Dear Mike Buchanan,
Welcome to the Free Speech Union’s weekly newsletter. This newsletter is a brief round-up of the free speech news of the week.
Preacher Hatun Tash slashed with knife in Speakers’ Corner attack
Christian preacher and former Muslim Hatun Tash was slashed in the face at Speakers’ Corner on Sunday. She has been a persistent critic of Islam, and, as media reports noted, she was wearing a Charlie Hebdo t-shirt at the time of the attack. We wrote to the Metropolitan Police on her behalf in June urging them to take her safety seriously, following previous altercations and threats. She has every right to speak her mind without fearing for her personal safety. Speaking to GB News, Brendan O’Neill said the assault on Hatun shows, again, a “growing culture of intolerance” towards critics of Islam. Writing about the attack in Spiked, Brendan criticised the widespread failure of the press to report on the story with the seriousness it deserves. Ben Sixsmith compared the knife attack to events in Batley. Writing in UnHerd, he said: “There is no other context, in Western societies, in which speech, even irresponsible and offensive speech, raises the serious and immediate risk of being stabbed in the head.” Hatun subsequently spoke to the Times about the repeated physical assaults she has suffered at Speakers’ Corner. Newsweek noted our support for Hatun.
“Pronoun pledge” for Scotland’s civil servants
The Scottish Government is to ask its 8,000 civil servants to add their pronouns to their email signatures as part of a “transgender inclusivity drive”, the Telegraph reports, despite 60% of staff surveyed opposing the move. The option for staff to leave a comment about the proposal was removed part-way through the survey to “minimise any negative responses”, according to emails disclosed under a Freedom of Information request.
FSU Advisory Council member Andrew Doyle said of the initiative: “What this is actually doing is signalling to people ‘I believe in gender identity ideology and so should you’… So often these initiatives that are intended to foster inclusivity end up creating division.”
Former Woman’s Hour presenter Jenni Murray is opposed to the move. She wrote an article in the Daily Mail in which she said:“The use of pronouns is a political statement. It suggests a belief that gender identity overrides sex and, increasingly, we are seeing more and more women expressing their concern that what they believe, that sex matters, is slowly being eroded.”
Labour investigate MP for liking gender critical tweet
Labour MP Rosie Duffield is being investigated by the party for liking a tweet that said trans people were “cosplaying as the opposite sex”. Debbie Hayton, the trans journalist, has written a piece for the Spectator about the hounding of the MP. Josephine Bartosch notes the support of SNP and Conservative MPs for Duffield, but says “Sir Keir Starmer appears to have gone missing”. Mark Epps has written a piece for Counterweight about leaving the Labour Party, in part because of its stance on trans issues.
Alex Massie demolishes the craven silence from the politicians and groups who should be defending JK Rowling in the face of death threats for her view on the trans debate. Charlotte Runcie writes about the latest monstering of Rowling for the Telegraph. Jenny McCartney in UnHerd highlights the case of Matt Thompson, an LSE Gender Studies student, who gave an academic paper addressed to gender-critical women (abused as “TERFs”, or trans-exclusionary radical feminists) that said: “Picture this: I hold a knife to your throat and spit my transness in your ear. Does that turn you on? Are you scared? I sure fucking hope so.”
Why are so few men defending women’s rights in the trans debate, asks Julie Bindel.
We’re supporting our member Natalie Bird, who was barred from seeking office by the Liberal Democrats for 10 years after she wore a t-shirt with the words “Woman: Adult Human Female” on it. The party said she was “transphobic”. She’s now raising money to fight a legal battle against the party. You can contribute to her fundraiser here.
A teacher has been sacked for obstructing the campaign of a transgender child to be elected head girl. The teacher had also reportedly failed to challenge pupils who called the transgender candidate “disgusting”.
Taxpayers’ money funnelled into “decolonising” initiatives
£11 million of taxpayers’ money has gone to a group called Advance HE, which incentivises universities to “decolonise” their curriculum and introduce unconscious bias training. Lord Wharton, chair of the Office for Students, says the campaigns Advance HE runs “could undermine free speech and interfere with academic freedom”.
