By Johanna Markind
Two events last week crystallized the grave danger facing freedom of speech in the United Kingdom.
Warwick U. Students’ Union Censors Speaker against Radical Islam, Then Caves
Miryam Namazie is a human rights campaigner, critic of Islamism,
and member of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. Warwick Atheists,
Secularists and Humanists Society (WASH) invited her to speak at Warwick
University in Coventry, England on October 28. The university’s
students’ union then rescinded the invitation on the stated grounds that
Namazie was “highly inflammatory” and could spread hatred and
intolerance against Muslims.
WASH’s president objected and began an online petition
asking the union to reverse its decision. Prominent people, including
Richard Dawkins and physicist Brian Cox, signed the petition. Others,
like Salman Rushdie and science writer Ben Goldacre, also criticized the
decision. Dawkins complained, “To ban a speaker you happen to disagree with is a contemptible betrayal of everything a university stands for.” Rushdie
echoed this observation, commenting, “Protecting students from ideas is
idiocy. It is the free play of ideas that universities must protect.”
Under the public pressure, the students’ union buckled and reversed course on September 27, offering a “full and unequivocal apology” to Namazie.
Warwick University and its students’ union have been criticized
before for creating a campus atmosphere hostile to free speech. Spiked
gave the students’ union a red (worst) rating and the university itself
a yellow rating in its Free Speech University Rankings. What’s new here isn’t the effort to suppress speech, but the positive outcome.
The moral? Firm and outspoken support for free speech is an effective tool against politically correct speech suppression.
“Passion for Freedom” Show Not So Passionate, Censors Anti-ISIS Artwork
at a London art exhibit – ironically entitled “Passion for Freedom” –
has garnered less press attention but is perhaps more typical for being
more insidious. This was the seventh year for the annual show, on
display September 21-26, whose mission has been described
as “to display the work of artists who are thinking seriously about
freedom, what it means and how you lose it.” It describes its purpose
as “[c]reat[ing] space for artists and writers who discuss subjects
omitted in politically correct circles [and inviting] people to open and
uninhibited discussion.” Brave words.
of the advertised entries this year, called “Isis Threatens Sylvania,”
consisted of a series of seven satirical light box tableaux by the
artist known as Mimsy. The scenes showed peaceful village residents
going about their business, like girls going to school and people
vacationing at the beach, suddenly assaulted by armed Islamists. Police
alerted organizers that they considered the work’s content “potentially
inflammatory” and that, if it were included in the six-day show, police
would charge £36,000 for security.
The show opted to drop the piece, which remained listed in the program and online. The move was condemned
by the Index on Censorship, but major celebrities did not speak out
about it as they did over the Warwick University Student Union ban.
Perhaps they did not know about it.
us assume that the show organizers acted from practical necessity and
not fear. And, since the show had already accepted Mimsy’s piece and
advertised it in the program, let us assume that political correctness
and desire to censor played no role in the final decision to exclude
it. The end result was the same. The cost (here, financial) of free
expression about Islamist violence simply became too high.
threat of radical Islam is not shrinking, but growing. As it grows,
decisions about whether to speak out about, expose, and confront it have
become more widespread and urgent. Unfortunately, the
counter-pressures not to do so – be they fear of physical violence,
ideological disdain, and intimidation (political correctness) or the
more mundane one of cost – often overwhelm the impulse to speak out.
upon a time, a group of people asserted their country’s freedom by
“mutually pledg[ing] to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our
sacred Honor.” Freedom will survive only if people are willing to make