Monthly Newsletter

Inaya Folarin Iman Launches the Free Speech Champions

Inaya Folarin Iman

Inaya Folarin Iman, a Founding Director of the Free Speech Union, is launching a new venture today called the Free Speech Champions Project, along with a group of students and recent graduates. (The Mail on Sunday ran a story about it yesterday.) Below is an extract from the press release.

The Free Speech Champions Project is an exciting new initiative which aims to inspire the next generation about the importance of free speech. It has been set up by a socially and politically diverse group of university students and recent graduates to create a space for challenging thinking. It will do this by creating a network of young ‘free speech champions’ across the country who will host events on free speech, support and encourage the development of free speech societies, and develop the information, ideas and arguments about free speech needed to inspire the next generation. The Champions will collaborate with individuals, groups and organisations who share their commitment to free speech.

The Free Speech Champions Project is led by Inaya Folarin Iman, a 24-year-old graduate of the University of Leeds, and developed in collaboration with the Free Speech Union and the Battle of Ideas charity.

Inaya said: “Freedom of speech is essential for open enquiry to flourish. Social and human progress depends on courageous individuals who are prepared to think for themselves. Too often, the places where free speech should be valued most highly – universities and online spaces – are where it is in most jeopardy. We need to re-articulate why free speech matters, especially to young people.”

A 2020 survey carried out by ADF International revealed that 40% of students self-censor out of concern for their future careers.

Inaya said: “A lot of attention has been paid to the problem of explicit censorship on campus – no-platforming of speakers, the closing down of debates. It is a good sign that a lot of people instinctively feel that this is wrong. However, a more subtle pressure to self-censor has also become far too prevalent in places of education. This is not about being ‘polite’. Too many young people are holding themselves back from exploring ideas because they fear the potentially negative consequences of using the wrong words or of honestly sharing what is on their minds.”

The Free Speech Champions Project will go to where young people most need the space to think and speak freely – schools, universities and online communities – and inspire support for freedom of speech.

Toby Young, the General Secretary of the Free Speech Union, said: “The Free Speech Union is delighted to be supporting this project, along with the Battle of Ideas charity. If free speech is going to endure it’s essential that young people understand why it matters and needs to be defended.”

You can find out more about the Free Speech Champions Project by visiting its website. And if you’re a student or recent graduate who would like to get involved, please fill out the form on this page.

Fighting Back in 2020

This is the final newsletter of 2020 – and what a year it’s been! When I launched the Free Speech Union with a group of likeminded people in February I said free speech had never been in greater peril than at any time since the Second World War. But in the past 10 months it’s become significantly more imperilled. The coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have combined to produce a kind of lockdown of the mind. If you challenge the prevailing orthodoxy in either of these areas you risk losing your livelihood – and many good people have. Forget the Second World War. It’s hard to think of a time in Britain or America in the last 200 years when there was less tolerance for dissenting voices.

Luckily, the Free Speech Union has been able to stand up for a few of these mavericks. In this newsletter I’ve highlighted a few of our success stories.

Another Triumph for the Free Speech Union

Professor Dorian Abbot

The Free Speech Union can chalk up another victory.

Last week, we launched a petition in defence of Professor Dorian Abbot, a tenured faculty member in the Department of Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago, who had come under attack from students and postdocs in his department for a series of videos he posted to YouTube expressing his reservations about the way Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts have been discussed and implemented on campus.

In these videos – since taken down – Prof Abbot raised several misgivings about DEI efforts and expressed concern that a climate of fear is “making it extremely difficult for people with dissenting viewpoints to voice their opinions”. The slides for each of Prof Abbot’s videos can be found here, and his own account of events and his opinions can be found here. Nowhere in these materials does Prof Abbot offer any opinion that a reasonable person would consider to be hateful or otherwise offensive.

Shortly after uploading the videos, Abbot’s concerns were confirmed when 58 students and postdocs of the Department of Geophysical Sciences, and 71 other graduate students and postdocs from other University of Chicago departments, posted a letter saying that Prof Abbot’s opinions “threaten the safety and belonging of all underrepresented groups within the [Geophysical Sciences] department” and “represent an aggressive act” towards research and teaching communities. The letter also made 11 demands, many of which would serve to ostracise and shame Prof Abbot, while stripping him of departmental titles, courses, and privileges.

