Friday, May 01, 2015
The Slow Death of Free Speech in Britain (America, You're Next!)
From the Internet to the press to the public square, Brits' speech is being policed and punished
Freedom of speech no longer exists in Britain. The land that gave the world the Magna Carta, the Levellers, and John Stuart Mill—three of the key foundation stones of the modern conception of liberty—is now arresting and even jailing people simply for speaking their minds.
To see how bad things have got, consider three cases from the past week alone:
A man has been investigated by the police for a hashtag he used on Twitter. Seriously. Never mind speechcrime, or even tweetcrime—now we have hashtagcrime, the criminalisation even of those snarky, ironic asides people pepper the internet with. The man in question, Stephen Dodds, committed the sin of taking a photograph of two Muslims praying at Anfield, the home ground of Liverpool Football Club, and posting it on Twitter alongside the tweet: "Muslims praying at half-time at the match yesterday. #DISGRACE." That hashtag saw him become the victim of a furious Twitterstorm, the modern version of a tomato-wielding mob, and he was eventually reported to the cops. They investigated the matter for two weeks—two weeks!—before finally instructing Liverpool FC to take appropriate action against the evil hashtagger. Liverpool this week said it is deciding how to punish this man who dared to type the word "DISGRACE" on the internet.
2. A journalist, Katie Hopkins, has been reported to the police, and, bizarrely, to the International Criminal Court (ICC), for writing a column for the Sun in which she referred to the African migrants trying to get into Europe as "cockroaches." Hopkins is known for her outré views. She's been reported to the police before, for "hate crimes against fat people"! She said "fat people are just lazy," which is apparently a police matter now. The police didn't charge her over her fat-shaming, but they might well interrogate her over her migrant-bashing. Her cockroaches column caused the Twittersphere to go into meltdown; 285,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Sun to sack her (my preferred solution to Europe's migrant crisis is to swap these 285,000 intolerant Brits who fancy they have the right to shut down writers they don't like for 285,000 Africans who want to live in this country); and now the Society of Black Lawyers has reported Hopkins both to the UK cops and also to the ICC, demanding it investigate her comments "under the provisions of incitement to commit crimes against humanity." Am I allowed to call this a DISGRACE?
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has launched an investigation into the appropriateness of an advert for protein supplements which features a sexy woman in a bikini next to the words: "Are you beach-body ready yet?" The ads, which appear on the London Underground, have been vandalized by SJW feminists who claim they "body shame" the plump. More than 30,000 people have signed an online petition—again with the petitions—demanding the ads be removed because they make women "feel physically inferior to… the bronzed model." And now the ASA, overlord of advertising in Britain, which has the power to expunge from the public sphere any ad it judges to be offensive, is heeding the feminist vandalizers and subjecting the ad to one of its stiff-lipped investigations. We wait with bated breath to see if this unelected institution will graciously allow the rest of us, the 64 million people of Britain, to keep seeing this actually quite pleasant ad.
These three cases of the past week encapsulate the crisis of free-speaking in 21st century Britain. They show that no zone of British life is free from the peering eyes and always primed red pen of the new censorious set that longs to scribble out or shut down anything dodgy, eccentric, hateful, or upsetting (to some.)
The cases confirm that everywhere from the new virtual terrain of the Internet (that hashtag guy), to the old-fashioned printed press (the Katie Hopkins case), to the public square itself (that bikini ad), speech is under threat from an unholy marriage of intolerant virtual mobs, censorious Social Justice Warriors (SJWs), and state institutions keen to censor stuff in order to protect the allegedly fragile public.
And these cases aren't one-offs. In relation to the Internet, numerous people have been arrested for tweetcrimes. In 2010, a man was found guilty of being "grossly offensive" after he joked on Twitter about blowing up an airport in Nottingham that was experiencing severe delays. He was fined £385 and lost his job. His conviction was finally quashed on the third appeal. In 2012, a student was imprisoned for 56 days for making racist comments on Twitter. Also in 2012, a 20-year-old man was sentenced to 240 hours' community service for writing on his Facebook page: "All [British] soldiers should die and go to hell."
