Weekly News Round-Up

Welcome to the Free Speech Union’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. As with all the work we do, 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.

Parents force headteacher out after critical race theory taught as fact at elite London school

The headteacher of the £32,650-a-year American School in London has resigned after a parent backlash against the teaching of critical race theory. The school was accused of “racial indoctrination” after pupils were denounced as suffering from “white fragility” and racially segregated school “affinity groups” were launched. Parents from a variety of ethnic backgrounds submitted complaints, and a 12-page letter set out how children were being “indoctrinated” with “every subject, from art to literature to history […] being taught through a prism of race or gender”. A separate complaint has been sent to the Department for Education about the school.

In the Telegraph, Harry de Quetteville and Eleanor Steafel wrote that what happened at the ASL was not unusual, because the independent sector has been “particularly affected” by battles over critical race theory and woke ideology. Inaya Folarin Iman, our founding director, wrote in the Telegraph that young people are increasingly being taught to recite “fashionable cultural mantras” rather than inculcated with proper virtues.

Samantha Price, President of the Girls’ Schools Association, said earlier in the week that parents should “keep up” with the political views of children, and that the younger generation should not be mocked for being “woke”. In response to Price’s comments, Melanie McDonagh argued that robust debate is in fact called for, because too many young people “cannot cope with anyone who expresses views at odds with theirs”. Joanna Williams likewise argued that of course adults should challenge woke youngsters, and Michael Deacon made the same argument in the Telegraph: “In the past, after all, headteachers used to order the young to show more respect to the old. Now, it appears, headteachers order the old to show more respect to the young.”

French schools are to restore the teaching of Latin and Ancient Greek, in a move supporters say will counter woke ideology.

JK Rowling’s home address posted online by militant trans activists

JK Rowling’s home address was posted on Twitter last week by trans activists who went to her house and posed outside for photos, which they then shared on social media with the address clearly visible. Rowling wrote on Twitter:

I have to assume [they] thought doxxing me would intimidate me out of speaking up for women’s sex-based rights. They should have reflected on the fact that I’ve now received so many death threats I could paper the house with them, and I haven’t stopped speaking out. Perhaps, and I’m just throwing this out there, the best way to prove your movement isn’t a threat to women, is to stop stalking, harassing and threatening us.

She thanked the feminist campaign group For Women Scotland for its support. Separately, the campaign group has warned about the “capture” of the Scottish civil service by LGBT groups, and called on the Scottish Government to put on hold plans for gender self-identification.

Julie Bindel has written in UnHerd that the concerted attacks on Rowling are meant as a warning to other women to “shut up, bitch”, but that “the feminist tradition is to defy bullies and resist attempts at silencing our voices. Thankfully, in Rowling, women and girls everywhere have an exemplary role model and a mentor.”

“If we let them win, we’ll be complicit in rolling back the hard-fought-for rights of women, in tearing down the sacred pillar of free speech that holds Britain up as a society,” Mercy Muroki wrote for GB News. Joanna Williams argued that the online mob has already succeeded in chilling public debate.

On the other hand, Naomi Cunningham has taken a more optimistic line in the Spectator: “Bullying and silencing opponents is a tactic that has served the trans activist agenda well until recently, and many people are still afraid to admit to gender-critical views at work or even among friends. But the tactic is losing its power.”

Meanwhile, JK Rowling will not be appearing in a HBO documentary about the Harry Potter films and her name has been removed from the house of a London primary school (along with Winston Churchill’s) – politically correct gestures that speak to the “hysteria” of our times, wrote Tom Slater in Spiked.

Professor Jo Phoenix has spoken to the Daily Mail about her ordeal at the hands of trans activists who branded her a “transphobe”. Posie Parker has written about her experience of being targeted by the “entitled woman-hating mob” in the Spectator:

I share in Rowling’s exasperation. For the trouble of speaking up for women’s rights, I have been banned from various online platforms, including Twitter. I have been interviewed by the police twice and had photos of my children posted online with details of where they go to school. Photos of my house and my address have been published repeatedly online. Unlike in Rowling’s case, though, my local police force was not interested.

Eddie Redmayne has said that taking on the role of a transgender character in The Danish Girl (2015) was a “mistake”. Actor Hugh Sheridan attempted suicide after being targeted by trans activists for having played a trans character.

Islamophobia and academic freedom: a conversation with Professor Steven Greer

The University of Bristol Free Speech Society is hosting a free online event with human rights scholar Professor Steven Greer on Wednesday 1 December 2021 from 19:30 to 21:00. Tickets can be booked here. We’ve been supporting Professor Greer since his module was withdrawn by the University of Bristol following an orchestrated campaign by the Bristol University Islamic Society.

Canadian school cancels talk with Yazidi survivor of Islamic State in case it “fosters Islamophobia”

A Canadian school has apologised after cancelling a book club event with Nobel Prize winner Nadia Murad, who was held captive as a sex slave by Islamic State, over concerns that her talk would “foster Islamophobia”. (Surely, the enslavement of a religious minority by a group claiming to be the embodiment of Islamic virtue has fostered Islamophobia?) The school board has a policy on “selecting equitable, culturally relevant, and responsive reading materials”, and has since claimed the book did not fall foul of those guidelines and that the decision would be reviewed. Writing in the Spectator, Tom Slater notes how the episode shows that “political correctness rots the soul as well as the brain”.

Writing in Spiked, Wasiq Wasiq argues that “Islamophobia Awareness Month” should be scrapped, and that the term is used “to shield radical Islamists from criticism”.