Another Victory for the Free Speech Union

On 7th October, the journalist and Brexit campaigner Darren Grimes received an email from a Metropolitan Police officer notifying him that he was being investigated for the crime of stirring up racial hatred under the Public Order Act 1986 and asking him to submit himself for an interview at Kingston Police Station under caution. This was because of a broadcast interview Darren had done with Dr David Starkey at the end of June in which the historian had used the phrase “damn blacks”.

This was an unprecedented attack on the freedom of the press. Dr Starkey’s remarks didn’t come anywhere near meeting the threshold for stirring up racial hatred – he was using the word “damn” for emphasis, not to condemn black people, and he praised the contributions BAME people had made to British society in the same interview. But even if they did meet the threshold, that’s no reason to investigate Darren. Are journalists now going to be held criminally responsible if the people they interview say something potentially unlawful? On 2nd February, I appeared on Good Morning Britain to debate Kehinde Andrews, a Professor of Black Studies at Birmingham University. In the course of that debate, he said “the British Empire did more harm than the Nazis” and whiteness was a form of “psychosis”. Are the Metropolitan Police now going to arrest Piers Morgan for interviewing Professor Andrews on the grounds that his remarks could have stirred up hatred against white people?

Luckily, Darren is a member of the Free Speech Union so I was able to find him a top criminal solicitor in the form of Luke Gittos. In addition, I helped Darren publicise his case and before long he’d attracted support from across the political spectrum, including Sajid Javid, the ex-Home Secretary, Tim Farron, the former leader of the Lib Dems, and Ash Sarkar, the left-wing activist.

Three Petitions

Apologies for the irregular form of this mini-newsletter, but I wanted to alert you to three petitions in defence of free speech.

The first is a petition expressing support for Bruce Gilley, a professor of political science at Portland State, who has been cancelled for the second time in three years. In 2017, the editors of Third World Quarterly, an academic journal, started getting death threats after publishing an essay by Professor Gilley called “The Case For Colonialism” and promptly deleted it from their website. Now, the same thing’s happened again. He has written a book about Sir Alan Burns, a post-war colonial governor who argued that Britain was decolonising too quickly, that was due to be published by Rowman & Littlefield this month. However, the publishers have now decided not to go ahead after a petition objecting to the book was started by Joshua Moufawad-Paul, a self-described “Maoist”. Even though the petition hasn’t even managed to scrape up 1,000 signatures, it was too much for the panty-waists at Rowman & Littlefield. Professor Gilley has written about the episode for the Wall St Journal. Please sign the petition to show your solidarity with him.

The second is a petition in support of Mark Crispin Miller, a professor in NYU’s Department of Media, Culture and Communication, who got into trouble for urging his students to review all the scientific studies on the effectiveness of wearing masks, including those suggesting they’re ineffective that Google has shadow-banned. This was for a class he teaches on propaganda. One of his students made a flurry of complaints, claiming he was endangering public health, and as a result the university has asked him not to teach his propaganda class next term. Please sign this petition to express your support for academic freedom.

Finally, a petition has been started urging The Hist, a society at Trinity College, Dublin, to reissue its invitation to the biologist Richard Dawkins after he was no-platformed last month. The College Historical Society – known as the Hist – recently disinvited Professor Richard Dawkins on the grounds that things he’d said on Twitter about Islam and sexual assault would make the members feel uncomfortable. I wrote a letter to the head of the Hist on 30th September, urging her to honour the original invitation, but so far she hasn’t replied. Please sign this petition, which makes the same request.

Kind regards,

Signature: Toby Young

Toby Young

Unconscious Bias Training: Social Lubricant or Snake Oil?