Other tweeters have been arrested and interrogated by police for making off-colour comments. In December last year, a 19-year-old man was arrested for making a joke about the truck disaster in Glasgow, when an out-of-control truck hit Christmas shoppers and killed six. The tweeter said: "So a bin lorry has apparently driven into 100 people in Glasgow eh, probably the most trash it's picked up in one day." For that, for doing what people have been doing for generations—making up stinging jokes in the wake of a tragedy—he was arrested. He was let off, but the police sent a chilling warning to us all: anyone who makes horrible jokes on Twitter we will be visited and given "strong words of advice," they said.
Various laws enable this police invasion of the online world: the Public Order Act of 1986, which criminalizes "racially aggravated" speech; the Malicious Communications Act of 2003, which criminalizes "offensive, indecent or menacing" speech in electronic media: these are the statutes the cops have used to colonise the internet.
The war on Katie Hopkins isn't a one-off, either. It follows hot on the heels of the Leveson Inquiry's creation of a chilling, choking climate in relation to the British press.
Launched by David Cameron in 2011 ostensibly to investigate phone-hacking at the News of the World, but actually having the vastly expanded remit of looking into the whole "culture, practice, and ethics of the press," the Leveson Inquiry has created a situation where Britain might soon have a press regulator set up by Royal Charter—which would be the first system of state-backed regulation of the press in Britain since 1695.
Even before that Royal Charter has been signed, Leveson has already, predictably, emboldened the petty censors in our midst who have long desired to silence offensive columnists, especially tabloid ones. As one agitator against Katie Hopkins admitted. "Leveson was a smack in the teeth" of newspapers like the Sun, he said, which should now feel less able to publish Hopkins' and others' "vicious… right-wing opinioneering." In short: A state-decreed, judge-led inquiry is leading to the castration of the press, and we should be happy about that.
As to the ASA's investigation of the bikini ad—such topdown regulation of the words and images of the public sphere has become commonplace in recent years.
The ASA has banned ads for hair products that were offensive to Christians (they featured nuns in suspenders); ads for an airline that had a woman dressed as a schoolgirl, on the basis that they could cause "widespread offence" (in fact, only 13 people complained about them); and even an ad for a supermarket that showed a girl taking the salad out of her hamburger on the grounds that it "condoned poor nutritional habits." Censorship in the UK has become so psycho that even the presentation of hamburgers is now strictly policed.
Over the past decade, our virtual world, our media, and our public spaces have become subject to ever-greater policing by both SJWs demanding bans and officials all too willing to ban. The end result is a nation which poses as liberal and modern yet where everything from pics of a woman in a bikini to naughty jokes can be subjected to official sanction, and where everyone becomes less sure of what they're allowed to say and thus tends to shut themselves up to be on the safe side. Self-censorship: the worst kind.
To this end, we sometimes haven't even needed coppers or campaigners to force the closure of allegedly offensive words or art: institutions and individuals have silenced themselves in the face of hollers of complaint.
Last year, the Barbican Arts Centre closed down a piece of performance art exploring slavery and racism after 250 protesters turned up on the opening night. ITV ditched a TV show featuring sexist comic Dapper Laughs after journalists and SJWs tweeted and petitioned against it. And numerous theatres have pre-emptively cut or changed plays that mention Muslims out of fear that Islamists will kick up a fuss. Free speech in Britain is being killed by police, officials, agitating mobs, and by us—by a culture of fear which encourages people to opt for self-silence over the possibility of causing a stir.
Americans will, I hope, be aghast at all this. The one massive difference between you and us is that you have a constitutional guarantee of free speech that shackles the state, whereas we have a long history of brave battles for press freedom and free speech, yes, but no written-down surety that such liberties will be respected or protected. Which is why they can now be so casually trampled underfoot.
And yet, Britain and America do share something scary in common on the new-censorship front: we both have new armies of the intolerant, growing groups of so-called SJWs and other agitators for the silencing of foul or simply old-fashioned views.
