Stop giving in to terrorism, stand up to it!

It is little wonder that over a decade after the “war on terror” was declared terrorism is still going strong. Indeed, it is having rather a successful recruitment drive. It is not just that it provides a fulfilling ideology for young men and women to cling to, it is just so damnably effective! I do not refer to the people they have murdered, or the acts of terror they have committed, because actually these are few and far between and most attempts are thwarted. Yes, I know it is easy to forget that isn’t it? Statistically you have more chance of dying of food poisoning, or in a train crash or being drowned in the bath than of being killed in an act of terrorism. It is extremely unlikely to happen, you may as well worry about debris from space landing on your head. Yet something as statistically insignificant as death by terrorism can spread fear and hysteria through a populace, and allow a government to get away with investing vast amounts of money, enacting laws, removing liberties and declaring wars just to supposedly protect us from it.

The “war on terror” was declared in response to the attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11th 2001, could the terrorists have hoped for a better response from the leading nations of the west? Trillions were spent, and thousands of lives lost, in fighting (and losing) disastrous wars. To defend “our values” against terrorists our governments have systematically betrayed them with paranoid authoritarianism. We fight the “war on terror” with vast increases in state power that destroys the liberty of our law abiding citizens. We are losing the war because our response to terrorism is to be afraid, to turn on each other and to betray the virtues that set us apart.

je_suis_charlie_fist_and_pencil

Will our apparent defiance last?

Terrorism only works when we allow it to. The Islamists who murdered the Charlie Hebdo staff claim another victory every time the media censor themselves by refusing to show the images that inspired the attack. How can the media properly report on this topic without printing the cartoons? They are conspicuous by their absence and self-censorship makes a bold political statement that read: you win terrorists and what is more, you were right. These double standards concede to the Islamist murderer’s demand that their deity be given special treatment, this must end now.

Charlie Hebdo was an easy target, why? Because they were isolated and stuck out like a sore thumb. They were making a stand and barely any other members of the so-called “free press” stood with them. If they had done so, and collectively, they could have spread the risk and faced the enemy down. Unfortunately, cowardice is part of a long term pattern and every time a great shock to the system occurs there is talk of it being a line in the sand that will change things fundamentally. I would dearly like to believe that liberal western countries, and their media and artistic industries, are going to wake up and stand up for their supposed values that they allegedly hold dear but their track record is poor.

Salman_Rushdie

Rushdie has responded to the campaign against him with bravery and quiet dignity

If the hysterical response of Islamists to the publication of Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses, and the subsequent terror campaign against him and anyone affiliated with the book, didn’t inspire liberal countries to stand up for what they believe in, what will? So much for “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”, the author was instead criticised by many cultural and political figures at the time for his ‘insensitivity’. Rusdie has lived in some degree of fear for his life ever since but (thankfully) has been successfully protected, others have not been so lucky. The Italian translator of The Satanic Verses, Ettore Capriolo, was stabbed and seriously wounded, the Japanese translator Hitoshi Igarashi was murdered. The books Norwegian publisher Willian Bygaar survived an attempted murder in Oslo. In 1993 a Turkish cultural festival was set upon by a mob of Salafists aiming to murder Azin Nesin who had tried to get the novel published in Turkey. 37 people died, mostly intellectuals, artists and musicians but also several of the hotel staff.

That was a real test for of our resolve, a test that so many people sadly failed. Instead of defending freedom of expression and seeing through the Islamic world’s reaction as the ludicrous hysteria it was, some chose to criticise the quality of the book (as if that was even the point), some criticised the author for being offensive, some criticised the fact that the taxpayer would be funding the author’s security. Book burnings on the streets of Bradford, death threats for the writing of a novel, an author having to go into hiding, and people were still saying that perhaps he had it coming for being provocative and perhaps he should have known better. How sad. You can trace our cultural malaise back to 1989, that was when the era of the intolerant offence culture began, it has yet to come to an end.

18 years later, when Rushdie was up for a knighthood in 2007, there was predictable outrage in the Islamic world and amongst a minority of British Islamist lunatics who took to the streets to burn books, effigies of the author and the union flag. Even more predictable, and regrettable, was the cowardice and hand wringing evident in the prominent protests of some British politicians and intellectuals. Of course Rushdie had many staunch defenders,but the very fact that the question of “is this an insult to Muslims? was raised in response to the knighthood was a sign of severe timidity, and a complete misunderstanding of what was at stake. It was a potent reminder of the sad fact that a novel like The Satanic Verses simply would not get published now.

