Archive for Politics

Suffragette (2015)

Directed by Sarah Gavron
Produced by Alison Owen and Faye Ward
Written by Abi Morgan
Starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter,Brendan Gleeson,Anne-Marie Duff,Ben Whishaw and Meryl Streep
Running time 106 minutes

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A film that pulls no punches

Summary: In early 20th-century Britain, the growing suffragette movement forever changes the life of working wife and mother Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan). Galvanized by political activist Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep), Watts joins a diverse group of women who fight for equality and the right to vote. Faced with increasing police action, Maud and her dedicated suffragettes must play a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, risking their jobs, homes, family and lives for a just cause.

The film is centred on the character of Maud (Mulligan) who lives with her husband and son and works in a laundry. The laundry is a terrible place with poor conditions and pay and routine, open, sexual harassment and assault. A co-worker named Violet (Anne-Marie Duff) encourages Maud to come to secret meetings run by Edith and Hugh Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter and Finbar Lynch). Maud gets involved in the struggle. Maud loses a lot, personally, from her involvement with the cause.

Being a suffragette wasn’t genteel. It wasn’t just about writing letters to an MP or attending a meeting.

The suffragettes were angry, organised and militant. Their leadership affirmed and incited this. This film leaves you in no doubt that those fighting for votes for women were prepared to take direct and dramatic action.

The film shows how the suffragettes attacked both government and private property. For example, the attack on 1 March 1912, where about 150 women were given hammers, told exactly which windows to break, when to break them, and how to hit panes low so that glass would not fall from above.    At 5.45 p.m. in Oxford Street, Regent Street, the Strand, and other prominent thoroughfares, well-dressed women produced hammers from handbags and began to smash windows. The firms whose windows were
damaged included Burberry’s, Liberty’s, Marshall & Snelgrove, and Kodak. Police arrested 124 women.The damage was estimated at £5,000. The film also follows the women as they plan to attack the property of Lloyd George. At 6 a.m. on 18 February, 1913 the bomb set by Emily Wilding Davison and accomplices wrecked five rooms of his partly-completed house being built near Walton Heath, Surrey.

Suffragette also features perhaps the most famous incident of direct action: the 3 June 1913 disruption of the Derby where she was run down by the King’s horse, Anmer.

Her skull was fractured, and she died five days later without having regained consciousness. Suffragette depicts the huge and impressive funeral of Emily who was considered a martyr by the cause.

Of course the violence was not all one way. The government responded to the suffragettes with repression and brutality. The police had them under surveilance and sought to ‘turn’ some into agents. The scenes of women being beaten by police and force-fed in prison are harrowing. The suffragettes certainly fought back (Dr Forward, the medical officer of Holloway Prison which used force-feeding was assaulted by suffragettes using a dog whip).

Suffragette is an inspiring film showing ordinary women prepared to fight and sacrifice for their rights and those of others. How far their direct action advanced the cause of “Votes for Women” is debatable. Yet their determination and, yes, violence was certainly a strong part of a wider movement that eventually won. Of course it simplifies the complexity of events but, hey, they are telling a long story in 106 minutes!

Suffragette ends with a roll of dates showing when various nations gave women the vote.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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Civil and Religious Liberties for All

Free Speech

IF LIBERTY means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.

George Orwell.

ISSUE 1 of Free Speech (FS) is a double-sided A4 pdf publication. I understand that those who’ve produced it – a new Facebook group called Free Speech: How Do We Protect It? – hope that it’ll appear in hard copy in due course. You can check out this Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1607711629485795/ There’s no indication how often FS will appear, but to my mind there’s so many attacks on various freedoms these days that it could become a daily publication!

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Two things immediately struck me when I took a look at FS. First of all, its strapline declares that it supports Civil & Religious Liberties For All, something that I agree with wholeheartedly. Secondly, I was delighted to see that the lead article – Trigger Warning! – takes it cue from Mick Hume’s new book Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech? This is an excellent and thought-provoking book which I’m very slowly ploughing through myself. If you haven’t read it yet, check out this recent review on Counter Culture: https://countercultureuk.com/2015/07/26/trigger-warning/

This lead article is accompanied by some dramatic artwork featuring a gun which cleverly uses quote marks as a trigger. But more about Trigger Warning! later on.

Issue 1 of FS features a brief but very important ‘mission statement’ entitled Where We Stand. It’s worth reproducing in full:

FREE SPEECH is a new group which aims to promote, protect and preserve civil and religious liberties for all. We are interested in all aspects of freedom. However,

we are especially interested in instances whereby elements of the State try to restrict freedom of speech and assembly.

We believe that Britain should have a formal constitution and bill of rights, based on the concept of civil and religious liberties for all. We also feel that a civil rights’ watchdog

should be established to protect people’s ability to make use of these fundamental rights.

We believe in absolute free speech – with very few exceptions to this rule e.g. inciting violence. Either we all have rights – or none of us have rights.

