Welcome to the Free Speech Union’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. Like all of our work this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign-up today or encourage a friend to join and help us turn the tide against cancel culture.
Killing of Sir David Amess used to fuel digital censorship campaign
Following the murder of Sir David Amess, MPs have demanded the Government accelerate work on the Online Safety Bill. The Prime Minister described the legislation, which is not yet before Parliament, as “one of the most important tools in our armoury” against terrorism and said the Government will consider toughening up the draft legislation. We consider the Online Safety Bill to be a serious threat to online free speech, with overly broad provisions that will have a chilling effect, not least because of the deeply troubling obligation on social media companies to remove “lawful but still harmful” material. Our briefing on the draft text of the proposed law can be read here. Sky News reported on the concerns of free speech campaigners that the legislation amounts to a censor’s charter. The Government has apparently backed-down from a commitment to make tech company bosses personally liable if their companies fail to remove “harmful” content.
Calls to ban online anonymity threaten whistle-blowers and dissidents
A ban on online anonymity has been mooted following the tragic death of Sir David, and Home Secretary Priti Patel did not rule out the proposal. Mark Francois MP has called for a “David’s Law” to make it “illegal in future for people to go online under a cloak of anonymity and call people everything under the sun”.
Guido Fawkes questioned “how online anonymity is relevant” to the murder of Sir David, pointing out that the “attacker was a known threat and had been referred to the Prevent programme”. Guido said the focus of MPs on online anonymity was inexplicable, noting that Policy Exchange had found that the suspect’s father had openly stated his opposition to the West, “proving anonymity is not the determinant of extremist social media content”.
The focus on online anonymity in response to the murder was described by our Advisory Council member Simon Evans in Spiked as a “hobby horse… mounted in haste and forced to leap to conclusions” with little or no connection to the facts.
Also in Spiked, Fraser Myers said that banning online anonymity would have a chilling effect on free speech: “Society benefits from hearing the kinds of voices that can only afford to speak out under conditions of anonymity. That may mean whistle-blowers, democracy activists, investigative journalists or political dissidents of various stripes. In the undemocratic world, anonymity can literally save your life or keep you out of prison.”
Victoria Hewson of the Institute of Economic Affairs called the focus on online activity a “moral panic”. Campaigners have said such a law won’t work and rebuffed calls to strengthen the Online Safety Bill by banning online anonymity.
Ben Sixsmith likewise criticised the focus of national debate following the murder. He wrote in the Critic: “There is no evidence that the suspect posted anonymously or was influenced by anonymous posters. Moreover, such legislation – as well as being comically unenforceable – would effectively be directed towards excluding unpopular and otherwise unconventional opinions. Perhaps that is one reason why journalists and politicians often seem to like it.”
James Forsyth wrote in the Spectator about the huge range of technical difficulties “David’s law” would pose.
Meanwhile a protestor has been arrested after a mock gallows were erected outside Parliament.
We must be free to debate Islamism
Brendan O’Neill wrote in Spiked about the familiar pattern, whereby a jihadist atrocity is immediately followed by a demand not to politicise it, and the media’s aversion to making attacks “focal points for national fury or feeling”. Instead, he said, we “need to have the targeted, focused discussion that is so often discouraged and even demonised in the aftermath of Islamist attacks”.
Tom Slater said the response to the murder had been absurd, pointing out that neither anonymous trolls nor Angela Rayner’s “scum” remark had caused the killing and that the debate was being deflected away from the desperately needed discussion about Islamist terrorism. Sam Leith said in the Spectator that reactions to the MP’s murder have been filtered through the lens of narcissistic identity politics.
Nick Timothy argued that the dividing line following the murder is not between Muslims and non-Muslims, but between pluralists and non-pluralists. He wrote in the Telegraph: “To live in a pluralistic society is to accept a fundamental deal, in which you accept responsibilities, not just rights. You cannot just live how you choose to live, you have to respect others’ right to do so, too. And you have to respect our values, institutions and way of life: the rule of law, democracy, equality, free speech and respect for minorities.” Dr Rakib Ehsan of the Henry Jackson Society argued that “the political correctness over Islamist extremism must end. Robustly debating the ideological underpinnings of the UK’s prevailing Islamist terror threat is not a form of anti-Muslim prejudice”.
