The FSU monthly newsletter takes up the remainder of this blog piece:
Inaya Folarin Iman, a Founding Director of the Free Speech Union, is launching a new venture today called the Free Speech Champions Project, along with a group of students and recent graduates. (The Mail on Sunday ran a story about it yesterday.) Below is an extract from the press release.
The Free Speech Champions Project is an exciting new initiative which aims to inspire the next generation about the importance of free speech. It has been set up by a socially and politically diverse group of university students and recent graduates to create a space for challenging thinking. It will do this by creating a network of young ‘free speech champions’ across the country who will host events on free speech, support and encourage the development of free speech societies, and develop the information, ideas and arguments about free speech needed to inspire the next generation. The Champions will collaborate with individuals, groups and organisations who share their commitment to free speech.
The Free Speech Champions Project is led by Inaya Folarin Iman, a 24-year-old graduate of the University of Leeds, and developed in collaboration with the Free Speech Union and the Battle of Ideas charity.
Inaya said: “Freedom of speech is essential for open enquiry to flourish. Social and human progress depends on courageous individuals who are prepared to think for themselves. Too often, the places where free speech should be valued most highly – universities and online spaces – are where it is in most jeopardy. We need to re-articulate why free speech matters, especially to young people.”
A 2020 survey carried out by ADF International revealed that 40% of students self-censor out of concern for their future careers.
Inaya said: “A lot of attention has been paid to the problem of explicit censorship on campus – no-platforming of speakers, the closing down of debates. It is a good sign that a lot of people instinctively feel that this is wrong. However, a more subtle pressure to self-censor has also become far too prevalent in places of education. This is not about being ‘polite’. Too many young people are holding themselves back from exploring ideas because they fear the potentially negative consequences of using the wrong words or of honestly sharing what is on their minds.”
The Free Speech Champions Project will go to where young people most need the space to think and speak freely – schools, universities and online communities – and inspire support for freedom of speech.
Toby Young, the General Secretary of the Free Speech Union, said: “The Free Speech Union is delighted to be supporting this project, along with the Battle of Ideas charity. If free speech is going to endure it’s essential that young people understand why it matters and needs to be defended.”
You can find out more about the Free Speech Champions Project by visiting its website. And if you’re a student or recent graduate who would like to get involved, please fill out the form on this page.
New Organisation Set Up to Help People Resist Woke Ideology
Another new organisation has just been launched called Counterweight. Started by Helen Pluckrose, co-author of Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity – and Why This Harms Everybody, it aims to help individuals resist the intrusion of woke ideology into their day-to-day lives. Like the FSU, it’s primary purpose is to help people who’ve fallen foul of this ideology, providing resources, advice and guidance, including referring them to the FSU if it thinks we can help. Another of the people involved is Carrie Clark, who wrote the essay about Unconscious Bias Training that we published on our website last September.
This is what it says on Counterweight’s website about the organisation’s care values:
Counterweight is a liberal humanist organisation that values individualism, universalism, viewpoint diversity and the free exchange of ideas. We defend scientific, reasoned, rigorous and empirical approaches to knowledge production and to justice and equality.
Our main focus is Critical Social Justice, though we oppose authoritarianism and censorship of all kinds. We do not support attempts to ban Critical Social Justice ideas. People must have the freedom to believe and advocate whichever ideas they wish. We only ask that they do not force their beliefs on anyone else.
Counterweight works with and for people from all over the political spectrum, with a wide variety of cultural, ethical, religious and philosophical views. Not all of these people identify as liberal humanists.
We do, however, expect them to support equal freedoms, rights and opportunities for all human beings under the law and to view all human beings as equals, regardless of race, gender, sexuality or any other identity category.
If you’d like to find out more – or reach out to Counterweight for help – you can find its website here.
Australian Academic Under Fire for Defending J.K. Rowling
Australian academic and FSU member Dr Petra Bueskens was mobbed on social media last week – and denounced by her professional association – and needs your support. Her sin? Writing the most popular piece of 2020 on Areo, an online magazine, defending J.K. Rowling from trans activists. The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) initially published a tweet warmly congratulating Dr Bueskens on her article, but after some of its members replied with negative comments it deleted the tweet and then published another one, this time apologising for the “hurt” it had caused and denouncing Dr Bueskins for “transphobia”. Needless to say, there was nothing transphobic about Dr Bueskens’ article.