For decades now our artistic and journalistic culture has been constrained. How many other novels have been rejected because the publisher didn’t want to provoke the rage of terrorists? How many novelists have censored themselves? How many film makers have opted to play it safe? I don’t ask that we collectively and deliberately do what we can to provoke the Islamic world, I simply ask that we stop being afraid. That we stop making that possible offence our primary concern, that we stop censoring ourselves and that when another test of our resolve comes, we refuse to be intimidated. When Charlie Hebdo’s offices were bombed in 2011, they reprinted the cartoons to show that they would not back down in the face of terrorism; that takes courage. Because so few other people showed that courage the magazine and its staff was left to make a lonely stand.

mohammad_cartoons-thumb

All that madness, for these silly cartoons…

After the uproar over the crude, but pretty innocuous, 2005 Danish cartoons no other major newspaper or magazine in Europe reprinted them. After the bombing of the Charlie Hebdo offices in 2011 the same whimpering cowardice prevailed. After the Paris shootings last week many failed the test once again. There were a few notable examples but at this stage it is difficult to believe that the tragedy will trigger the cultural shift that is so necessary.

This is not a “clash of civilisations”, that phrase is overblown, a tired neo-con relic from the build up to our foolish military campaigns. This battle is ideological, this war is cultural. We have to stand up for ourselves and flex our cultural muscles. Our response to terrorism should be proportionate and unyielding. We must refuse to be panicked into a knee jerk overreaction in which we enact further illiberal laws. This generational struggle is temporary, but the virtues of our culture can last forever if we refuse to surrender them. If anything, we should be repealing laws; defending our freedom by increasing it. The media should reach a consensus in which it refuses to be gagged and stops censoring itself, if a picture of Muhammed is central to the news report, print or show the damn thing!

Above all else I pray for an unrestrained artistic renaissance. This is a time when people are being murdered because of cartoons, when a few loons can gag the mass media. When small terrorist groups can send the whole western world into a spasm of war and paranoid delusion. When disillusioned young people are being indoctrinated with a radical ideology and turning to murder and terror, when a stagnant religion shackles the mind of vast swathes of British Muslims and hinders their integration. When the hypocritical governments of the west are ever expanding and using a climate of fear to increase and consolidate their power. Now is the time for untrammelled plain speaking, criticism, analysis and satire. Come authors, poets, film makers, artists and writers, all, please heed the call!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speech precedes politics

There seems to be a belief that society should get together and create a body that decides what is good speech and what is bad speech. Recent noteworthy examples are Leveson, the gagging law and Mehdi Hassan, but I include the private correspondence of colleagues, in particular one or two colleagues who draw their views on speech from a popular religion.

As a believer in a marketplace of ideas – where false useless ideas tend to die and good useful ideas tend to flourish – this seems rather backwards. It’s backwardness is clear when one considers the question of how the collected members of society might decide how it’s collected members should be ruled (not that they have any right to). Answers to that question range from “benevolent king” to “leave me alone”. Which is best is the subject of discussion within the marketplace of ideas.

If you now consider the question of a committee deciding what speech is to be accepted by society then it becomes clear that you are loading the game. The ever disputed outcome of one discussion – who rules – is preempted by a decision to have someone rule over your speech. Is it not fairly obvious that those ruling over your speech are likely to have skin in the other game? What are they to do when someone comes along taking an extreme stance on that preliminary question? The temptation to fix the game in favour of the committee is obvious for all to see.

As such, speech should be left as open as practically possible so that society’s discussion over who should rule and what those rulers should do can be a fair fight. The legitimacy of a ruling institution comes from its constant prevalence in the market of ideas. If it loses it’s winning position, it’s rule should end. If it loads the game in its favour it’s rule must end, and allowing anyone into a postion where they are able to load the game is a dangerous proposition that ought properly to be discarded.