I’m more than happy with this ‘mission statement’ as I’ve held a deep distrust of elements of the State for many years now. It also seems to echo the words of one of Britain’s most well-know Libertarians – and a man I really admire for his unwavering commitment towards total free speech – Dr. Sean Gabb. Here’s what he has to say about State interference:

My own view—and I speak on this matter not only for me but also for the Libertarian Alliance—is that there should be no restrictions on freedom of speech where public affairs are concerned. This involves, among much else, the right to say anything at all about politics, religion, sex, science or history. It is no business of the State to tell people what they can and cannot think. Our bodies are our own. Our minds are our own. What we do with them is our business. It is one of the highest glories of the Enlightenment that states were shamed out of dragooning people into the various established worships of Europe. It is one of the most ominous signs of the modern counter-Enlightenment that people can again be persecuted for their opinions.”

With this in mind, let’s return to the lead article.

Trigger Warning! provides an overview of the various attacks on free speech. One would have thought that only views that deliberately broke the law (maybe by, say, advocating violence) would be monitored or subjected to some form of control. However, the targets for attack are widespread, ‘ordinary’ and don’t necessariyl encourage violence. For as FS notes:

DO YOU use the internet? Are you a football supporter? Do you like comedy? Do you go to university? Are you interested in history? If so, your right to free speech – and assembly – could be under threat!”

FS notes that the main thrust of Hume’s book is “that freedom of speech is under threat, mainly because many of us don’t want to offend anyone. Indeed, politeness or fear of causing offence is undermining the hard-won rights of freedom of speech and thought that we like to think are the foundations of our society.”

Those who seem take offence at anything and everything are branded as illiberal liberals and ‘Reverse-Voltaires’. I like the phrase ‘New Totalitarians’ but it’s not used by FS or Hume. However, the descriptions of illiberal liberals and ‘Reverse-Voltaires’ as used Hume and FS are spot on:

Illiberal ‘liberals’ don’t wish to debate or dispute arguments that they find offensive. They would deny the other person’s right to say it in the first instance. Reverse-Voltaires believe

that their personal emotions and feelings come first. They want to be protected from words.”

According to FS, there are five main areas which appear to be targeted by illiberal liberals and Reverse-Voltaires: the internet, football, comedy, university and history. Examples are given for each area under attack – and, in doing so, both the beliefs and ‘justification’ provided by new totalitaians are shown up for the nonsense that they are.

To some degree, I can understand why elements of the Establishment would want to control – or at the very least, monitor – what’s thought and/or said on the internet and in university. In addition to this, I think that it could come in useful for the Establishment to have its own version or interpretation of history. Indeed, as Walter Benjamin noted, “History is written by the victors.”

I also think that the Establishment can also effectively use history for its own ends and to suit its own agenda. This is also the thrust of History Is A Weaponhttp://historyisaweapon.com/which is a US-based left counter-hegemonic education project.” It has the following to say about the subject:

History isn’t what happened, but a story of what happened. And there are always different versions, different stories, about the same events. One version might revolve mainly around a specific set of facts while another version might minimize them or not include them at all.”

However, other areas which have been targeted by (and are under attack from) the illiberal liberals and ‘Reverse-Voltaires’ are surprising. Why attack football and comedy? I’ve two linked theories about this.

My first theory is that the illiberal liberals and ‘Reverse-Voltaires’ are engaged in a deliberate and well thought out ‘war of position.’ Here they’re working to a political agenda, and as any true liberal publication would assert, they’re:

Politically Correct busy bodies who seem to want to dictate to everyone how they should think and act. Despite their self-proclaimed ‘liberalism’, in reality they’re dogmatic, undemocratic and totalitarian in nature.

Indeed, they would have given the combined forces of the Gestapo and KGB a run for their money!”

My other theory is that – whilst I’m not into ‘class’ – their actions (indeed, their ‘war of position’) could be part of some bizzare form of class warfare. The reason I say this is that the vast majority of football supporters in Britain are working class. The same could be said for those who attend comedy nights in pubs and clubs. But the illiberal liberals and ‘Reverse-Voltaires’ tend to be middle-class professionals.

It’s my feeling that these ‘New Totalitaians’ see themselves as an elite. And as this article https://www.facebook.com/248048985374884/photos/pb.248048985374884.-2207520000.1442514734./407549906091457/?type=1&theater points out

This elite tolerates those who agree with their values and views. But they spew real hate and venom when they disagree with others. It appears that they are more than happy to see the working-class working – as they’re helping to generate profits for others – but as soon as they let their hair down or try to organise politically, culturally or ethnically, they’re demonised.

The illiberal liberal elite simply don’t – or won’t – understand working-class style terrace chants and banter when it comes to race, ethnicity, nationality, religion and sexuality.”