Dr Bueskins has written an open letter to TASA in response that you can read here. She doesn’t pull her punches:
Let me make a bold claim: the confluence of neoliberalism and postmodernism has produced a cadre of academics who lack imagination, passion, flair, originality or courage; they are all in lock-step with each other, more like a school of fish than a cohort of scholars. To my colleagues I say this: honestly, stop pretending you are victims of anything other than your own limbic hijack and petty careerism. Most of you are so busy checking metrics, expanding CV’s, meeting KPIs, applying for grants, attending nauseatingly boring Zoom meetings, self-promoting, networking, virtue signalling and ensuring you support the corporate brand formerly known as the university that there is no time for thinking as an end in itself.
Those tenured academics protesting their victimisation and hurt while staying safely inside “the gated institutional narrative” are Orwellian double-speakers. They are neither harmed nor threatened. On the contrary, theirs is the only view allowed! As a normative principle, freedom of speech – especially within academia and the media – is the lifeblood of liberal democratic societies. We are nothing without this capacity to reflect on ourselves, our institutions, our laws and our ideas. Speech is never free: it is both costly and uneven, but upholding its normative value remains critical to the pursuit of truth.
Dr Bueskins is currently an Honorary Fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne, but she doesn’t have a tenured position and there’s a danger her university may withdraw her fellowship if her professional association continues to denounce her. To prevent this happening, some colleagues of hers have written an open letter to TASA asking it to apologise to Dr Bueskins and affirm its commitment to academic free speech. If you would like to sign this letter – particularly if you’re an academic – please email Andrew Glover at [email protected].
It seems incredible that we have to mobilise support for someone who is at risk of losing her livelihood because she had the temerity to defend the best-selling children’s author in the world. But that’s 2021 for you.
US Branch of the FSU has been Incorporated
We have always envisioned the Free Speech Union as an international organisation, with branches across the Anglosphere and beyond, and I’m happy to report we’ve now incorporated our first overseas branch in the United States. The plan is to launch it later this year. So far we have a four-person Board of Directors, an acting CEO (not me!) and are in the process of assembling the Advisory Council.
We haven’t set up the website of the US branch yet, but you can register your interest and receive updates about our progress by filing in a form on this placeholder site. If you’re interested in getting involved and would like to volunteer, please email me at [email protected].
FSU Hires New Deputy Research Director
The Free Speech Union has hired Emma Webb as its Deputy Research Director. Emma, a long-standing champion of free speech, is also an Associate Fellow of Civitas and the Co-Founder of Save Our Statues.
Emma recently wrote a piece for Spiked about the involvement of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in an organisation that wants to “eliminate” online hate (e.g. defining a woman as an “adult human female”) and gave an interview to Mike Graham about it on talkRADIO.
If you’d like to contact Emma – with an idea for a policy paper the FSU should publish, for instance – you can reach her on [email protected].
The Workers of England Union
A quick reminder that if you’re worried you might be put through a disciplinary procedure at work because your beliefs are at odds with your employer’s, you should consider joining the Workers of England Union. The WEU has won tens of thousands of pounds for members whose philosophical beliefs have been discriminated against.
We’ve negotiated a deal with the WEU whereby you can become a member for a fee of £25. Unlike other unions, the WEU will go to bat for its members as soon as they sign up. If you’d like to take advantage of this offer, you can join online here, but don’t forget to email them here first, letting them know you’re a member of the FSU.
Thanks again for becoming a part of the Free Speech Union. 2020 was possibly the worst year in history to launch a new organisation that aims to organise events and speakeasies as part of its mission to encourage people to engage in civil debates about controversial issues in the public square – and the U.K. doesn’t look like it’s going to reopen any time soon. To date, our activities have largely been confined to case work, research and staff recruitment. Nevertheless, we’ve managed to sign up over 8,000 members and, so far, have done a reasonable job of standing up for their freedom of speech.
Our last general election manifesto is here.
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