Dear Mehdi Hasan, I Am A Free Speech Fundamentalist and This is Why You Are Wrong…

Dear Mr Hasan,

I read your recent article on ‘Free Speech Hypocrites’ and the Charlie Hebdo attack with great interest. However I found it to be poorly thought out and flawed in many places. Therefore I believe it appropriate and worthwhile to debunk some of your points…

Either you are with free speech… or you are against it

Simply put you are either for freedom of expression or you are not. There is no middle ground. People and Government’s attempts to find a middle ground will fail and will end in disaster. You cannot question one person’s right to free expression without questioning everybody’s. That includes Salafi Fanatics, Holocaust Deniers, Flat Earthers and the many other lunatics we share this beautiful planet with…

There is no “Clash of Civilisations”

You are correct there is no clash of civilisations. Many Muslims are just as liberal as Westerners and the histories of both the ‘West’ and ‘Islam’ are equally pot-holed with acts of liberalism and acts of barbarism. There is however a clash of ideologies. One between those who believe in freedom, its associated rights, and those who don’t. Salafi Jihadis are definitely one of the enemies of freedom and they must be defeated. The same stands for the many and various Western statists who oppose freedom too.

None of us believes in an untrammelled right to free speech

Some of us do because, basically, there is an untrammelled right to free speech. What there is not is a right not to be offended. The reason is simple, offence is entirely subjective. What offends one person may not offend another. You cannot possibly write a law that defines what is offensive and what is not. All that will ever happen is the state will define and outlaw what they find offensive, not what you or I find offensive.

Also self censorship does not stand opposed to free speech. Self censorship is again subjective and based on our personal beliefs on what is stupid or wrong. It does not mean we oppose other people’s right to say those things. For example I am not an athiest so I am not going to call Catholics “mental, sky-fairy worshippers”. I would deem that statement insulting. However if an athiest wishes to say that, they are free to do so as we have different preferences.

The Prophet Muhammad and the Holocaust are comparable

This is simply ridiculous, even for an agnostic like myself. For an athiest it would be utterly insane. You simply cannot compare the Holocaust or 9/11, both evil events that definitely occurred, with the Prophet Muhammad.

Islam and its Prophet are a matter of faith not a matter of fact. For example there is little evidence for the existence of Muhammad or his ‘Word’ until the 9th century, two centuries after his death.

There are magnitudes of difference between lampooning something that is definite and something that may or may not be so. This holds even if I believe neither should be banned.

Parisian mourners would have killed a person holding a cartoon lampooning the dead cartoonists

You are probably quite correct that an angry, distressed mob ‘may’ kill a fool. That though does not mean the fool is not free to do something idiotic and dangerous. So long as the law does not turn a blind eye to the murder of a person expressing themselves in a foolish way freedom of speech has not been undermined. The actions of the mob or the murderer do not taint us all.

Charlie Hebdo was a racist and hypocritical magazine

This may well be the case, I have never read nor researched said publication so I am not entirely aware. This though does not undermine their right to say and act as they please. It also provides no justification for the murder of their employees. Nor does it undermine the fact the attack was an attack against free expression. They were murdered for expressing themselves, regardless of what they expressed.

Westerners are hypocrites and there foreign policy is wrong

I agree on both points. The West’s foreign policy has both been wrong and very, very stupid. And yes many Westerners are hypocrites who are easily offended too. You could even draw comparison between some Western ideologies and Salafism. The latter after all has significant Platonic overtones — an irony seemingly lost on many Jihadis.

Again though, neither of those points undermine the importance or inalienable nature of free expression. Nor should it water down our opposition to those who oppose freedom of speech — such as our ‘friends’ the Salafi Jihadis.

I do hope you will consider my points and look at free speech in a more positive light.

Yours Faithfully,

Robert Waller

#JeSuisCharlie? Let’s not get distracted from the real fight for freedom

53b6c6da64b561cc0918726b07108d09df867aa3

The attack inspired a mass of sanctimony

The first I heard of the Paris shootings was in a text message from a friend. I promptly went online and came across the horrifying video of the police officer being murdered as he lay wounded in the street. So my first impression was not of any wider implications but simply the empathy I felt for the helpless creature lying on the pavement. Later my mood began to shift towards outrage.

What did I do then? Well, the only thing I could do to offer a token gesture of solidarity; I took to social media. I tweeted cartoons of Muhammed and expressed my defiance. After a while it all got a bit tiring and I realised how futile and vacuous it was. For me to tweet the offending pictures is not brave and it achieves very little. I began to feel a little embarrassed by my own misplaced reactionary enthusiasm. My total obscurity provides an anonymity that means that I am not placing myself in even the tiniest bit of danger by my actions. It is not pleasant feeling useless and insignificant at such a seemingly pivotal time as this.

