All posts filed under: Free Speech

Nobody Should Listen to Twitter Mobs

Last fortnight, the New York Times stood behind its new editorial board hire Sarah Jeong, after critics on the right dug up Jeong’s offensive tweets sarcastically mocking white people, saying things like “oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men,” and using a #CancelWhitePeople hashtag. The Times argued that Jeong’s tweets were a sort of counter-trolling response to sustained harassment she endured as a young Asian-American female technology reporter.  Jeong’s critics noted that her offensive tweets weren’t in direct response to any harassment, and that they displayed a degree of hostility to white people that would be considered racist and out of bounds if directed toward any other group.  Nonetheless, the Times did not fire her. This was the right decision.  People shouldn’t lose jobs and opportunities over old tweets.  But if the New York Times did the right thing here, then, by the same standard, several prominent media companies, including the Times, have made wrong decisions in the recent past. Nobody should be …

Do Britain’s Muslims Have a Right Not to be Offended?

Religious freedom is one of the core principles of any modern liberal society. As a secularist, I defend the right of religious people to send their children to faith schools, have their children circumcised, or wear the burqa. This does not mean I approve of any of these practices; they should be permissible but not protected from criticism. We should be free to ridicule, lampoon, chastise, critique, etc. every aspect of religious belief that we tolerate. This is, more or less, what the U.K.’s former Conservative Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson wrote in his now infamous newspaper column in the Telegraph last week. Yet all hell has broken loose. It was greeted by near-hysterical outrage and shrill denunciations of Johnson’s alleged dog whistle racism; reports of civil war in the Tory Party over the matter; the now ubiquitous demands for an apology for causing offence (or else), which was backed in this instance by the Prime Minister. Boris’s is now the subject of an internal Party inquiry. It’s worth untangling this sorry tale as a snap-shot …

The Death of the Author and the End of Empathy

In 2015, President Obama described the Nation as “more than a magazine—it’s a crucible of ideas.” If it was ever entitled to this descriptor, it isn’t anymore. Academic identity politics may be importing an obsession with phantom victimhood into the business world and the media, but The Nation’s editors are now taking aim at language itself, reducing the complexity of human communication to a primitive understanding of words. In late July, the magazine’s poetry editors issued a groveling apology for a poem they had published earlier that month. “How-To,” by Anders Carlson-Wee, was an ironic critique of social hierarchies, couched as a manual for successful panhandling: “If you got hiv, say aids. If you a girl,/say you’re pregnant,” the poem opened. It went on to suggest begging gambits for other presumed outsider groups, including the handicapped: “If you’re crippled don’t/flaunt it. Let em think they’re good enough/Christians to notice.” The poem, in its entirety, reads as follows: If you got hiv, say aids. If you a girl, say you’re pregnant—nobody gonna lower themselves to listen …

Free Speech Doesn’t Protect Nazis. It Protects Us From Nazis

Free speech has recently become a cause célèbre of the nationalist and racist right-wing in the United States, as provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulos bring their roadshows to college campuses, flout the values of progressive students, and then publicize and ridicule those students’ emotional or sometimes violent responses. As a result, some on the Left have become skeptical of the benefits of the First Amendment. Prior to last year’s violent confrontation in Charlottesville, VA, during which an alt-right protester rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman and injuring others, the ACLU defended the right of neo-Nazis and white nationalists to demonstrate in support of Confederate monuments. For this, the ACLU was widely criticized by progressives, and since then, some progressives have begun to argue that a society with unfettered free speech is one that fails to protect marginalized communities. Former ACLU legal director and Berkeley law professor john a. powell recently told a reporter from the New Yorker that absolutist free speech rules in the United States fail to weigh the value …

Free Speech and the Capitulation of the SPLC

Two years ago, when the (once-) venerable Southern Poverty Law Center published a “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists,” there was widespread outrage over the fact that the SPLC’s list included not only bona fide Muslim-bashers but also British liberal Muslim Maajid Nawaz—the head of the anti-extremist, reformist Quilliam Foundation. Nawaz later announced his intention to file a crowdfunded defamation lawsuit against the SPLC. Now, he has won an impressive victory. The SPLC, which had already removed the “Field Guide” from its website in April, issued a retraction and an apology—and agreed to pay Nawaz a $3.4 million settlement. This week, Nawaz is scheduled to meet with SPLC president Richard Cohen, hoping both to find out more about the circumstances of his listing and to “educate” Cohen about the conflict between fundamentalism and reform within the Muslim community. A happy ending? Certainly, for Nawaz and his supporters: Commentary contributor Sohrab Ahmari writes that “it’s good to see the SPLC held to account for at least one of [its] smears” against people who don’t toe the progressive party …

