Freedom of Expression? Really?


Freedom of expression in the west is hokum, I say, and hypocrisy dressed up as high virtue. Worse still, it is now used as a missile aimed mainly at Muslims.

Freedoms are sacred and easily snatched by the powerful and it is a  blessing to live in a country where Prime Ministers and Princes are berated with impunity. Authoritarian states like Saudi Arabia and China and many others remain unenlightened because they suppress the human voice. However, I also believe freedom is anarchy without responsibility and sensitivity. As do all European nations which have collectively agreed that that Holocaust denial is an offence, minorities should be protected from hate speech, that individuals have the right to privacy and legal protection against libel, that big businesses must be allowed to keep information confidential as can governments, defence companies and NATO. There are also the constraints that have crept in over the decades: Muslims thinking evil thoughts or reading about them are now tried and some jailed; influential folk can buy silence about their affairs and journalists self-censor for an easy life. The chief whip, who allegedly called a police officer a ‘pleb’ is finding out he wasn’t really free to do that. Quite a list of limitations eh?

Libertarians proclaiming freedom of expression as an ABSOLUTE, NON-NEGOTIABLE, BEAUTIFUL  western value say nothing or little on any of those restrictions.  If that manifesto was real, Kate Middleton would have to put up and shut about those pictures, David Irving, the anti-Semitic historian would be allowed to publish his revolting spiel and not be imprisoned as he was in 2006 in Austria and we would have no libel or defamation laws. Racist landlords would put ‘No Wogs, No Irish, No Dogs’ notices on their window sills and disabled and gay people would be liberally abused on trains and busses, and paedophilic material would be sold in corner shops. None of that is permitted because in good societies there have to be formal and unofficial curbs on what can be said, published or broadcast and sometimes freedom has to give way.  I agree with the  DPP that senders of silly tweets and tasteless jokes should not be prosecuted but surely we still need to take care when communicating with the world.

With Muslims, there is no restraint or even fairness. Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine in France which printed demeaning cartoons of Prophet Mohammed, wanted trouble, mayhem, so its editor could appear a really big man. And because Muslims are instantly and irrationally aroused to extreme frenzy he expected it all to go off and the rag to make money and martyrs. Well it didn’t happen. French Muslims were banned from demonstrating, denied that democratic right.

The anti-Islam internet film made by some dodgy Americans  (we think) got the fire and fury it wanted- throngs came out, people died, for no good reason on either side. Now we find that some Libyans have come out against the murderous mobs and  for the American Ambassador and other victims, even for America itself.  Not what was expected, a terrible disappointment for the westerners who feel especially good about themselves when they can get many of my brethren behave madly or very, very badly, which they do, too often. Muslims need to calm down, grow up, learn to debate and become more self aware. Western liberals who feel they have a duty to incite Muslims need self awareness too and a bit of honesty. They don’t provoke, Jews, Hindus, Christians to test the muscles of their liberalism and actually are pretty rubbish at accepting criticism themselves. I remember the late Christopher Hitchins at the Hay festival behaving like a literary lout when challenged about some of his views.

We have recently had a lot of Salman Rushdie, too much, like three plates of biryani. A memoir, hagiographic TV programme, a film of Midnight’s Children, luvvie tributes have affirmed his eminence. This novelist of exceptional talent and imagination spent the best years of his life living with fear and trauma. He is entitled  to be angry forever. But as he stands for freedom of expression, he should live by it. Mr Rushdie finds that very hard. In his book he turns on anyone with nuanced views of the Satanic Verses crisis or, like John Major and civil servants, didn’t give in to his many demands. Sarcastically dismissed is this newspaper, apparently a ‘house journal for British Muslims’, while serious writers who were critical of him – Arundhati Roy, Louis de Bernieres, John le Carre are roundly trashed. Rushdie, a god of liberalism, proves words and images hurt.

They do, which is why we tell our children to watch what they say, not to say what they want. And why there are no school lessons on how to make cruel and offensive ‘jokes’ or outrageous trolling. The internet is almost absolutely free and look how ugly and frightening that space is becoming. Imagine all that poison suffusing through the real world. It may well happen and then maybe the most fanatical libertarians will think about the consequences of feral, uncontained, goading freedom. By that time it will be too late.