Letter to St Andrews about mandatory diversity training
We’ve written to Professor Sally Mapstone, the Vice-Chancellor of St Andrews, about the University’s insistence that all incoming students should receive diversity training and then provide the ‘correct’ answers in a ‘quiz’ before they are allowed to proceed with their studies. For instance, they’re asked to agree with the following statement: “Acknowledging your personal guilt is a useful start point in overcoming unconscious bias.” In our letter, which you can read here, we point out that this is almost certainly a breach of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits compelled speech, and might be a breach of the Equality Act 2010 as well as charity law.
Obituary for the heroes of the “cartoon war”
Our Director Douglas Murray has written an elegiac article about the cartoonists who defied the terrorists who imposed Islamic blasphemy laws on the West. He wrote: “They were fine people, these cartoonists. Remarkable people. And [Lars] Vilks was among the best of them. They have not been replaced, you will notice. A new, brave generation has not come up after them. And there are obvious reasons for that. Not because our societies do not understand what is happening. But because we do. All too well. And we took the lesson from the past decade and a half that – whatever our societies might like to profess – the sword, or rather the scimitar, is in fact mightier than the pen. Those people in the cultural and artistic worlds who have accepted that are flourishing. It is the people who would not accept it who are dying out.”
Meanwhile French schools paid tribute to Samuel Paty, the history and geography teacher murdered on 16th October last year by an Islamist terrorist. France held a two-day period of mourning, including a minute’s silence in schools. The teacher was beheaded for showing caricatures of Mohammed in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo during a class debate on free expression.
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that publishing negative news stories about the dead (even if they are true) can breach the right to a private life of their living relatives and descendants. It’s a ruling that could have terrible consequences for free speech – not least for cartoonists of Mohammed or other religious figures. Andrew Tettenborn of our Legal Advisory Council wrote about the ruling in the Spectator.
Activists continue to demand Sussex fire Professor Kathleen Stock
An open letter from dozens of legal scholars to senior academics at Sussex has welcomed the University’s defence of Kathleen Stock’s academic freedom in the face of new protests. The University posted another strong statement defending Professor Stock this week which we have welcomed. Its statement came after an open day at Sussex was ruined, the Daily Mail reported, as masked protesters chanted “Stock out” and held up placards bearing obscene slogans. Harry Lambert of the New Statesman wrote about the atmosphere on campus following the latest demonstrations. The trans activists have described their campaign as “cloak and dagger” as organisers seek to protect their identities. One of the activists trying to force Professor Stock out of her post said anonymity was important because “no one wants to lose their place at university”.
The BBC has apologised after a guest on Politics Live claimed Stock had signed a “declaration to eliminate trans people in law”. This false claim was corrected after Stock complained to the broadcaster.
The Telegraph has interviewed trans people who’ve been defending Professor Stock, including writer Debbie Hayton who compared the behaviour of militant trans activists to “football hooligans in the 1980s”.
Academics unite to condemn abuse and intimidation
200 academics have written to the Times about the abuse, intimidation and death threats they have received because of their views. Many have been no-platformed and faced calls for their research to be shut down. You can read their letter here.
Professor Jo Phoenix of the Open University is pursuing a legal case against her employer on the grounds that it failed to protect her “from harassing colleagues who compared me to a racist, and peddled negative stereotypes of gender-critical academics as transphobic to defame me and create a hostile workplace”. She quickly raised £60,000 in donations.
In the aftermath of the campaign against Professor Kathleen Stock at Sussex, Professor Eric Kaufmann of our Advisory Council wrote in the Telegraph: “Britain is going to have to decide whether ‘emotional safety’ or liberalism matters more.” Academic freedom should not be restricted lightly, wrote Alison Assiter and Miriam David in THE. Helen Pluckrose of the campaign group Counterweight has written about the difference between free expression and intimidation.
Our New Zealand affiliate has welcomed the introduction of legislation to defend free speech and academic freedom.
An Alumni Free Speech Alliance has been formed by graduates of Cornell, Davidson, Princeton, the University of Virginia, and Washington and Lee University. But it was too late for Dorian Abbot, the Geophysics professor from the University of Chicago, who was no-platformed at MIT a couple of weeks ago. Michael Powell has written a fair-minded piece about that episode in the New York Times.