I suppose only time will prove my theories right or wrong. In the meantime, and for what it’s worth, I’d highly recommend issue 1 of Free Speech. You can check it out in the Files section on the Free Speech Facebook site here https://www.facebook.com/groups/1607711629485795/

  • Reviewed by John Field

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TRIGGER WARNING

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Trigger Warning: [free speech and offensive language]. This review contains strong racial and sexual slurs, discussions of –isms, or hatred of any kind (racism, chauvinism, classism, sexism, body-image shaming)

WHAT you have just read is a ‘Trigger Warning’. Increasingly common, a Trigger Warning is a notice at the start of any piece of writing, or audio or video to warn would-be readers, listeners or viewers that something potentially upsetting or offensive is on its way. The underlying implication seems to be look away, do not read this, or turn off your radio or television set.

This modern innovation has inspired Spiked-online editor Mick Hume to write an impassioned polemic in defence of freedom of speech which he claims is under threat, mainly because many of us don’t want to offend anyone. His new book, Trigger Warning, claims that politeness or fear of causing offence is undermining the hard-won rights of freedom of speech and thought that we like to think are the foundations of our society.

The Islamic gunmen who attacked the office of Charlie Hebdo acted not just as the soldiers of an oldish Eastern religion but also as the armed and extremist wing of a thoroughly modern Western creed… a creeping culture of conformism. The cri de Coeur of these crusaders against offensive speech is You-Can’t-Say-That.

The gunmen who shot up the offices of Charlie Hebdo and a Copenhagen café just cut out the middleman in order to stop anyone reading the blasphemies in Charlie Hebdo or listening to a debate in Copenhagen on the nature of free speech and blasphemy.

Reverse-Voltaires

Western culture seems to have fallen out with its own core value of free speech. The author brands the crusaders in question as ‘Reverse-Voltaires’. The famous phrase, attributed to the French freethinker had him saying, “I disagree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” Hume’s Reverse-Voltaires in effect say, “I know I’ll detest and be offended by what you say, and I will defend to the end of free speech my right to stop you saying it.” They don’t wish to debate or dispute arguments that they find offensive. They would deny the other person’s right to say it in the first instance. The author’s charge is that these Reverse-Voltaires’ personal emotions and feelings come first. They want to be protected from words.

What has happened to the West’s liberal lobby in defence of free speech? They still speak up for oppressed dissidents in other parts of the world but at home, too many professed ‘liberals’ have gone over to the other side and want to restrict the ‘wrong’ kinds of speech. To many, censorship even seems cool.

Under King William III of glorious, pious and immortal memory, the need lapsed in 1695 for a Crown licence to publish anything. The recent Leveson Report called for a new State-sanctioned regulator to police press freedom. Even Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty gave public support for a new Royal Charter to limit press freedom.

Hume notes sadly that the remaining Pythons – who thirty-five years ago fought massive battles against Mary Whitehouse and quite a few Church of England bishops in order that everyone could go to see The Life of Brian – have effectively switched sides and joined a secular crusade for less press freedom. Illiberal liberalism now rules the roost so that black activist Jasper Lee rejoiced in closing down the controversial Exhibit B at the Barbican with the claim that censorship was a blow for free speech.

Today, free speech is attacked in the name of defending rights and freedoms. Even worse, there is now a blurring of the line between public and private spheres so that recently a large number of public figures and celebrities were monstered for thoughts expressed in private phone calls, texts or emails that were leaked, often by former friends or partners. As Brendan O’Neill of Spiked magazine put it, “there is surely only one solution to the alleged scourge of people saying bad things in private – put a telescreen in very home to capture our banter and alert the morality police to the utterance of dark or daft thoughts.” just as was the case in Orwell’s 1984 where people were encouraged to shop colleagues, neighbours and even family members. In 1984, Orwell’s Thought Police didn’t just punish those guilty of thoughtcrime but served to encourage others to practice ‘crimestop’ – the faculty of stopping short before embracing any dangerous thought.

Historical context

Hume puts the importance of freedom of thought and free speech in its historical context in a short outline of free-speech heretics, something we as Dissenters and Non-Conformists know – or ought to know – well. The right to freedom of expression and conscience was not handed down to us as a gift from the gods or from kings and aristocrats as an act of condescending beneficence. It had to be fought for and defended, over and over again.

We have heard a lot about Magna Carta in the past few months, given that its 800th anniversary was recently celebrated in great style. It did have a genuine role against arbitrary state power by establishing the idea that the Crown is not above the law and that free men have certain rights, most notably the right to trial by a jury of their peers. However, the Magna Carta had nothing to say about freedom of speech in a society where serfs were virtually owned body and soul by the lords of the manor.

After William Caxton introduced the printing press into England in 1476, the Crown sought to control it under a system of licensing. Today’s attempts to muzzle and control the internet are not entirely unprecedented. Nothing could be published without permission of the Star Chamber. Any criticism of the Crown was branded as treason or seditious libel.

One early free-speech martyr was the Greek philosopher, Socrates who, mirroring present-day Britain and America ‘just went too far.’ He was accused of corrupting the morals of Athens youth by saying things that ought not to be said. He replied that even if they went to spare him, he would keep on saying the unsayable and asking forbidden questions. Socrates posed the question; should there be a right to be a heretic?

