a strange twist, WPUK types demanded the AWL immediately denounce the "disinvite". But none of us even knew about the event, let alone had involvement in it! And our position on such things is clear: we support trans rights, but...

The world of online hate

In 2013, the Australian journalist Ginger Gorman became the subject of an online hate campaign. In 2010, she had interviewed two gay men, seemingly an ordinary couple, about their adoption of a young boy. Three years later the men were convicted of child sexual exploitation; they had been involved in an international paedophile network. Naturally Gorman was mortified that she had, however inadvertently, given these men a platform. But a few days after the conviction Gorman began to be inundated by tweets from ″conservatives″ saying she was a paedophile collaborator, and, equally horrifying to...

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