Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Another attack on free speech. A victory for terrorists?

There's a danger that the British government's main response to the recent wave of terrorist attacks in London & Manchester will be to clamp down on "Islamophobia"

I put this term in quotes because it's impossible to define. Does it mean criticism of the faith, or of any single adherent, or all adherents? Or is it implied criticism of any of the latter? Because the term is so hard to define, it will be judged arbitrarily to scare people - and probably subjectively too. Will there be a report of islamophobia - fair or not - every day, tying the police up?

Quite simply, is there anything we can safely say about Islam, apart from the most servile praise, that won't attract the interest of the Thought Police?

Freedom of speech RIP

The result of this crackdown will be that Islamist extremists will have succeeded in damaging one of our key liberties - freedom of speech. No faith or group should be exempt from criticism. This would be a victory for the enemies of our way of life.

Wrong approach

If the rationale for all this is that government is afraid that the wider Muslim community are in danger of being "offended" or alienated then this approach is feeble. Some Muslims are shocked by the atrocities committed in the name of their religion. They feel responsible.

But too often the first response from many Muslims to terrorist attacks seems to be "oh great, we're going to be blamed for this. We're the victims". This attitude is extremely disturbing, and needs to be challenged. Unfortunately the British Left often encourage it, and I think this is criminal stupidity on their part. We should be tougher on this, treading on eggshells makes us look weak.

Special status

A further problem is with making Islamophobia a crime when one can say anything one likes about Christianity, or any other religion. I know people who are exceptionally rude about Christianity, but worry that they'll be seen as racist if they say the same about Islam. There is no reason why Muslims should expect or receive special status

About 40 years ago the film The Life of Brian was released, one of the funniest films I've seen. Proponents of free speech asserted - sometimes vehemently -  that we should be able to say whatever we liked, even about things society holds dear. Where is that belief now?

People don't criticise Islam so much (although some point to disturbing passages from its holy book), because of two fears: the fear of being called "racist" (or "xenophobe" or "Islamophobe"), and the fear of being killed by a fanatical believer for making the criticism.

Context and censorship

  • We have had 3 major Islamist attacks in as many months. 
  • Apparently there have been 5 foiled plots. 
  • A nursery nurse has been attacked in London recently by women making reference to Allah (although some broadcasters seem to have forgotten to report that last detail). 
  • A video has gone viral of a London youth being arrested in possession of 3 machetes. 
  • We read that there are 23,000 potential jihadis on our Security services' watchlist. 
  • There has been another attack in Paris in the last few days, 
  • ..and another in Brussels yesterday.

Some anger is therefore entirely rational from non-Muslim communities in the UK. To make expression of that anger illegal is unjust, and will lead to voter apathy and resentment. It seems that  Darren Osborne has targeted Muslims in a serious crime, and will rightly be punished. But the attack on freedom of speech is a dangerous mistake, that will exacerbate tensions rather than ameliorate them.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

The biggest threat to free-speech. Governments or ordinary folk?

Recently, reading this page on the openDemocracy site, I wrote a comment - where I was basically thinking aloud - mentioning how some of the forces that curtail our freedom of speech are simply other ordinary people, playing power games with one another.

Government censorship & free speech

This needs further explanation, because our first, intuitive idea of "censorship" is of government control of expression. Modern day hate-speech laws are a perfect example of this. To bullet point my problems with the idea:

  • "Hate-speech" is impossible to define (partly because the word "hate" is, too)
  • what constitutes "Hate-speech" therefore becomes a matter of interpretation
  • that interpretation is in danger of 
    • being applied unequally to different groups
    • being applied in too many scenarios
The last point is key. Officials will eagerly look for new ways of applying this new law, forgetting the essential maxim that one should leave our liberties well alone (especially free speech) unless there is an excellent reason for restricting them. Roughly, being free to kill someone has such a deleterious effect on others' freedom & lives, that it's reasonable to restrict that freedom. 

Casually making it illegal to say something because someone might be offended or angered is a most dangerous path - which we've seen the consequences of. We ought to know better..