As Hume notes, notions of heresy change as society changes in history. ‘Heresy’ is a label stuck on you by someone else. “From the trial of Socrates to today the big battles have been about the right to go against the grain, dissent from respectable opinion and question the unquestionable.” – in short, the right to be offensive.

In an age when many people dismiss religion as repressive and reactionary, Hume reminds secular readers that William Tyndale whose struggle to publish the Bible in English ended in fiery martyrdom, as well as the other religious heretics, came up against the censorious power of the political authorities. Their demands soon melded into calls for press freedom.

In 1689, after the Glorious Revolution which brought the immortal King Billy to the throne, the Bill of Rights wrote freedom of speech and debate into English law for parliamentarians. The system of Crown licensing for printers and publishers ended in 1695. The philosopher John Locke argued in A Letter Concerning Toleration against the State interfering in matters of conscience or faith but three centuries later, the government is still at it.

Up until the last few decades, liberty of expression and free-speech had widened in the UK. The last prosecution for blasphemous libel was in 1977 when Mary Whitehouse took a private case against Gay News for a poem she didn’t like. The offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel were abolished in 2008. However, Hume argues that this has been replaced by a form of ‘blasphemy-lite’ – the new censorship of ‘hate-speech’.

Proponents of old orthodoxies now find themselves in the dock – often literally. This might make some folk smile a ‘slap-it-into-you’ wry smile but as Hume remarks, heresy-hunting still threatens free-speech even if the person on the receiving end is a bigot. Today, a myriad of unofficial and shifting speech rules and codes apply and woe betides anyone who falls foul of them.

The internet front

In China and Turkey the State authorities are open and honest that they censor opinions that they don’t like. But the internet is today a major front in the silent war on free speech. Here in the West we don’t censor in order to enforce political repression – perish the thought – but to protect the vulnerable against harmful and hateful words.

We hear a lot in the media about internet ‘trolls’ although there is no firm definition of the term. This hasn’t prevented a government minster threatening to quadruple prison sentences for writing words based on a shaky definition of what a troll actually is.

Some people on the internet are really horrible but ‘trolls’ have just as much right to say what somebody else doesn’t like as anyone else. Like everyone else, however, they have no right to be taken seriously. In case anyone was wondering, threats of rape, violence or murder are already illegal, so no new anti-trolling laws are necessary. Not only words, but the context in which they are used should determine the credibility or otherwise of any alleged threat.

The rise of the troll has led to the emergence of professional self-appointed ‘troll-hunters’ who seek to track down and punish these people. One recent tragic case concerned Brenda Leyland who killed herself after she was exposed on television as the women who posted a serious of online accusations against the parents of a missing child.

Another threat to internet free-speech emerged after a 2014 European Court of Justice case on ‘the right to be forgotten’. This led to a pianist demanding that the Washington Post take down a three-year-old critical review of one of his concerts and many others seeking to cast stuff about their past into an Orwellian memory hole.

Universities

Two centuries ago, the poet Percy Shelley was banned from Oxford in 1811 for publishing The Necessity of Atheism. Today, universities are all supposed to be about the search for knowledge, truth and free expression; what Disraeli called, ‘a place of light, of liberty and of learning.’ That’s no longer true in the US or in the UK where often students fight for freedom from speech. Berkley University in 1964 was where students founded the Free Speech Movement. By a twist of irony, students at the same university petitioned to ‘disinvite’ the comedian Bill Maher in order that they might feel safe.

Bizarro World has come alive in many universities so that self-professed liberals or radicals are in the forefront of campus censorship campaigns. In recent cases, people have been told that ‘people who do not have uteruses’ have no say on the abortion debate and various speakers have been banned under widening cowardly and reactionary ‘no platform’ rules. Once it was ‘no platform’ for racists and fascists. Now it is ‘no platform for racists, fascists, Islamic extremists, Islamaphobes, rappers, comedians, Israelis, climate-change deniers, Christians, atheists or UKIP members. Hume says that this would be better phrased as ‘no arguments’ as their proponents refuse to countenance any ideas other than their own.

Hume excoriates the use of ‘Safe Space’ and ‘Free Speech Zones’ in many US universities which restrict opinions to the zone and make them off-limits everywhere else and turn the rule into the exception.

Trigger warning migrated from a therapeutic took to help sufferers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to many books on the university syllabus and even to things like Downton Abbey. This misuse undermines two freedoms; the right to speak or write what you want or the right to read, listen to, or watch what you want.

Football and comedy

Free speech is for (allegedly) fat and (mostly) white, male, working class football fans too.” In recent years, as money has poured into the game, there has been an attempt to ‘socially cleanse’ football terraces of its working class fan base, ostensibly to make the game more acceptable to the middle classes and ethnic minorities and more ‘family friendly’. While the thought appals many folk, a large part of the appeal of the game is winding up supporters of opposing teams by singing offensive songs. In Scotland, this can get you locked up under draconian legislation which is supposed to outlaw sectarianism. People have even been fined for singing God Save the Queen.