152a601e2c97e51b5b39bb8f5e0dcf054eb12b2b40af9

After a few days of calm reflection I began to feel trepidatious. The mass outpouring of grief and supposed “solidarity” has led to a collective convulsion in France that has spread across Europe, creating a conformity of thought and lulling us into a false sense of security. There has been too much back slapping as we congratulate ourselves on being beacons of free expression and liberty, it is easy to claim this in comparison with Islamic countries, but in the aftermath we have to calmly check our hypocrisy and our priorities.

Our cherished rights have been steadily eroded for some time now and are under serious and immediate threat. This threat comes from our own governments and as we wonder fearfully where the terrorists will strike next it is they who will come to attack liberty, exploiting our fear and striking when we are at our most vulnerable. Despite the sheer horror of the Paris shootings this must be where our scrutiny and scepticism is mainly focussed, not on Islamists.

Wounded patriotism have inspired a show of unity and much self-congratulatory rhetoric about France being a beacon of liberty. We should not let the rush of emotion accept this without scepticism. Does a free country ban the wearing of certain items of clothing? Does a free country ban you from praying in the street, a serious curb on religious expression? I think it perfectly fair and reasonable that private companies can make their own decisions on such rules, and the face should not be concealed in court, but it a serious violation of individual freedom for the state to dictate that you cannot wear signs of religious affiliation (be it a crucifix necklace or a turban) in schools or face veils in the street. I personally do not like the sight of a niqab but banning something just because we don’t like it is not a liberal thing to do.

300820-paris-march

It is heartening to see millions marching in the streets in an act of defiance, but it shouldn’t take a massacre to inspire people to fight for their rights. France, it should not be forgotten, restricts freedom of expression with some of the strictest hate speech, defamation, privacy and libel laws in the western world.

The privacy law in France encourages self-censorship because the publication of private details of an individual’s life without consent is a punishable offence. Unlike in Britain there are few public interest clauses. Combine this with French libel laws, which heavily favour those in positions of power (losing a libel case against a public official brings a punitive fine of €45,000 as opposed to €12,000 when a case is lost against a member of the public), and it is easy to see why an unhealthy respect for the privacy of public figures is instilled in French media culture. This too often leaves the powerful beyond media scrutiny and discourages public interest journalism that investigates corruption and impropriety in the lives of politicians.

France has some of the strictest hate speech laws in the EU which go far beyond preventing incitement to violence. Once you start arresting people for simply saying things, or tweeting things you create a censorial instinct that will inevitably stretch beyond the fringes and into the mainstream, making curbs (or attempts to curb) on free speech habitual and seemingly acceptable. It has been little discussed since the Paris shootings but hate speech laws were used to harass Charlie Hebdo for years. Charges were lodged against the magazine in 2006-07 in response to the reprinting of the notorious Danish cartoons, in that instance the court ruled in the magazines favour but notably Jacques Chirac was a cheerleader for the case: “the convictions of someone else, in particular religious convictions, should be avoided”, he said. The magazine would again come under government pressure in 2012 when it reprinted Muhammed cartoons in response to the protests against the film The Innocence of Muslims with Prime Minister Jean-Mar Ayarault stating that freedom of speech is “under control of the courts”. The unity marches are uncomfortably close to being a rally behind the French state, rather than millions of people making a stand for liberty and free expression.

Britain will “never give up freedom of speech”, said David Cameron in his defiant response. But in Britain we are breathtakingly complacent about our wpid-dsc_0395.jpgrights and it is a bit rich for our politicians to suddenly talk like staunch defenders of liberty. It is fantastic to see people gather in Trafalgar square to hold a vigil for the murdered staff, and attend rallies in the name of free speech. Still, I can’t help that think, again, that no one should have to be murdered for people to start paying attention and celebrating and fighting for our freedoms. If the people rallied together in great numbers against anti-terror legislation, secret courts and RIPA (to name just a few of many illiberal measures) I might have faith in the sincerity and staying power of the current enthusiasm. Instead I fear it is temporary hysteria and back slapping that will ultimately achieve very little before we return to a “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” consensus.