Meanwhile, a new student group calling itself LSE Class War is calling for the LSE’s Hayek Society to be banned on the grounds that its existence is “harmful to marginalised students”, and for private school students to be barred from the university. FSU founder Toby Young was quoted in the Daily Mail on the story: “The statements of LSE Class War read like the work of a satirist. Do a group of upper-middle class students at one of Britain’s most exclusive universities really want to wage war against posh people? Or is this a prank designed to take the Mickey out of privately-educated student activists? Unfortunately, we know from experience that student demands that should be treated as a joke are taken deadly seriously by those in authority, so the Free Speech Union stands ready to defend the Hayek Society if there’s any move to ban it. Universities should be places where students are exposed to a broad range of different ideas, not a woke echo chamber.”
Schools and councils push woke social theories
Brighton City Council has embraced critical race theory, writes Adrian Hart in Spiked. Employees must attend anti-racism training, and schools have been told to teach “key aspects of racial literacy” in a hyper-racialised approach to education.
Ann Widdecombe called for free speech to be taught in schools in a conversation with our Advisory Council member Andrew Doyle on GB News. We’ve called for free speech to be included in the Department for Education’s list of “British values” which must be taught in schools following the brouhaha in Batley.
Olivia Hartley has written a piece for the Critic in which she explains why the country’s top independent schools are racing to embrace wokeness.
Is the end of cancel culture in sight?
New data has found that the youngest Generation Z cohort in America – those aged 13 to 16 – are quite strongly opposed to cancel culture: 59% of this group have a negative view of it. Zaid Jilani offers a theory as to why: “Millennials came of age at a time when the internet was slowly introduced into every facet of our lives. They still have a bit of separation between the internet and the real world. When someone is piled on or even fired for an embarrassing old tweet or Facebook status, a millennial’s first impulse is often to think that this person simply shouldn’t have shared that thought online… Gen Z, on the other hand, has grown up immersed in the internet and social media. To them, the barrier between what’s personal and what’s public is fluid, and many Americans of this age don’t find it particularly unusual to broadcast everyday life and thoughts to the entire world. A puritanical mindset that seeks to persecute people over the expression of their beliefs is hard to reconcile with a world where so much of what was once private is now public.”
A poll for the Spectator has found that 40% of the public would support the government censoring books with “sexist, homophobic, or racist” comments.
Sarah Ditum compares cancel culture to Harlow’s social isolation experiments involving monkeys in an article for UnHerd.
Culture war corner
Tanya Gold argues in the Telegraph that the culture wars are not yet widespread in Britain. But a woke cultural elite have tremendous power across society and Adrian Wooldridge writes in the Telegraph about the spread of “woke” ideology throughout the global elite. Harry Miller asks why North Yorkshire Police are being coy about their recent “Intersectionality Conference”. It reportedly featured a “critical race theorist” who charges £1500 a session, but the force has refused to reveal the list of speakers. “In this climate of censoriousness, is it so surprising that Right-wingers and even centrists remain loath to put themselves forward for prominent appointments?” asks our director Douglas Murray in an article on Alan Rusbridger’s recent appointment as the editor of Prospect.
Andrew Tettenborn of our Legal Advisory Council writes for Spiked about Ofcom’s latest push to ensure that all television programmes are “inclusive”. A new report by the regulator says programmes must reflect “the diversity of the UK” and “include the accurate portrayal of protected characteristics”. Can opera survive the culture wars, asks Heather Mac Donald, after the Scottish Opera apologised for casting white singers as Mao Zedong and Chou En-lai in Nixon in China. The National Galleries of Scotland are due to review their entire collection for links to slavery and colonialism, according to a report in the Times. Bel Mooney rejects the racialisation of writing and the obsession with an authors’ ethnicity in an article for Conservative Woman.
The Telegraph has criticised Government plans to reform the Official Secrets Act, significantly curbing press freedom. Under the new proposals, journalists who publish state secrets would be punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
A tribunal has ruled that “referring to a work colleague as a grandparent counts as age discrimination even if they are one”. Melanie Phillips said the judge took “such an expansive view of the word ‘discrimination’ that it evacuated it of meaning”.
Police are investigating after former nurse Kate Shemirani compared NHS staff giving people Covid vaccines to the Nazi doctors tried at Nuremburg.
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