The Historian’s Hubris

Niall Ferguson is a compelling writer, wry and puckish, intellectually curious. He has a knack for converting his deep knowledge of history and finance into narratives the average reader can grasp. There’s a generosity and a sense of excitement to his writing that have helped propel him to stardom in the publishing world and on the small screen. But for all his qualities, Ferguson didn’t know enough to pause before hitting ‘Send.’ Instead, by gleefully attempting to crush a coterie of left-wing Stanford University students who were trying to gain influence within his invited speakers series Cardinal Conversations, he threw gasoline on the blazing free speech wars and turned his own, noble-sounding words into ash. Ferguson has vowed to retreat “to [his] beloved study,” where presumably he will hunker down, reassess his methods and motives, and even, one hopes, re-emerge a better man. One of our era’s most recognizable defenders of free speech, Ferguson co-founded Cardinal Conversations to foster open debate at Stanford. When it was announced that Charles Murray, author of the infamous 1994 monograph, The Bell …

Giving the Devil His Due: Why Freedom of Inquiry in Science and Politics is Inviolable

In the 1990s I undertook an extensive analysis of the Holocaust and those who deny it that culminated in Denying History, a book I coauthored with Alex Grobman.1 Alex and I are both civil libertarians who believe strongly that the right to speak one’s mind is fundamental to a free society, so we were surprised to discover that Holocaust denial is primarily an American phenomenon for the simple reason that America is one of the few countries where it is legal to doubt the Holocaust. Legal? Where (and Why) on Earth would it be illegal? In Canada, for starters, where there are ‘anti-hate’ statutes and laws against spreading ‘false news’ that have been applied to Holocaust deniers. In Austria it is a crime if a person “denies, grossly trivializes, approves or seeks to justify the national socialist genocide or other national socialist crimes against humanity.” In France it is illegal to challenge the existence of “crimes against humanity” as they were defined by the Military Tribunal at Nuremberg “or in connection with any crime within the …

The Commodification of Learning and the Decline of the Humanities

In “The Dying Art of Disagreement,” published in The New York Times last Autumn, Bret Stephens discusses our failure to have reasoned discussions, stating: “We no longer just have our own opinions. We also have our separate ‘facts,’ often the result of what different media outlets consider newsworthy.” Stephens elaborates on the ways in which the polarisation of opinion has become personal, to the extent that facts remain up for debate, weighed against feelings he claims are “purchased at the cost of permanent infantilization.” He implores his readers to embrace an education model that does not seek fixed answers but instead opens up texts and ideas to interrogation. Many of us in academia have struggled with this very problem—how are we to revive a spirit of inquiry in the classroom during an era of great pressure to conform to fashionable theoretical trends and hip analyses? One interesting facet of Stephens’s text is that he calls up the 1987 Allan Bloom best-seller, The Closing of the American Mind.  Yet, Stephens has reframed the prevailing and more …

Why We Marched to Defend Free Speech in the UK

Writers Helen Dale and Shazia Hobbs both attended the ‘Free Dankula’ protests on Monday April 23, Shazia in Airdrie, Scotland and Helen in London, England. Here, they report exclusively for Quillette. Helen: I’m not sure speaking at a protest was ever on my bucket list but at least I can say I’ve done it now. In circumstances I still find peculiar — outlined here to American journalist Tim Pool at 17:10 — I finished up speaking at the London ‘Free Dankula’ cum ‘Free Speech’ protest. Shazia: I arrived at Airdrie Sheriff Court on Monday morning not knowing what sort of turn out to expect. I was delighted to see lots of people had travelled from England to support Markus Meechan, but I was disappointed to see Scots hadn’t turned out in their thousands. Scottish law is different from English law and Scottish people should have been a more visible presence, since the outcome of the case could curtail their freedom of speech. This man was also at risk of ‘going in the gaol’ as Scots …

The Scientific Importance of Free Speech

Editor’s note: this is a shortened version of a speech that the author was due to give last month at King’s College London which was canceled because the university deemed the event to be too ‘high risk’. A quick Google search suggests that free speech is a regarded as an important virtue for a functional, enlightened society. For example, according to George Orwell: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Likewise, Ayaan Hirsi Ali remarked: “Free speech is the bedrock of liberty and a free society, and yes, it includes the right to blaspheme and offend.” In a similar vein, Bill Hicks declared: “Freedom of speech means you support the right of people to say exactly those ideas which you do not agree with”. But why do we specifically need free speech in science? Surely we just take measurements and publish our data? No chit chat required. We need free speech in science because science is not really about microscopes, or pipettes, …