Tag Archives: free speech

Opinion: Freedom of speech?

Southampton University is under attack: it is planning a conference on ‘International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism’  in April.  Paris University has been forced to cancel a conference entitled: ‘Israel Apartheid is real’.

I have recently attended two conferences on Islam, one of which also came under threat.

So when is free speech permissible and when not?

At my local university I have been shocked at the racist and Islamophobic comments made in talks and seminars by those who support Israel unreservedly.  Had I made similar comments about Jews and Judaism, I would have been thrown out.  Islam is no more homogenous than Judaism or Christianity  and the way it is practised is as much cultural, political and historical as any other. When I condemn Saudi Arabia or ISIS I am not condemning Islam as a whole, nor do I delegitimize Saudi as a State. On the contrary I am often defending Islam. When I criticise Israel, as a Jew myself, I am not attacking Judaism, I am criticising a regime that gives Judaism a bad name and when I criticise the USA, I am often criticising those who give Christianity a bad name.

Posted in Op-eds | 24 Comments

Opinion: Let’s look at the harm caused by Page 3

Given that Page 3 wasn’t in The Sun this week, it sure took up a lot of media space, especially among Lib Dems. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that loads of us want to wade into a fight that was framed as free speech and sexual expression vs gender equality and quality news reporting. But that’s not actually what’s going on at all: so here is a rundown of what Page 3 is, and why it’s harmful.

Page 3 is normalising objectification of women. The Sun makes printing nude women for the sole purpose of titillation in a national newspaper, which would otherwise be totally weird, normal. Images of nude women and breasts are perfectly normal and widely available in a sexual context (see, 80% of the internet), but a daily national newspaper is not the place for it, because it’s supposed to be for news. “Women have breasts” is pretty much the oldest story there is. Unless, like my mother, your breasts make it into the paper because they are testing the new mammogram machine at your local hospital they don’t need to be in there. If the Guardian decided to swap Polly Toynbee for a massive naked man next week, I’d find that equally inappropriate, because quality reporting is not about getting your rocks off (unless you have a particular fetish for bad photos of Ed Milliband).

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Charlie Hebdo – in sympathy and solidarity

The news from Paris today is deeply shocking. There are twelve people who are reported dead and four reported injured by the attack at the offices of satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. Four cartoonists and the editor-in-chief of the magazine are reported to be among the dead. We express our sincere sympathy to those who have lost loved ones and those affected by the tragedy. We also express our solidarity with the French people and Charlie Hebdo magazine in standing for free speech and against such mindless acts.

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Opinion: Liberals must think of ways to incentivise free expression

 

The recent withdrawal of The Interview from general theatrical release (later followed by online publication and limited release at selected theatres), following threats from what is currently believed to be a North Korean hacking group, has generated an international debate on corporate censorship in western societies. As liberals who believe in free expression and a free society, it is vital that we take part in this conversation.

It would be incorrect and unfair to place all the blame for this fiasco on Sony, the parent company of the film’s distributors, Columbia Pictures. Their initial decision to pull the movie was partly driven by the fact that an increasing number of cinemas were refusing to screen the film, and their efforts to distribute it via video-on-demand providers had were initially met with a similar response.

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Opinion: Does the Prime Minister really care about free speech?

The Prime Minister is concerned that Leveson’s “essential” legislative underpinning for press self-regulation would cross a line. “We should be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press”, he stated, saying that we should be proud of our “great tradition” of freedom of speech. But the UK has many laws that restrict citizens’ free expression and which we should be deeply ashamed of. Will the PM be campaigning to end these?

There’s ‘Section 5’, under which – for example – a 16 year old was summoned to court for holding a placard saying, “Scientology is not a religion. It is a dangerous cult.” Thankfully, after pressure from MPs and the Reform Section 5 campaign, the Home Office consulted on the law and – separately – the Lords will tomorrow vote on amending it. Reformists (including the Deputy Prime Minister) can presumably count on the PM’s support!

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Opinion: Criminal laws are freezing out freedom of speech

Much has been made of the “chilling effect” of British defamation laws on public debate in recent years. Given that backdrop, the lack of furore over our criminal, as opposed to civil, regulations of speech is rather difficult to understand.