Jordan Peterson finally speaks at Cambridge

Jordan Peterson finally appeared at the University of Cambridge two years after he was cancelled. Dr Arif Ahmed of our Advisory Council said at the event: “This event does mark, I hope, the closing of a disgraceful chapter in the history of this university. For too long we have laboured under the absurd ideas that words are a form of pressure, and that speech is a way of perpetuating harm, when the opposite is true.” Aside from a momentary protest by a woman dressed as a lobster, the event proceeded without problems.

Students at Wolfson College, Cambridge have complained after a photographer taking a matriculation photo asked “gentlemen to help the ladies”. Some students said this created a “targeted atmosphere of inequality”, violated the “safe space for all genders”, and made them unsafe. Frank Furedi, writing in Spiked, said the culture of “safetyism” is “becoming increasingly absurd”.

Cancel culture

James Marriott has written in the Times that the internet has “turned our past into a curse”:

Our words and gestures fade in memory. Old photographs are lost. But online, every dumb picture, every unfinished conversation and every idle feud is preserved […] These things go on existing, as vividly, as angrily and as pointlessly as they did when you hit the Enter key and closed the Twitter tab in righteous disgust. There is no forgetting, no mercy of slow disappearance.

Matthew Syed also wrote in the Times that “private messages have become a vast database of potential recrimination”, with ordinary people and celebrities alike vulnerable to cancellation. Nick Timothy argued in the Telegraph that the recent case of Azeem Rafiq shows the breakdown of reasonable discussion about race in Britain today, with the rules changing “often retrospectively, to fit the theory, not the evidence”.

Tatton MP Esther McVey wrote in the Express about the “anti-British, anti-free speech worldview being weaponised by a loud minority of political campaigners”. And Caroline Ffiske wrote in the Critic that the Equality Act is stifling free speech in the workplace, and has left most industries with a uniform, po-faced culture.

Welcome to the Woke Trials

Julie Burchill’s new book Welcome to the Woke Trials: How Identity Killed Progressive Politics can be ordered here. Last year we intervened to get Julie paid in full after the book’s original intended publisher cancelled the book and helped find her a new publisher.

Support Jon Holbrook at his public hearing

Barrister Jon Holbrook is appealing against the Bar Standards Board after he was sanctioned for his tweets, including one post saying “free speech is dying”. The hearing is open to the public, and you can find details of how to attend here. You can also read Jon’s grounds of appeal here.

Police “hate” focus will undermine public confidence

Jenny McCartney criticised the police’s obsessive focus on “hate” in UnHerd:

If the general public sees more individuals being hounded and investigated for opinions which many of them may hold while the conviction rate for high-harm offences such as knife crime and rape remains dismal, they may well conclude that the police service is no longer set up to serve the best interests of ordinary citizens.

Culture war in America

Kyle Rittenhouse is the latest target of the Twitter mob following his acquittal, undermining faith in the US justice system, wrote Charlie Peters for Mail+.

Joe Lonsdale argues in the Washington Post that the new free speech-focused University of Austin will foster the leadership skills America needs, as legacy institutions abandon academic freedom and Enlightenment values.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes about the push to legitimise polygamy and even paedophilia, noting the case of Allyn Walker at Old Dominion University, whom she says is “concerned for the wellbeing of ‘minor-attracted people’ or MAPs, the new preferred term for individuals attracted to children”.

There are calls to remove a painting depicting George Floyd as Jesus currently displayed at the Catholic University of America in Washington.

New Zealand FSU backs academics against Royal Society investigation

The Royal Society of New Zealand is investigating academics who wrote a letter to the Listener questioning proposals to give “indigenous knowledge” parity with “Western” empirical approaches to science. They are being supported by the Free Speech Union New Zealand.

“Who knew an eminent scientist expressing an honestly held opinion — that mātauranga Māori, while valuable as a form of knowledge, is not science — would end up dealing with an Inquisition in 21st century New Zealand?” wrote Graham Adams.

Councillor pays “substantial damages” to Corbyn over satirical tweet

Conservative councillor Paul Nickerson has agreed to pay damages to Jeremy Corbyn for a satirical photoshopped picture of Corbyn carrying a wreath to the burning taxi after the Liverpool terror attack.

Why are quangos still pushing the woke revolution?

“Why are regulatory bodies such as the Financial Conduct Authority aiding the woke revolution? Why are so many quangos, taxpayer-funded cultural institutions and even government departments still defying or combating conservative values?” asked Allister Heath in the Telegraph. He accused Boris Johnson of having given power back to the “Blob”, which has now embraced the woke ideology to justify its power.

Forthcoming comedy night

Following the success of our first comedy night of 2021, we are offering members priority booking for our second on Wednesday 15 December – perfect timing for a pre-Christmas celebration.

Our MC for the evening will be FSU favourite Dominic Frisby, and he’ll be joined by comedians Leo Kearse, Mark Dolan and Joe Jacobs. Bringing some additional seasonal glamour, we have a special performance by global icon Vanity von Glow.

The Free Speech Union team will also be there, so do come and say hello. Round up your friends and family and buy your tickets now!

If you’re feeling especially full of Christmas cheer, please consider selecting the option of ticket plus £10 donation to the FSU.

Arab atheist seeks help for apostasy in Islamic countries

An ex-Muslim in Egypt has launched a petition seeking better protection for apostates who face severe persecution in Muslim-majority countries. You can sign it here.

The Free Speech Union’s Christmas Review

Join us for our online Christmas Review on Wednesday 8th December at 7pm. The whole Free Speech Union team will be there, discussing the free speech highs and lows of the past year. Come along and join in. Register now.

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A reminder: if you’re a working academic and haven’t yet joined the Free Speech Union, or if you know somebody who should, we’ve put a special offer in place whereby if you join you can claim a £10 rebate. To be eligible, you need to join for the full annual amount of £49.95 and select Academic in the dropdown menu asking what profession you’re in. Offer ends on 20 December.

Best wishes,

Benjamin Jones


Case Officer