Many of our members have asked us what to do if they find themselves at odds with their employers about how best to tackle prejudice and discrimination in the workplace. As I’m sure most of you will be aware, employers, as well as schools and universities, have introduced a raft of new “anti-racism” initiatives in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, from circulating suggested reading lists (Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race) to introducing mandatory unconscious bias training. Is your company or university legally entitled to put your through a disciplinary process for expressing reservations about these initiatives – circulating an alternative reading list that includes Douglas Murray’s Madness of Crowds, for instance – or for refusing to undergo diversity training? Is there a way of expressing your reservations about these initiatives that means your employer cannot legally punish you for doing so? What are the legal limits on what an employer can do to force you to assent to the “woke” orthodoxy on this issue?

Because we were getting so many questions along those lines, and dealing with so many cases of people who are being punished for dissenting from the BLM narrative, we thought it would be helpful to publish some Frequently Asked Questions on this topic. You can read them here. These will be the first in a series of FAQs we intend to publish, with the next set being about the social media policies of companies and universities and what the law says about how far they can legitimately restrict what you can say on social media, even when you make it clear you’re speaking in a purely private capacity. If you have any suggestions about other topics we should cover, please email me here.

The Counter-Revolution

Nick Buckley was dismissed by the trustees of Mancunian Way, a ground-breaking charity he founded nine years ago, after an online mob accused him of “inappropriate” and “insensitive” views and demanded his removal. With the help of the FSU, he got his job back.

Cancel culture got a turbo boost from the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, but there have been some encouraging signs of a fightback in the past few weeks. A group of comedians, writers and academics from across the political spectrum, including several members of our Advisory Council, started the Don’t Divide Us campaign, which rejects race-obsessed identity politics and calls for a fact-based investigation into the roots of Britain’s social problems. In addition, Inaya Folarin Iman, one of the Directors of the Free Speech Union, has launched the Equiano Project which promotes freedom of speech on issues of race, culture and politics. The new group is named after Olaudah Equiano, a slave who bought his freedom in 1766 and became part of the British abolitionist movement.

But perhaps the most positive sign was the FSU’s successful campaign to get Nick Buckley his old job back. Nick, a member of the FSU, was fired as the Chief Executive of an award-winning charity called Mancunian Way after writing a critical blog post about the Black Lives Matter manifesto in June. A mob quickly formed up on social media demanding he lose his job and the trustees duly capitulated in spite of the fact that Nick had founded the charity. We started a counter-petition which got over 17,500 signatures and found him a top lawyer in the form of Keystone Law’s Geoffrey Davies, an expert in charity law. Geoffrey discovered the trustees hadn’t followed the correct procedure in their haste to get rid of Nick and when this was pointed out to them they agreed to resign. They were then replaced by a new group of trustees who immediately reappointed Nick as Chief Exec. It was a satisfying conclusion to an unpleasant episode – cancel culture at its worst. Nick set up the charity to help disadvantaged young people in Manchester and was awarded an MBE last year in recognition of his work. He didn’t deserve to be treated in this way and I’m glad the FSU was able to see justice done. You can read an account of the FSU’s role in getting Nick his job back on the Guido Fawkes website here, a larger piece about the whole affair in the Mail here, and an interview we did with Nick on YouTube here.

Victims of the Cultural Revolution

Apologies for not having written this newsletter sooner. I feel particularly remiss because more than 1,000 new members have joined since the last newsletter and those people won’t have received any communication from the Free Speech Union until now, save for a pro forma acknowledgement. Let me take this opportunity to apologise to those new members and assure them that their welcome packs and FSU lapel pins will be arriving soon.

The reason I haven’t been able to write to you before now is because the FSU has been absolutely deluged with cries for help in the past four weeks. It’s open season on mavericks and dissenters at the moment. If you publicly challenge any of the sacred nostrums of the woke left and you work in a school, a college, a university, an arts company, a public broadcasting organisation, a tech company, a charity, a local authority or, indeed, Whitehall, you are at risk of being cancelled. In the past month we’ve been contacted by people in all of these fields who have either been fired, suspended or who are “under investigation” for having said or done something controversial, usually on social media.