Quite arguably, the chilling effect of these so-called ‘speech offences’ has been even more pervasive, akin to a Siberian winter at times, due to the woefully inadequate safeguards and catch-all wording that characterises almost each and every one of …

Posted in Op-eds | 13 Comments

Opinion: Fitna

What is the matter with Chris Huhne? On the great freedom-of-speech versus right-to-offend argument, he has always struck just about the right note – for instance, on Holocaust denial and the Danish Cartoons. But now his judgement appears to have deserted him when last week he backed the decision of the British government to exclude a Dutch politician for the unforgivable crime of saying something nasty about Islam. Coming on the twentieth anniversary of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the timing could hardly be worse.

There’s really nothing quite like a religious question to upend our political and moral intuitions and reduce any sort of reasoned argument to rubble. So it was that Chris declared Fitna to be “definitely inciting people to violence,” on the Today programme. Definitely inciting people to violence? It is true that the 17 minute film does contain endless incitements to violence. The trouble is that all the incitement is coming from the mouths of Muslim clerics. It is also true that these images are interleaved with some fairly offensive written statements. But they are mostly quotations from the Koran. Could it be that Chris got a bit confused?

Jo Swinson fared a little better on Any Questions by distancing herself from Chris and acknowledging that Fitna did not in her view incite violence. But then she drifted off into some fairly banal platitude. “Any text can be twisted,” she said. “If you want to pick and choose, you can actually create something horrific out of any text that you like.” Any text, Jo? I’d love to see a version of Fitna based on the Liberal Democrat constitution. You could juxtapose a statement about freeing people from poverty, ignorance and conformity, with some beard and sandals imagery maybe. Enough to incite anyone to violence, I’m sure you’d agree. Could it just be that some texts are in fact nastier than others?

It’s a common objection of course – that the offending quotations have been “taken out of context.” But what I’d like to know is precisely what context would make all the misogyny, homophobia, and violence contained in our various sacred texts acceptable? If we wish to read either the Bible or the Koran “in context,” then it might first help to understand who wrote them – to wit, primitive men who would be completely outshone in knowledge and understanding by a modern twelve-year-old with access to Wikipedia. No, the people who are truly taking the holy books out of context are called Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc. who claim that these writings are the “word of God” – whether it be that they believe this literally or in some ambiguous manner.

I don’t think I much care for Geert Wilders. His political hero is Margaret Thatcher – that is rarely a good sign. His perfectly reasonable desire to move freely between nations is undermined to some extent by his own anti-immigration politics. He should know that you can’t defeat an ideology by erecting physical barriers and pulling up the drawbridge. Calling for the Koran to be banned is totally daft. It would be quite impossible, even assuming such a thing were desirable which it isn’t. But I do share one thing in common with Wilders, namely that I am not prepared to read the Koran and pretend that it means the exact opposite of what it says, for the sake of some political expediency.

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Was Chris Huhne right to say Geert Wilders should be banned from the UK?

As the BBC reports:

A Dutch MP who called the Koran a “fascist book” has been sent back to the Netherlands after attempting to defy a ban on entering the UK. Freedom Party MP Geert Wilders had been invited to show his controversial film – which links the Islamic holy book to terrorism – in the UK’s House of Lords.

But Mr Wilders, who faces trial in his own country for inciting hatred, has been denied entry by the Home Office. He told the BBC it was a “very sad day” for UK democracy.

Interviewed on this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today …

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Evan wins Secularist of the Year 2009

We may be only five weeks into 2009, but Lib Dem MP Evan Harris has already won an award – Secularist of the Year. The BBC reports:

The Liberal Democrat was named joint winner, with Lord Avebury, for their work in abolishing the blasphemy libel law in England and Wales. Dr Harris called the law “ancient, discriminatory and illiberal” as well as not compliant with human rights and against free speech. The offences of blasphemous libel and blasphemy were abolished last summer. …

Dr Harris has also campaigned to separate religion and the state claiming the current system has a number

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