This is especially the case on campus. On both sides of the Atlantic, universities have become hotbeds of the new intolerance. British student leaders have banned the pop song "Blurred Lines," the Sun newspaper, and numerous controversial speakers, while American campus agitators demand trigger warnings on edgy (and not even edgy) literature and the disinvitation of anyone who offends them, and they harry and scream at anyone who holds different views to theirs: most recently the non-victim feminist Christina Hoff Sommers.
America and Britain might be divided by a piece of paper guaranteeing free speech—you have one, we don't—but we're united by a shared new generation of aspiring speech-policers. And in Britain, it has often been the demands of these informal groups of heresy-hunters that have coaxed the state to take action against eccentric or outrageous speech. How long can the First Amendment hold out against America's budding new censors? How long before the U.S. joins the U.K. at the funeral of free speech?
UK: Secret courts 'should be opened up': Court of Protection must be placed under public scrutiny, major legal report warns
An abomination set up by the Leftist Blair government. Leftists have a passionate love affair with secrecy
The controversial and secretive Court of Protection should be opened up to public scrutiny in the interests of justice, a major legal report said yesterday.
The court, which decides the affairs of people too ill or disabled to make their own decisions, needs safeguards against miscarriages of justice, it found.
The study, produced by Cardiff University’s School of Law, after discussions among judges and lawyers, said the rules that govern the court are ‘not fit for purpose’ and called for a media presence at its hearings to be routine.
The report follows a series of scandals in which the Court of Protection has made draconian rulings out of sight of the public.
The Daily Mail highlighted the secret imprisonment of Wanda Maddocks after she tried to get her father out of a care home where she believed his life was in danger. She was handed a five-month jail term for contempt by a Court of Protection judge in Birmingham in 2012.
Following the Maddocks affair senior judges ordered that no-one should ever again be jailed in secret and ordered judges to publish all rulings in which they send people to prison.
Last year the Mail reported on grandmother Kathleen Danby, forbidden by the court from seeing her granddaughter, who was jailed for breaking the rule after police arrested her at a Ken Dodd concert.
The report insisted that the Court of Protection should open up ‘to enhance accountability and increase public understanding of the court’s work.’
Author Dr Lucy Series said: ‘There is no doubt that restrictions on the ways that Court of Protection cases are reported by the media are necessary to protect the privacy of those involved, but the current rules are not fit for purpose.
‘Clearly, there is a need for further exploration of how the law can be framed in a way that can best accommodate the diverse situations facing the Court of Protection. But all participants in the research expressed support for the principle of open justice.’
She added: ‘Media reporting on Court of Protection cases, and the publication of judgments, were seen as important to enhance public understanding of the Court of Protection's work, to protect against miscarriages of justice and to promote public confidence in the court.’
The Court of Protection was set up by Tony Blair’s government as part of the Mental Capacity Act.
The troubled 2005 law for the first time gave legal force to ‘living wills’ that allow people to order doctors to let them die if they become too ill to speak or communicate for themselves.
The new court, part of the High Court system, was intended to determine where people without mental capacity should live, who should control their finances, and to resolve disputes over whether doctors should let them die.
At first the Lord Chancellor who devised the law, Lord Falconer, said the court would be open to the public. But then he changed his mind and the court’s regulations, which have been law since 2007, say: ‘The general rule is that a hearing is to be held in private.’
The secrecy has veiled serious rows over ‘deprivation of liberty’ rules in the Mental Capacity Act, which judges have said may have led to many thousands of people being unlawfully locked in care homes.
It has also been alleged to protect people who appear to be a risk to the public. The Court of Protection allowed a gardener to drain more than £200,000 from the fortune of an 89-year-old woman who was beginning to suffer from dementia.
The gardener, who kept more than £60,000 of his employer’s money, was not prosecuted for fraud or theft and was not named on the orders of the Court of Protection judge. The gardener was later named by a ruling in a higher court.
The Cardiff report said that journalists should be allowed into important Court of Protection cases in the same way they are allowed automatic access to Family Court hearings. In the Family Court judges can act to ban publication of information.
UK: Six officers arrest 71-year-old Monty Python cameraman for lampooning politicians
Six police officers arrested a pensioner for harassment and quizzed him for two hours over a series of satirical posters poking fun at local politicians.