Players find themselves hung out to dry too. John Terry from Chelsea Football Club was found not guilty in court of calling another player, Anton Ferdinand of QPR a ‘fucking black cunt’ but nevertheless was sentenced by the English FA to a huge fine of £220,000 and forced to undergo re-education in etiquette and speech codes because of his ‘racism’. He was cleared in court of any offence but treated as guilty anyway on the grounds that he ought to have been some sort of ‘role model’ to young impressionable football fans. In today’s society, role model rules overcome the principle of presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Hume mourns the passing of the Jewish-American comedienne Joan Rivers. Loved and hated in equal measure, she never apologised to anyone who claimed to be offended by her acerbic brand of humour. Who, he wonders, will slay all those sacred cows now? The censors once were conservative politicians, policemen and priests. Now protests are led by illiberal liberals in the media, other comedians and activists.

The alternative comedians of the 1980s have created their own alternative comedic conformism. Most recent examples are the comic character ‘Dapper Laughs’, who was killed off by an illiberal liberal lynch mob. Interestingly, the West Belfast Festival, Féile an Phobail, is under pressure from some of the same circles to disinvite the Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle because they disapprove of some of his recent material. Nobody, Hume observes, “is against free speech for comedians. Until, that is, they decide somebody has gone too far in offending their own views and hurting their feelings.”

Many opponents of free speech borrow – and distort – an argument first aired by Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes in an American court in 1919 that people have no right to cry ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre. Holmes said that there was no freedom ‘falsely’ to cry fire in a crowded theatre. His ruling against a US socialist activist assumed that Schenk could be punished after the fact for what he wrote in a leaflet against military conscription in wartime. He didn’t try to prevent its publication beforehand as Gordon Brown’s government did with the controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders when he was banned from entering the UK in 2009. That was prior constraint and State censorship of an elected representative.

This raises the question, who decides? How can we make an informed decision if we cannot hear what a person has to say? The fire-in-a-theatre argument has generalised from a specific set of circumstances in order to shut down ideas that the offended person doesn’t like and doesn’t want anyone else to hear. Hume offers another quotation from Holmes, made in 1929. “If there is and principle in the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought – not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought we hate.”

Words will always hurt me

We used to recite a wee verse that “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Today that has been turned on its head. Recently, Katy Hopkins – a B List attention-seeking celebrity motor-mouth who has re-invented herself as a professional troll – faced a petition to sack her from her Sun column because of ignorant and stupid comments she made about would-be migrants from North Africa drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. In fact there was more outrage and indignation over her shit-stirring article than there was over the actual deaths of would-be migrants.

Hume blames the rise of what he calls identity politics as a major cause of the modern outbreak of thin-skinnedness. When someone identifies with a particular identity group, they become fixed in it and will not accept any challenge to their worldview. It’s not only you-can’t-say-THAT, but YOU-can’t-say-that! The result of this is that we have privatised blasphemy and virtually criminalised criticism. Identity activists consciously and conspicuously go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. They look for something to be offended by. They stifle public debate by their insistence that speech is policed to protect hurt feelings of the few who claim to have been offended.

Taking offence has become the acceptable face of political censorship today. Of course, anyone is entitled to take offence at anything said or written by someone else but taking offence does not give them any right to take away that other person’s freedom of speech.

Hume attributes one ‘-ism’ as the most powerful factor in this outbreak of self-righteous umbrage – narcissism; I feel superior by my sense of outrage and offence at what these dreadful people are saying. It’s an outrage. It upsets me. It shouldn’t be allowed. The 2008 EU ‘hate-speech’ laws were drafted in order to promote tolerance and equality. One EU commissioner admitted that they were actually intended to “preserve social peace and public order” by protecting the “increasing sensitivities” of “certain individuals” who “have reacted violently to criticism of their religion”.

That went well, didn’t it? Hume argues that the hate-speech laws seem to have inflamed things by sanctioning the notion that offensive speech is a crime that ought to be suppressed or outlawed if it upsets someone, so speaking disrespectfully of Mohammed or of other Islamic symbols deserve punishment. By this reckoning, the murderers of the Charlie Hebdo staff privatised the penalty due for causing such offence. Thomas Jefferson argued that the State should keep out of religious disputes. “It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are 20 gods on no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Today people can be locked up or fined in the UK and Europe for expressing an opinion deemed insulting or offensive to someone else’s religion or identity group. Ask Pastor James McConnell of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in north Belfast, who is awaiting trial for a sermon in which he claimed that Islam was spawned in hell and was of the devil. It looks like the State will be wading into religious disputes in future, if somebody makes a complaint.

Liberals used to campaign for disadvantaged groups to share equality with the rest of us; not special privileges for a self-identified group. Anyone can be and has the right to be offended but not to use that feeling of offence to curtail the rights of the rest of us.