Let us not forget that this “free” country of ours is the land of secret courts, mass surveillance and detention without charge where we have in recent years flirted with the introduction of ID cards and state regulation of the press. The state routinely bans people with “controversial” things to say from entering the country and arrests people for silly tweets (or “malicious communications“).   It is not just the state that disgraces liberty, our university campuses are now a hotbed for the authoritarian left which seeks to shut down debate and ban anything it deems unacceptable. It is quite clear that Charlie Hebdo could not operate in Britain, in no time at all it would be banned from all student unions and be subject to the NUS “no platform” policy, its offices would host protests by Unite Against Facism and Hope Not Hate when it wasn’t being picketed by Islamists. Before long the magazine’s staff would be visited by the police and roundly criticised by hand wringing politicians. Je Suis Charlie? Get real.

Now is the time for a wake up call. Stop looking for Islamists under the bed and start defending freedom from the those pretending they are defending it. The PM and Home Secretary didn’t miss and opportunity for political point scoring and phoney outrage when Nigel Farage made some rather innocuous comments about the “very, very small” number of Islamists that represent a “fifth column” in British society (isn’t this a good week for the truth and free expression?). This was a distraction from the deeply cynical comments from Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, who leapt on the chance to fear monger and lobby for greater powers for our security services. Cameron accused Farage of using the tragedy for political ends before announcing plans to resurrect the “snoopers charter” while the shock is still raw.

Theresa_May

A far more potent threat to liberty

I’ve no doubt that this will put wind in Theresa May’s sails. Will the Paris shootings soften us up for Extremism Orders? Astonishing measures that would remove the right to freedom of expression (without presenting evidence to justify such an action) when the state has a “reasonable belief” that the accused individual may “disrupt democracy” or incite racial or religious hatred, or cause public disorder? When the Home Secretary proposes a plan to legislate for thought crime, I do not think I am being unreasonable when I say she is a far graver threat to liberty than an Islamist lunatic.

As the collective trauma dies down I hope that, like me, people are jolted out of their initial reaction and re-focus on the real fight for freedom which is not against Islamist terror, but authoritative government and our flourishing intolerant offence culture . The staff of Charlie Hebdo died because they defiantly exercised their right to freedom of expression, but it is not a crazed gunman taking our rights that we should be worried about, it is us a nation giving those right away as we slip back into complacency that should concern us all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fact Check: European laws DO NOT respect freedom of speech

In relation to the terrorist attacks in France, keep in mind that in Europe, insults to religions are illegal and/or prosecuted in: Finland (Blasphemy), Germany (“Insulting of Faiths … if it could disturb public peace”), Greece and Italy, (Insults against religions), Poland (insults to religious feeling of the Roman Catholic Church), Spain ( “vilification” of religious “feelings”, “dogmas”, “beliefs” or “rituals”) Switzerland (insult or mockery of religious convictions of others) Iceland (blasphemy), Austria (Vilification of Religious Teachings), Denmark (Blasphemy, but the law is dormant), Norway(insults based on religion but few prosecutions); Ireland (Blasphemy), Russia (insulting religious beliefs) UK (Incitement of religious hatred often used to prosecute speech of anti-religious nature). And I’m sure there are others I couldn’t find.

This is a good time for all countries to remove these laws and any other laws that restrict free speech. Courageous cartoonists died to protect these freedoms in France. Nobody should police free speech, not the government and certainly not easily offended extremists with guns

#JeSuisCharlie a vigil for Charlie Hebdo

I went there feeling angry, “how could anyone shoot dead cartoonists for drawing pictures?” and defiant. The newspaper I work for, a job that pays the bills, had spoken out blaming Charlie Hebdo for a lack of common sense. I wanted to distance myself from that and associate myself with prominent English supporters of the protest such Frank Turner who enthusiastically headed straight there. “That’s the spirit, that will show them.” I confess I was hoping we would be belting out Glory Hallelujah before it was time to head home.

The reality was totally different. The mood was somber. Dignified. No one was shouting. No one was singing. Media interviews were being murmered in odd corners and banners were held aloft in silence. Photographers taking turns to take pictures. This was a sophisticated affair. “Of course, this is French” thought I.

Wrong again. Yes French accents were audible, but so were English accents. I took a picture of one lady who held aloft a bic biro and insisted it was French pen. She spoke very good English. One journalist remarked aloud that she was still trying to find a French person to talk to. The French had set the tempo and the mood but the local support they got was a resounding success.

Most of all the quiet dignity of those gathered could not have made a greater contrast against the noisy destruction of the attackers. More completely than any cartoon, it made them look foolish.