Free speech

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...

Defining "Islamophobia"

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims has proposed a definition of "Islamophobia", and the Government has rejected it. The definition is here Against the definition Chris Sloggett, a spokesperson for the National Secular Society, told us: "Anti-Muslim hatred is a growing problem which must be taken seriously. But we also need a robust discussion on the influence which religion, including Islam, has on British society. "Those who raise concerns about religious privileges which undermine women's rights, animal welfare, LGBT rights and the principle of one law for all are routinely...

The Satanic Verses thirty years on

It is thirty years since the publication of Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses, partly based on the life of the founder of Islam, Muhammad, sparked protests across the Muslim world, with riots in India and Pakistan in which dozens of Rushdie's fellow Muslims were shot dead, book burnings on the streets of Britain, and ultimately an Iranian death sentence which sent its author into hiding under armed police guard. In BBC Two's The Satanic Verses: 30 Years On, radio presenter and journalist Mobeen Azhar travels around the country, speaking to protagonists in what became known as the...

Students vote “no confidence”

The National Union of Student (NUS) Trans Students’ Conference, on 30-31 January in Manchester, unanimously passed the Student Left Network motion of no confidence in NUS President Shakira Martin. Earlier in January, an NUS UK board meeting had voted to scrap the trans students’ campaign, budget, officer and committee. The motion condemned the NUS leadership’s “deeply undemocratic” handling of NUS’s financial deficit. It called for NUS to open the books and to call an extraordinary conference of delegates elected on cross-campus ballots from affiliated student unions to give members, not an...

Free speech is a left-wing issue

Above: the Catholic Church's Index of Banned Books, 1640 In the past few years the press has had a number of semi-sensationalist stories about student unions banning or wanting to ban something deemed offensive. And in some cases the issue has been real. Now an essay by the late Marxist academic Norman Geras on the ethics of revolution has been flagged up by the University of Reading as potentially subversive, so that students reading it must sign a form and pledge not to leave the text around where others might scan it. The university did that under the government’s Prevent agenda, supposed...

Satanic Verses, thirty years on

Last month saw the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Rushdie’s sprawling novel defies summary: interlinking stories meld scurrilous fantasies, dark humour and cutting political satire directed not only at Islam, but British racism and Indian immigrants’ attempts to adapt. It is an honest attempt to deal with the warping pressures of racism, religion and cultural dislocation. When it was published in September 1988 there was no spontaneous grassroots opposition. According to Kenan Malik in From Fatwa to Jihad, one early move against the book was in...

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