Former Monty Python cameraman John Wellard, 71, told the uniformed officers who marched into his home on Friday night: ‘I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition.’
Police were responding to complaints that light-hearted posters appearing in Faversham, Kent, amounted to harassment of members of the town council who were being lampooned.
For the last year residents have clashed with councillors over fears the town’s historic creek area will be turned over to developers for expensive flats. In recent months the posters, one depicting a Tory councillor riding a donkey, began appearing in the town.
Last night Mr Wellard – who refuses to confirm or deny any involvement – said: ‘It was completely Pythonesque. ‘Lampoonery and satire have been part of British public life for centuries.
‘Why have six policemen threatened to go through my belongings just because a few feathers have been ruffled? Freedom of speech is being whittled away.’
Mr Wellard, who was interviewed under caution at the local police station, chose to give a ‘no comment’ answer to every question. He said: ‘It’s irrelevant who’s done what because I do not believe any offence has been committed. ‘In politics people make criticisms and say all kinds of insulting things – if they can’t take the joke they shouldn’t join.
‘When the six police were about to search the house I joked that “I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition”, but it fell a bit flat.
‘I don’t think anyone got the reference to a famous Monty Python sketch. At some point I must have been un-arrested because they then told me I wasn’t under arrest.’
He believes his name had been given to Kent Police because one of the posters involved a joke from the 1979 Monty Python film Life of Brian.
Mr Wellard is one of several hundred Faversham locals involved in a public debate about the future of historic buildings beside the creek.
Once, the creek was a bustling centre of industry, with Thames sailing barges being repaired there.
There are plans to regenerate the area, but campaigners are concerned Faversham Town Council is favouring expensive developments over preserving its unique heritage.
For the past five months or so satirical images mocking some of the councillors and other public figures had been handed around pubs and posted through doors – as well as brown envelopes stuffed with copies of old Venezuelan banknotes bearing the note: ‘If you find this message please return it to your councillor.’
One image poked fun at Swale Borough councillor Mike Cosgrove, picturing the local Tory politician riding a toy donkey, while another showed town mayor Nigel Kay, and other local public figures being described as ‘a growing problem in the heart of Kent’.
Mr Wellard said he was interrogated by an officer who showed him satirical posters and asked if he had anything to do with them, including if he had posted one of the brown envelopes through the door of Tory councillor Tom Gates.
He was eventually taken home and told a file could be sent to the Crown Prosecution Service.
He said: ‘I have no comment about who produced the posters. But whoever did, they did not amount to harassment.’
Last night a spokesman for Kent Police said: ‘Officers have been investigating reports of collective harassment relating to members of Faversham Town Council. It was alleged they had received brown envelopes with fake money and other cards sent to their addresses.’
He added: ‘A 71-year-old man attended a police station voluntarily and was interviewed under caution.’
Last night Faversham councillor Mr Gates, 73, a retired builder, said the councillors had agreed that the lampooning material was a criminal matter. He said: ‘I had one of these brown envelopes through my letterbox. It just got way out of hand. I’ve never been offered a bribe.
‘I would certainly like people to be prosecuted. We’re in a democracy but shouldn’t have abuse or derogatory remarks thrown at us.’
But Mr Wellard’s neighbour Anna Bales, who saw the police arrive at his home, said: ‘Merely to disagree with the people running this town has become some sort of crime.
‘The council seems to think they can just use the police to stifle criticism as if we’re living in the Soviet Union.
Political correctness shackles the war on terror
Comment from Australia
Guilty on all charges. When the Boston bombing trial jury handed down their verdict against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev last week, the courtroom was silent. The most important legacy of the trial was not the verdict, but the sombre realisation that the West must jettison political correctness to win the war against terror.
The Boston bombings constituted a horrific slaughter of innocents and a radical failure of the state to fulfil its primary duty of care to citizens. Counter-terrorism should have stopped the Tsarnaev family at the border, rejecting their plea for political asylum on the advice of Russian authorities. Counter-radicalisation should have stopped the brothers at their mosque, part of a government-funded outreach program. Intelligence agencies should have caught the thugs online after they posted viciously anti-Western tracts.