Mind your Ps – Qs – Ns & Ys

Hume recounts a Football Association dinner he attended that was entertained by the black American comedian, Reginald D Hunter, who told amusing stories of how soccer baffled ‘this nigga’. A huge media shitstorm saw Hunter pilloried for racist language and behaviour. The FA’s anti-racism lobby group, Kick it Out now ‘condemns racial slurs, irrespective of context’. According to this idiocy, Hunter calling himself ‘this nigga’ is just as outrageous as a Klansman shouting ‘lynch that nigger’ at him. Fans of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club have similarly found themselves in trouble for calling themselves the ‘Yid Army’.

A similar storm of outrage burst over the head of the award winning actor Benedict Cumberbatch in a January 2015 interview when he referred to ‘coloured actors’. Never mind that he was speaking out against racism. He used a slightly old fashioned term to describe people of colour and was denounced on both sides of the Atlantic for his use of these dreadful words of power. According to the theorists of ‘irrespective of context’ Cumberbatch might as well have gone around whipping slaves and forging new chains for them by reminding their descendants of the bad old days of segregation and slavery. He was forced to make a grovelling apology for his hate-speech.

We are entering a cultural age where people like Hunter, Cumberbatch, the Yid Army or any one of us can be sacked, censured or censored for saying the wrong word, regardless of where they said it or what they meant by it.

Liars and holocaust deniers

Hume describes the recent trend for people who question the dominant view or current orthodoxy to be branded as ‘deniers’. ‘Denier’ is a religious term just as ‘witch’ was in the seventeenth century. To brand someone as a denier alleges a moral failure. That person is not just wrong but has no right to be heard. You don’t debate with deniers; you shut them up or lock them up or burn them. That’s what happened to Michael Servetus who was burnt at the stake in Calvin’s Geneva in 1553. He denied the Trinity. In Scotland, Thomas Aikenhead was hanged in Edinburgh in 1697 for denying the Trinity and the deity of Christ. All questioned the unquestionable and denied the prevailing orthodoxy – the ‘accepted version of truth’. All were regarded as subversive, dangerous and morally debased.

Holocaust denial is now the biggest thoughtcrime in the West. It has become a crime in almost twenty countries in the past two decades since the Holocaust became transformed from a historical event into a pseudo-theological universal symbol of absolute moral evil that must be taught in schools. The best way to deal with such nonsense is not to shut it down by locking up its proponents but to expose its fallacies and errors to the light of day. It”s not as if there’s any shortage of evidence.

Like all heresy hunters, the defenders of orthodoxy don’t just want to silence their opponents but to punish them for their secular blasphemy. Denial is meant to be “a refusal to acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion, or to admit it into consciousness.” A ‘denier’ is someone refusing to acknowledge what everyone knows is the undoubted truth, not a sincere doubter but a despicable liar.

Similar terms are now being used to refer to persons who doubt the current orthodoxy on man-made climate change. As the debate is settled and the question closed such doubters should be silenced. This is contrary to the opinion of John Stuart Mill who wrote, “To refuse a hearing to an opinion because they are sure it is false is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility. That’s for popes, not scientists.”

Elitists believe that the ‘sheeple’ – ordinary people – need to be protected from the media. Their lack of faith in free speech reflects and reinforces their lack of belief in humanity. Hume argues that this is the main reason why there was an official cover-up of the scandal in Rotherham where gangs of Asian men abused white girls with impunity. The story was not suppressed by the authorities for years because it was false but because it was true. Social workers and officials feared accusations of racism and that community tensions would be inflamed if the full truth came out.

Today those who think of themselves as enlightened often demand less free speech and want to restrict press freedom. The puritans of the past look like open-minded humanists compared with today’s misanthropic illiberal liberals.

The right to free speech is not sectional. It has to apply to everyone – no matter how obnoxious – or it becomes undermined for others. Once media freedom is made out to be a problem the ‘solution’ offered is more state intervention and regulation. Orwell wrote that “A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.”

The crux of Hume’s argument is that free speech is not the problem but that fear of it is. “Without fighting for the heretical right to offend against society’s consensus views and to question the unquestionable orthodoxies of the age, many of the great political, cultural, scientific or artistic breakthroughs that we now take for granted would have been hard to imagine.”

Reverse-Voltaires claim that we will gain is a safer, more civil society where people will have to respect each other. Hume argues that we are all in danger of losing the meanings of words. Rules and codes shift and narrow the terms of debate as Benedict Cumberbatch learned to his cost. In fact, they close down any chance of debate which prohibits any proper discussion on the important issues of the day.

David Kerr

Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech? by Mick Hume. William Collins Books ISBN978-0-00-812545-5 £12.99

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ANIMAL FARM

animal-farm-ed-fringe

Assembly George Square Theatre (Venue 8)
12:00noon; Aug 9-10, 12-17, 19-24
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes

George Orwell’s tale of a revolution betrayed is brought to the stage by the Tumanishvili Film Actors Theatre from the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Georgia’s most famous son was the model for the pig leader, Napoleon; former Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

In this allegory, the animals of Manor Farm overthrow the rule of the tyrannical Farmer Jones and set up a new regime where all animals are equal under the new ideology of Animalism. However, to defend the revolution, the newly christened Animal Farm gradually cedes, without realising the consequences until it’s too late, all power to Napoleon and his coterie of pigs.