Published in the Independent 24th September 2012



The British Governemnt: Hating the Poor Football Racism


Ian Duncan Smith wants to take child benefits and tax credits from mothers who have a third child and any more thereafter. Unbeatable China has a draconian one child policy, so why not us? There is no public outcry because the proposed policy only targets the children of the most disadvantaged, those ‘feral’ creatures, the enemy within. I thought IDS had come to understand such hopelessness.

Eight years ago, he went to Easterhouse estate in Glasgow, home to some of the poorest of British families with multiple problems, some self-inflicted, but most caused by the indifference of society, an amoral economic model and hard political decisions. He met Janice, whose young son, a heroin addict, had died of an overdose. The caring Tory cried. We were touched. So too Bob Holman, a dedicated community worker on the estate: ‘[IDS] responded to poor people in a positive manner…He was impressed by the contribution of volunteers who were unemployed and single parents…I thought him a decent man’.

I was at a Labour Party fringe meeting in 2005, when IDS called ( in his deep voice with matching deep conviction) for the poorest of our citizens to get adequate resources so they could be part of the communities around them. I clapped heartily and thought the man was in the wrong party. Now we know: those were crocodile tears and the crocodile came back to maul the people he had feigned to care about.

IDS is apparently an ideological progeny of those, who, over history, wanted to curtail  the reproduction of humans they considered a nuisance, feckless, feeble and dispensable. They came from the left and right- and included the Webbs, Bernard Shaw and Marie Stopes and Sir Francis Galton who, in the 1880s, wanted the state to limit ‘unwanted’ populations.

In Total Politics magazine recently, historian Dr David Stack disclosed that Churchill was inspired by the American, Dr. H.C Sharp, a fanatic advocate of the sterilization of ‘degenerates’. When Churchill became Home Secretary, he tried and failed to get such a policy through but predicted; ‘It is bound to come someday’.  That day came in 1974, with Keith Joseph who said in a speech that Britain’s ‘human stock’, was threatened by mums of ‘low intelligence’ who were producing ‘delinquent denizens of borstals, sub normal educational establishments, prisons and hostels for drifters’. His political career bombed. Last year Tory Lord Fleet said the poor were breeding to much and again was duly chastised. IDS has faced nothing like the same opprobrium. Hard times, hard hearts.

Brilliantly marketed Government spin has turned off all public sympathy for those crawling through life at the bottom. According to Labour MP Karen Buck, only 1.5% of the benefit population have never worked. 584,000 families who need help are in low paid jobs, strivers with no rights, no job security, no voice, especially  in recessionary times. The demonization of the workshy and disabled is just as pernicious. Too many private companies paid to revitalize and retrain are in it for just profits; businesses and governments should but rarely fund small, charities which bring on those without skills or confidence, or the will to go look for jobs. Until 1998, I worked part time on one of these projects in Tower Hamlets. Most of my students were hungry, worked hard and tried again and again to enter the job market. I saw the light of hope fade after some months. Many turned to crime and three mums had more babies. One explained: ‘They won’t give me a chance, don’t think I am anything. The baby makes me feel I am something. Maybe the children will get a chance one day.’ I still see the three women when I can- one English, One Bangladeshi and one African. Life has only got darker for them.

This story brings me to last week’s column, when I wrote about the new racism waking up around Britain, from football clubs to school playgrounds. Some accused me of ‘hating’ the working classes and the poor. I spent years with the dispossessed and still carry on that relationship through volunteering. I come from that background myself so to hate them would be to hate myself. However, I do want to unconditionally apologise to Millwall football fans for writing that [they] ‘behave like animals’ when black players come on. I should have said ‘some fans’ and not tarred all the supporters carelessly. Many are committed anti-racists and I upset them. I was wrong.

This apology does not extend to abusive emailers, fans like this: ‘YOU are a racist, lying slut…Many people are waiting to catch up with up with you and I can’t wait till they do AND THEY WILL! You should be deported back to your shithole of a country along with your disgusting tribe.’ They may be a minority but their savagery is real. Racism has not been seen off from these isle, not yet. A hand written letter I received from another football supporter calling himself ‘Man’ had a suggestion: ‘We should sterilize you Pakis and Blackies. We hate you and your bastard children’. I have forwarded the letter to IDS’s office. Perhaps he will see what he is unleashing.

PS Can the woman who wrote to me about her abuse by a living TV presenter, please contact me or Lancashire police?

Published in the Independent 29th October 2012