If you’re a working academic and haven’t yet joined the Free Speech Union, we’ve put a special offer in place whereby if you join you can claim a £10 rebate. To be eligible, you have to join for the full annual amount of £49.95 and select ‘Academic’ in the drop-down menu asking what profession you’re in. Offer ends on 20th December.
Making employees list their “pronouns” is compelled speech
The campaign group Sex Matters has launched a guide for employees and bosses on the current state of the law regarding gender pronouns in the workplace, following the Maya Forstater ruling. The group, founded by Forstater, argues that asking staff to “state their pronouns at work in email signatures, organisational and social-media bios, on name badges and application forms, and sometimes even at the start of meetings” is a form of compelled speech. Debbie Hayton writes in the Spectator of International Pronouns Day: “Transsexuals like me did not ask for this campaign; it was imposed on us in the same way that it was imposed on everyone else. Pronouns Day is part of a campaign to change human society. It is not a neutral act, and it is not necessarily kind. You can still say ‘no thank you’.”
Lisa Keogh – the FSU member placed under investigation by Abertay University for saying only women have vaginas – has unveiled plans to sue her former university for putting her through a vexatious investigation during her final exams, putting her under huge stress “at the most crucial part of my university career”.
Feminist author Margaret Atwood was mobbed on social media after she shared an article entitled “Why can’t we say ‘woman’ anymore?” Mary Harrington asked in UnHerd if Atwood, who had been supportive of trans campaigners – and used the term ‘TERF’ before – was starting to “wake up to the consequences of her own position” and said that so-called trans-exclusionary radical feminists are “simply women who have been paying closer attention than the author of The Handmaid’s Tale to the implications of an ideology that redefines female humans as ‘birthing people’, ‘chestfeeders’, ‘non-prostate owners’, ‘individuals with a cervix’, ‘bodies with vaginas’ or even simply ‘non-men’.”
A feminist conference in Portsmouth was picketed by militant trans activists holding signs reading “suck my dick you transphobic cunts”. Julie Bindel wrote in UnHerd that the trans campaigners had no interest in dialogue.
Labour urged to resist cancel culture
A report by the Renaissance group of Labour MPs has urged the Labour Party to “err on the side of free speech and open debate – and not to become associated with cancel culture” if it is to win back Red Wall constituencies.
Dame Joan Collins has described Twitter offence archaeologists as “sick” and said that in the current climate “people can’t say what they think because they’ll get cancelled”.
Actor James Dreyfus was dropped from a series of Doctor Who audiobooks after he signed a letter in support of JK Rowling. He spoke to Andrew Doyle of our Advisory Council on GB News.
Prestigious private school to teach about “white privilege” with BLM-inspired lessons
St Dunstan’s College has launched lessons inspired by Black Lives Matter and will teach pupils about “white privilege”, “microaggressions” and “why all British Prime Ministers so far have been white”. The school charges up to £19,000 a year. Our founder Toby Young wrote for the Spectator that “a majority of top independent schools have been teaching their charges about these issues for some time” because the jargon of social justice ideology is now the lingua franca of our time, and required learning for pupils “if they’re going to shin up the greasy pole in their careers”.
Katherine Dee reported on a new trend of “children using social justice rhetoric to pick on others”. One mother reportedly found a spreadsheet on her 14-year-old’s computer which he was using to keep a list of “problematic” behaviour from his classmates.
The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging a ban on critical race theory being taught in Oklahoma state schools.
Scottish Government removes the word “mother” from official policy documents
Transgender rights activists have persuaded Scotland’s civil service to remove the word “mother” from maternity policy documents. Freedom of Information requests revealed that officials had removed the apparently offensive term at Stonewall’s request to advance up the lobbying group’s “equality index”. Refusing to use words like “woman” or “mother” – including in public health campaigns – puts women’s lives at risk, Melanie Reid wrote in the Times. An anonymous bisexual writer in the Critic argued that Stonewall is stifling the people it was founded to protect: “It was Bisexual Week a couple of weeks ago, and a cheerful post went up unilaterally informing me that the definition of my sexuality has now changed. I am no longer someone attracted to men and women, but one of a whole load of new genders all under a purple umbrella. The only comments under the post were positive. Bringing my true self to work, I would have challenged this. But I can’t.”