Instead, the Tsarnaev family, with two terrorist brothers and a sister now on trial for bomb threats, enjoyed the full favour of the welfare state. They lived off the earnings of US citizens taking free housing and food only to repay them with hatred and mass murder.
Ninety-six per cent of Australians who enlisted in Islamic State also lived on public welfare. Counter-terrorism expert Patrick Poole contends the culture of the political Left has enabled terrorism. He attributes the Tsarnaev’s success in terrorising the West in part to: “A full scale campaign of political correctness … under the Obama administration against any attempt to link jihadi terrorism with anything remotely connected to Islam of any variety (the most radical versions included).” Australia’s Coalition government has bucked the trend of political correctness with its counter-terrorism package, spearheading national security legislation since copied by legislators around the globe. But it is yet to prosecute the culture that enables Islamism to thrive on home soil.
The British Tory government has committed to reviewing citizenship tests and public funding to ensure the protection of British values if it is returned to power.
The cultural dimension of Islamist terrorism has been largely ignored by the billion dollar de-radicalisation industry. The result is an extraordinary degree of doublespeak, exemplified by French minister and socialist Thierry Mandon who recommended building more mosques would counter radicalisation. It takes only rudimentary logic to deduce that if mosques stopped terrorism, Islamic State wouldn’t exist.
The unpalatable truth is that like so many solutions imposed on Western states by leftist governments, mosques often undermine the values of the free world. In a study of 100 mosques across the US, researchers Mordechai Kedar and David Yerushalmi found 81 per cent contained materials advocating Islamist violence. The more Sharia-fundamentalist the imam, the more likely he would recommend Islamist texts to worshippers.
In Denmark, one mosque alone was frequented by around a fifth of the country’s Islamic State jihadists. The development of Australian jihadism also has been associated with hardline mosques in Melbourne and Sydney.
While the radicalisation process is becoming better understood, the same cannot be said of its antidote. The common indicator used to measure the efficacy of de-radicalisation programs is long-term recidivism rate.
Germany’s HAYAT program has garnered international acclaim with an early intervention model of counselling that coaches families to detect the signs of radicalisation and redress them. But the program lacks evidence of long-term efficacy.
As with many scientific experiments, the world is learning more about de-radicalisation by studying how it fails. The former Labour government of Britain provides the exemplar. Its Prevent program was a spectacular failure at a cost of almost £160 million. Political correctness meant minority status replaced merit as the principal funding criterion, resulting in a network of corrupt community experts who expropriated public monies for Islamist terrorist groups and personal gain.
In many de-radicalisation programs across the US and Europe, religious leaders and experts hired to de-radicalise youth instead have inculcated the culture of radical Islam. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has scrutinised the relationship between radical Islam and terrorism in her new book Heretic, suggesting the solution may lie in an Islamic reformation.
But President Barack Obama’s refusal even to acknowledge the role of Islam in producing Islamic State means the reformation won’t be coming to the US any time soon.
The political and academic elites’ refusal to discuss the relationship between Islam and Islamist radicalisation is not only dishonest, it is dangerous. Empirical research demonstrates jihadist beliefs and behaviour are correlated strongly with the culture of Islamic fundamentalism. For example, a survey of more than a thousand Muslims in Denmark produced valid empirical evidence that jihadism and sympathy for it are positively correlated with degree of Islamic religiosity and hostility towards the core values of the West.
Researchers Marco Goli and Shahamak Rezaeit found militant Islamists and their sympathisers are the groups most likely to reject integration, choosing not to socialise or live among native Danes. Their decisions about how to live, raise children and vote arise from a profound ethnic chauvinism and antipathy towards the country that welcomed them as immigrants. They have little respect for secular law, preferring the theocratic tenets of Sharia, with a third advocating the death penalty for apostates.
The findings from empirical research and analysis of failed de-radicalisation programs demonstrate jihadism is produced by the culture, religion and community of radical Islam. In plain terms, Western jihadism is an Islamic problem. As with any religion, Islam exists on a continuum from fundamentalism to apostasy. But unless we get the balance right, the Islamist core will destroy the freedoms for which our ancestors laid down their lives so that their children and our children’s children could be free.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.