And by “controversial” I don’t mean they’re guilty of hate speech. One person who asked for our help was Mike McCulloch, a maths lecturer at Plymouth University, who was being investigated by his employer for having liked a tweet saying “All Lives Matter”. Then again, the definition of “hate speech” is so nebulous and broad that it’s increasingly common for mainstream views to be labelled as such. For instance, another FSU member, the feminist campaigner Posie Parker, started a petition on Change.org asking the Oxford English Dictionary to keep its definition of “woman” as “adult female human”, and the moderators took it down on the grounds that it was “hate speech”. JK Rowling knows all about that, of course. In addition to helping Posie, we’re also helping a best-selling children’s author called Gillian Philip who was sacked by her publisher after adding the hashtag #IStandWithJKRowling to her Twitter account. And we’ve written to the editor of the Morning Star on behalf of another of our members, the cartoonist Stella Perrett, who was cancelled by the communist newspaper. Her sin was to draw a gender-critical cartoon (see below) which the Morning Star published and which then caused outrage among trans “allies” who demanded she be thrown under a bus. The editor, Ben Chacko, duly obliged, publishing a grovelling apology in which he compared the cartoon to a “transphobic hate crime”.

Get ready to rumble

This is our third FSU newsletter. In case you missed the first one – or hadn’t signed up at that point – we’re archiving the newsletters on our website here. You may have to log in to view them since that page is only visible to members. (Your login details were sent to you when you first signed up.)

At the end of March, when the UK went into lockdown, rights that the British people have taken for granted for hundreds of years were suspended, some dating back to the 12th Century. As the former Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption says, it has been the greatest interference with personal liberty in our history – and that includes wartime. The right to free speech was not suspended on March 23rd, but it has often felt as if it was, particularly for those who dissent from the official coronavirus narrative. In the past nine weeks, our members have been kicked out of Facebook groups, suspended by Twitter and had their videos removed by YouTube, all for challenging the prevailing orthodoxy about the pandemic and how the Government should respond to it. We’ve been doing what we can to defend them, but it’s not easy in the current climate in which any form of dissent is seen as “dangerous”. The pandemic seems to have created an army of petty martinets, ready with their red pens to censor anyone who doesn’t subscribe to Covid orthodoxy.

Ofcom

Among the cases we’ve taken up is that of Eamonn Holmes, reprimanded by the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom for supposedly undermining public confidence in the Government’s social distancing rules. Holmes’s sin, according to the regulator, was to say on ITV’s This Morning that the theory linking 5G masts and the symptoms ascribed to coronavirus deserved to be discussed in the mainstream media, even though he agreed with his co-presenter that it was “not true and incredibly stupid”. Ofcom said this view – the view that the theory deserved a public hearing, not that it was plausible – was “ill-judged and risked undermining viewers’ trust in advice from public authorities and scientific evidence” and could lead to “significant harm to the public”.

Holding their feet to the fire

This is our second FSU newsletter. In case you missed the first one – or hadn’t signed up at that point – we’re archiving the newsletters on our website here. You may have to log in to view them since that page is only visible to members. (Your log in details were sent to you when you first signed up.)

The Free Speech Union now has six members of staff, including me. You can see who we are and what we do by clicking here and scrolling down to the “Company Staff” section. We’re all working part-time and we don’t have an office or any office overheads – which is just as well, given that we wouldn’t be able to go to the office even if we had one. Incredibly, the Government doesn’t regard free speech activists as “key workers”.

Silencing Doctors in Wuhan

That’s not at all incredible, obviously. Defending free speech isn’t considered a priority during the coronavirus crisis when people’s lives are at risk, but when it’s over and the post-mortem begins there will be an important story to tell about how the suppression of free speech by the Chinese authorities led to the pandemic. After all, if the doctors who first raised the alarm in Wuhan had been allowed to air their concerns in public, as opposed to being arrested and forced to confess to “spreading rumours” and “making untrue comments”, the outbreak could have been nipped in the bud. Researchers at Southampton University have concluded that if the Chinese authorities had introduced a range of interventions (early detection, case isolation and travel restrictions) three weeks earlier than it did, cases would have been reduced by 95%. In this instance, the suppression of free speech has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people – possibly millions – as well as catastrophic damage to the global economy. You can be sure the Free Speech Union will underline this connection when the crisis is over.