Joel Kotlin argued in Spiked that progressives are provoking a huge backlash and the current hysteria is the “high water mark of woke”. He reasoned: “There are signs that the woke progressive model may be losing its appeal, even among some liberals. The bulk of public opinion is not in progressives’ favour. In the US, activist progressives, notes a recent study, represent eight per cent of the electorate – barely half the size of moderates and barely a third of the size of conservatives.”
President Macron’s government is rallying against Anglo-Saxon wokery, with French education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer leading the fight, reports Clea Caulcutt in Politico.
National Theatre Scotland has banned the word “spooky” over “worries” that it is a racist term. Despite no complaints ever having been received, the Theatre has identified the word as a ‘problematic’ term. One theatre source said: “There might not be many people who know that ‘spooky’ can also be used as racist but, even if it’s one person who is offended, it’s one person too many.” Meanwhile the Royal Opera House is to review its repertory to ensure it is “suitable” for the “cultural sensitivities” of modern audiences. Staff at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester will now have to take part in a mandatory book club that will educate them on racism and “white privilege”. Needless to say, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo tops the reading list.
Clare Foges argues that the National Trust has lost sight of its core mission.
Cancel culture campaigners are bound to start eating their own
Ricky Gervais has pointed out that the woke activists who try to get people cancelled today are going to be the movement’s next targets in a generation. “I want to live long enough to see the younger generation not be woke enough for the next generation. It’s going to happen. Don’t they realise that, it’s like, they’re next. That’s what’s funny,” the comedian said.
The entertainer Ashley Banjo told the Guardian: “I’m a sceptic of woke culture to the point where it’s cancel culture – and the speed of allegation is 100 times quicker than the speed of investigation. It’s very dangerous to be able to point a finger and change someone’s life.”
Education course for Newcastle fans who wore tea towels on their heads
Newcastle fans are to be offered education workshops “to explain how wearing tea towels in an attempt to impersonate Arabs could be considered racist, offensive, or culturally insensitive” after thousands of supporters did so for the team’s match against Tottenham following the purchase of the club by Saudi billionaires.
Telegraph film critic Robbie Collin said that film censors have lost the plot after the BBFC’s strict classification of films such as The Last Duel, which has inexplicably been given an 18 certificate.
Anti-Israel posters based on Sally Rooney book covers have been removed by Transport for London, which described them as vandalism.
Big tech censorship
David Davis MP has written in the Express about YouTube’s recent censorship of a speech he made at the Conservative Party conference in which he had attacked vaccine passports.
Concerns have been raised about the accuracy of the AI used by Facebook to detect and remove hate speech. Then again, if we’re going to be censored by intelligent machines, maybe it’s a good thing they’re completely incompetent.
Former president Trump is to launch a new social media platform in response to his ban from mainstream channels.
Apple has taken down a popular Quran app in China at the behest of the Chinese government. Campaigners that are usually so quick to complain about ‘Islamophobia’ have been strangely silent.
Forthcoming comedy nights
We are delighted to announce that we’ll be hosting two comedy nights in association with Comedy Unleashed, the home of free-thinking comedy. Join us in London on Wednesday 10th November and Wednesday 15th December, when the line-ups will include the brilliant Leo Kearse, Nick Dixon, Tania Edwards, Tony Law, Dominic Frisby, Mark Dolan, Vanity Von Glow and many more. The line-ups are different on each night, so feel free to come to both!
Booking details were emailed to FSU members earlier this week. Tickets are sure to sell out, so join the FSU now before it’s too late! We’ll be sending out the details again to our members next week.
“Wokus Dei: The Cult That Conquered the West” with Professor Frank Furedi
Also exclusive to FSU members, join us on Monday 25th October for our fourth Online Speakeasy, when Dr Jan Macvarish, our Education and Events Director, will be in conversation with prolific author, sociologist and cultural commentator Professor Frank Furedi, exploring the ‘woke’ cult. How did it acquire such velocity in such a short time and capture so many of our most prestigious institutions? Booking details for “Wokus Dei: The Cult That Conquered the West” will be sent again soon to members. If you want to take part in this discussion, join the FSU today – not forgetting the £10 discount if you’re an academic.
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