Props and costumes are minimal in this production but that is not a problem. This performance  is in the Georgian language with simultaneous English language surtitles displayed overhead. In practice this works well. Arguably, it allows for greater concentration. Through dance, movement, gestures and a cracking soundtrack we can soon work out who are the sheep, the pigs, the hens and the dogs in this effective piece of physical theatre.

Stalinism is dead and gone everywhere but in North Korea but the temptation to trust a ruler who is ‘always right’ is still with us today. Animal Farm is great reminder of the truth of the words of the Psalmist who said, ‘Put not your trust in princes’.

***** Five Stars

David Kerr

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/animal-farm

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The First Stone

First Stone cover

Click on image to buy this book!

It doesn’t take too much of a stretch of the imagination to envisage the dystopian American society of Elliott Hunter’s debut novel. The First Stone. It’s all too plausible. Set in the not-too-distant future, (or perhaps an alternative present), this America has become an intolerant place dominated by The Council of Elders, a fundamentalist group that has become the real rulers of the new America in the years after Houston had been vaporised by a terrorist nuclear device.

America had lashed out in retaliation of course. Despite protestations of innocence the Iranians had been blamed and Tehran had been razed. Egged on by zealots from hundreds of fundamentalist preachers who provided the willing cannon fodder for a new Great Patriotic Crusade against terror, American soldiers occupied large parts of the Middle East. Thousands of soldiers had died there and many more had come home, seriously wounded, traumatised or damaged by chemicals and radiation. One such former soldier was Felix Strange, a private eye who suffers from a debilitating illness picked up in Iran that has neither a name nor a cure.

Strange doesn’t normally deal with homicide cases, but when the body of America’s most loved preacher, Brother Isaiah, is found strangled to death in his New York hotel room, he is called in to investigate. He’d rather not get involved in this case, but Ezekiel White who leads the morality police, the ‘Committee for Child Protection’ has ways and means of forcing him to comply.

White’s CCP goons, known as the Holy Rollers, are outflanked by Brother Isaiah’s Crusade of Love; an independent body of religious zealots who send their spies into different towns and cities in advance of a visit by the influential preacher. Pretty-boy ‘ex-gay’ activists entrap closet gays. Attractive young ladies do the same for amorous men in positions of authority. The unfortunate victims then find themselves denounced for their perversity by Brother Isaiah at one of his huge evangelistic rallies. Brother Isaiah may have had the US President and the Congress in his pocket, and Jesus on his side, but he had surely annoyed somebody enough to kill him. Strange has a week to find out who killed Brother Isaiah and why, if he lives that long…

This modern noir reflects the grim humour and terse prose of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler for the twenty-first century. All the ingredients are there; a mystery death, a race against time to meet a deadline, people out to stop our protagonist and one of the finest examples of a femme fatale to appear in crime fiction for decades. This is an outstanding book, both in terms of characterisation and sharp dialogue and most notably in its author’s scarily plausible portrayal of a society dominated by an intolerant fundamentalist version of Christianity.

Reviewed by David Kerr

The First Stone (the first in the Strange Trilogy). Elliott Hall

 

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Review: Notes from the Borderland – Issue 10

NOTES-FROM-THE-BORDERLAND_10NOTES From The Borderland, (NFB), is a long-established journal published and edited by the researcher Larry O’Hara and styles itself ‘The Parapolitical magazine’. On its website, it gives a brief definition of the term “parapolitical”, including others’ variations on it, but for the purposes of this review of issue number ten, which was published during 2012, we will confine ourselves to theirs: “For us, parapolitics refers to the social reality of conflicting forces and their-oft hidden agendas. It is by analysing these conflicts and tracking their trajectory/outcomes that parapolitical research advances”. Thus we have the ethos underpinning the magazine.

The lead article by Larry O’Hara is Gareth Williams: Murdered Twice. Most of us no doubt remember the strange, and to this day, unexplained death of Gareth Williams in August 2010. He was found inside a locked holdall after what may have been some kind of sex-game gone wrong, or was it murder? That the deceased worked for GCHQ and had been living in London on secondment to MI6 at the time of his death was not surprisingly seized upon by not only the tabloid press but other more respectable papers and subject to much speculation, much of which was lurid insinuations about his private life.

O’Hara does a fine job in going beyond the sensationalism surrounding Williams’s death and looks at various factors including what exactly did Gareth Williams do? Was his death linked to his work? If it was, has there been a deliberate campaign of dis-information to obscure any such connection? What is actually known about Williams’s private life and activities outside of work as opposed to what the media might care to infer/speculate? The roles of the media, the police and the security services in this case are meticulously examined in this article and it includes a very helpful timeline of events. Critically examined is one of the more far-out theories linking Williams’s death to the most likely accidental one of an Oxford lecturer that occurred the same month. It serves as an object lesson of how speculation and debate on unexplained events can descend into the realms of fantastic conspiracy theory.