People power

What of the other sort of thought control? I think it's worth examining the way ordinary people influence each other's language and expression. It's surely a phenomenon we'll never be rid of, but being fully aware of such forces can only strengthen us against the appeal of GroupThink. 

Over and over again on Twitter and Facebook you can see people saying X because they think the larger peer group (their friends and acquaintances) will approve of X, not because they truly believe X.

My belief is that organised religions used to retain power by this sort of social pressure. As well as the threat of eternal damnation, religion was one vehicle for people to play games of social approval with one another. In the West, we have a new faith that tries to exercise the same sort of moral power - and it is the new Left, with their relentless accusations of racism and misogyny.

I've said often enough that I think feminism is about control rather than the stated aim of equality. Because of the nature of the movement, their means of influencing what you do think or say are numerous: social disapproval, righteous anger, group politics, etc. A respected scientist who says the wrong thing or even wears the wrong shirt is hounded online by an unpleasant army.

The tactic I find scariest, and most akin to something from Orwell's 1984, is the rather successful attempt to influence literature, screen drama, and all levels of education.

Sure a lot of ludicrous feminist dogma has already infiltrated government - and it's a major headache. But nothing says more about how feminism operates than that they quietly lobbied for 'guidelines' for textbooks and writers of drama. (I see the same influences at play with children's literature)

Trying to control the stories and ideas people come into contact with is reminiscent of the worst excesses of the nastier 20th century governments. This effort started with ordinary people telling each other what they should think or say, and has turned into a major movement for doing same. It seems that as long as there is a loosely-defined feminist movement, there will be attempts not to persuade, but to indoctrinate.

Feminism is about control, not equality

EDIT: A piece from early 2016 that I didn't publish originally. Still worth a look I think, as I'm revisiting the same theme

Occasionally, when they think they are getting a bad press (or when soul-searching over the fact that very few people believe their bizarre opinions) feminists say things like "feminism is about equality". This is suitably vague, enabling them to "clarify" later on, I want to suggest that the only thing that makes sense of numerous strands of feminist behaviour is the unusually strong desire to exercise control others - very often men - by any means possible.

Control of language

Feminists in the 80s seemed to get quite excited about the word "chairman", which they wanted changed because, to quote one of them "it reflects a male-dominated society". That was the language they used in those days, I'm not sure "patriarchy" had caught on back then.

A couple of years ago, feminists en masse decided to use the #banBossy tag on twitter - they wanted the word "bossy" made illegal or unacceptable  in some way because they thought (mysteriously) that it was used mainly about women.

One celebrity suggested that the word "fat" be banned too, apparently she believed this would be accepted by many people. It's probable that she will have thought this because of many conversations with friends where they all got rather overconfident about what things should be banned because they didn't like them, so this is more than just one person's eccentric idea

Finally there was a proposal to the EU in 2013 that anti-feminism be criminalised under "hate-speech" laws.

Feminists want to control what you say. George Carlin spotted this fact, though he was considerably more sympathetic to feminism than I am. They also hope, by doing so, to control what you think as well

Control of male sexuality

Feminist groups regularly complain about pornography, and the supposed attitudes it causes in adolescent boys. They've no evidence for this. Similarly to how computer games actually calm kids down, there is no evidence to suggest that the availability of porn increases the amount of sexual assault (even though the definition of such assault has been extended massively in recent years)

But feminists want to control it. Feminist groups also put pressure on governments to ban prostitution, on dubious grounds - and if they can make the legislation demonise the male clients rather than the sex workers themselves then all the better, In some cases this pressure pays off for them.

And finally we come to sex robots. Is there anyone who doesn't realise that the inventor of a perfectly realistic sex-robot is going to be an overnight billionaire? Yet feminists recoil from the idea. I think the laughably obvious reason for this is that - when such robots become available - women will lose their main method of influence over men.

One could be concerned about the effect the robots would have on relationships (hard to say), but I don't think that's what bothers feminists, exactly - though they may claim it is so. The motives for their behaviour become clear when you look at everything else they do. Their reaction to something unknown or frightening is to try and control it, and that goes 100% for the men around them,