Pandora’s Pox: How Far Right Labour Hijacked The Hope Not Hate Campaign by Larry O’Hara and Heidi Svenson charts the internecine squabbles between self-styled “anti-fascist” journal Searchlight and its former ally, the Hope Not Hate campaign group. O’Hara has been a keen observer of the Searchlight scene for over twenty years now so he is uniquely qualified to comment on this tale which is almost reminiscent of what happened with Dr Frankenstein and his monster! On the one side, we have what might be termed the traditional Searchlight group headed up by the husband and wife team of Gerry and Sonia Gable, and on the other, the Hope Not Hate team which while it contains the former Searchlight editor and long-time employee Nick Lowles, is largely comprised of relative newcomers to the Searchlight scene.

The backgrounds of these newcomers are quite interesting and could easily fit into the pages of a thriller. They include a merchant banker, a person named in Wikileaks as a source to be protected by the US Embassy and a former ‘far-right’ activist who moved to Australia for a bit after changing sides and then returned to the UK to work for the Searchlight group. Now it is open to the judgement of the individual reader whether or not O’Hara and Svenson make a convincing case for the cause of the split being an attempt by failed New Labour, (or should that be Neo-New Labour!), types to re-launch their careers by adding a bit of street cred to their CV’s through their involvement with Hope Not Hate, not a totally unrealistic proposition given the group’s cosy relationship with various elements of the establishment. Other factors to take into account include the dispute over whether or not the septuagenarian Gable actually set a date for his retirement, (both sides dispute what was said on this and NFB provides excerpts from e-mails and letters on the issue), and whether the less noble motivation of competition over the various sizeable grants available from both local and central government for work in local communities to tackle “extremism” played a part in causing the rift. Strange dealings such as the removal of the Searchlight archives, some twenty filing cabinets’ worth, are also covered.

On a more general note, O’Hara and Svenson look at the work undertaken by Hope Not Hate and highlight the modern phenomenon of “clicktivism”. This comprises various activities undertaken in the virtual world such as online petitions and their conclusion is that such work does not achieve much. Perhaps there is a lesson there for groups across the political spectrum? The article also looks at the various projects undertaken by Hope Not Hate in the real world and gives a serious and in-depth analysis of it. Again, it is up to the reader to decide whether or not this work has been effective, but it is hard not to conclude that a lot of money has been spent with not a lot in the way of results in return.

There are a number of shorter, but nonetheless very informative articles in this issue, of which we will mention but one. In Not Over Till It’s Over: The BNP and the 2012 Local Elections, Larry O’Hara gives his rather perceptive analysis of the BNP’s electoral performance in that poll. His debunking of the conventional left mantra that the BNP is finished, bust, etc. can, in light of more recent developments, be seen as somewhat prescient and places him above the less sophisticated analysis of those writers on the left who based their predictions of oblivion for the BNP more on wishful thinking than actual facts.

Finishing with an update section on stories carried in previous issues and at a total of eighty-seven pages, issue ten of Notes From The Borderland is a considerable read. Whilst the writers do not make any secret of their own political leanings, they manage in the main to avoid being tendentious and thus make the journal readable to a wider audience that does not necessarily share their views. This reviewer would recommend picking-up a copy by mail  or ordering online.

Reviewed by Andrew Hunter

 

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Argo (2012)

Argo posterDirector:
Ben Affleck
Writers:
Chris Terrio (screenplay), Joshuah Bearman (article)
Stars:
Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston and John Goodman|

Argo tells the story of the CIA operation to get six US diplomats out of revolutionary Iran.

Argo starts well by giving a ‘potted history’ of US involvement with Iran. It tells how the CIA helped organise a coup d’état against the elected prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh, who  nationalised the oil industry. The US put the hated Shah on a throne and helped train his secret police.

Set against the backdrop of the Iran hostage crisis the film conveys the real danger to the six in hiding. 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 day from November 4, 1979 and they were in real fear for their lives. The hostages have described mock executions and being paraded before angry crowds among other ill-treatment and psychological torture.

The story is a gripping one with many tense moments as the diplomats hide-out at the Canadian embassy and a rescue is attempted. It is a very watchable movie which doesn’t rely on firing guns or extreme violence to entertain. Argo keeps you in suspense throughout because of the peril of the diplomats as they risk being found and detained (or worse). Argo also is humourous in parts despite the very serious subject.

I am not, however, an uncritical fan of Argo. I was struck by three things. First, the Iranian people are generally portrayed as continually angry. The only sympathetic Iranian character is a maid who helps the US and leaves the country! All other Iranians are pretty one-dimensional and clearly the ‘bad guys’. This does not fulfil the promise of the opening statements which do give a glimpse of why the Iranian/American relationship is so bad. Second, the role of the Canadians, Swedish and Italians in getting the diplomats out is very underplayed and the CIA role exaggerated. Third, there is no mention of the failed rescue mission of April 24, 1980 where eight American airmen and one Iranian civilian sadly died. Perhaps this was left-out of the narrative so as not to spoil the feel-good nature of the successful rescue that the film centres on?

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

 

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