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.
Victory for sacked Eton teacher
English teacher and Free Speech Union member Will Knowland, who was referred to the Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA) after his dismissal from Eton College, has been cleared of professional misconduct in a victory for free speech. Knowland had been dismissed over a lecture entitled “The Patriarchy Paradox”, a critique of radical feminism which was intended to stimulate discussion among sixth-formers as part of the school’s flagship debating course.
The TRA said that no further action would be taken. Knowland will now take Eton to an employment tribunal. Our Deputy Research Director Emma Webb told GB News: “It’s important that we have teachers like Will Knowland who are willing to stand up for critical thinking in education and to champion the value of having these sorts of things discussed properly and rigorously.”
According to an investigation by CitizenLab, a Canadian pro-free speech organisation, Apple is preventing certain words being engraved on its devices, such as iPhones and iPads, to avoid upsetting the Chinese Communist Party. The company has circulated a list of banned words to its engraving division, which applies to Hong Kong and Taiwan as well as China, such as the names of Chinese dissidents and independent news organisations.
Two men have been jailed for sharing a video about the Home Secretary, Asians in Rotherham and people of colour in private Snapchat groups. Professor Andrew Tettenborn, a member of the FSU’s Legal Advisory Council, has written an article in Spiked explaining why the offensiveness of these men’s views is “no reason to send either of them to prison, or for that matter, to prosecute them at all”. “As things stand,” he writes, “the police and the CPS have the power to lock up troublesome individuals for what they say online in private groups. This is unacceptable in a liberal democracy. The authorities must be reined in.”
One of the reasons Western corporations shouldn’t engage in censorship of non-woke views is that it makes it harder for Western leaders to criticise terrorist groups like the Taliban for failing to uphold free speech. On Tuesday, responding to a question about the Taliban’s attitude to freedom of speech, the group’s spokesperson Zabihullah Muhajid responded: “This question should be asked to those who are claiming to be the promoters of freedom of speech and do not allow publication of information… ask Facebook company.”
We also learned this week that Twitter, which banned former President Donald Trump, provides a platform for various Taliban spokespeople.
For more on online censorship, see the FSU’s briefing about the Online Safety Bill here.
Joan Smith, a campaigner for women’s safety, claims she was sacked by Sadiq Khan because she said she didn’t think transwomen should have access to women’s refuges. Smith is a Labour Party member who was appointed to an independent scrutiny role by Boris Johnson under his premiership as Mayor of London, and has co-chaired the Violence Against Women and Girls board since 2013.
According to The Times, Smith believes she was sacked for raising concerns on behalf of City Hall-funded charities that are under pressure to admit transwomen to refuges for women who have suffered rape or domestic abuse. She also claims to have fallen out of favour for criticising the way the Metropolitan Police identifies sexual predators and highlighting “endemic misogyny” within the Met in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder.
BBC News’s in-house style guide has redefined the term homosexuality to mean “people of either sex who are attracted to people of their own gender”. Note: that’s attracted to people of the same gender, not the same sex. Writing in Unherd, Gareth Roberts says “the elision of sex and gender in this new BBC-approved definition is […] quite deliberate, and echoes uncannily the recent words of […] Stonewall on the subject”.
Critical race theory
Academic Aysha Khanom is suing Leeds Beckett University after she was dropped from an advisory role following tweets calling the broadcaster Calvin Robinson a “house negro”. Khanom alleges she’s being discriminated against because of her belief in critical race theory (CRT), which should be a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010.
Calvin Robinson, writing for Spiked, agrees with her: “Freedom of speech is the foundation of any free society […] No platforming and censoring opposing voices only leads them to thrive underground. It is for that reason I haven’t joined in the demands for academic Aysha Khanom to lose her job.”
Robinson says that the sort of reverse racism people like Khanom engage in cannot be challenged openly if “its defenders aren’t free to express themselves”.
American Express forced employees to undergo critical race theory training sessions, encouraging them to rank themselves on a hierarchy of “privilege” and apply the hierarchy in the workplace, with “privileged” employees deferring to “marginalised” groups, according to Fox Business. Employees were reportedly instructed to change their behaviour based on their “relative position in the intersectional hierarchy”. After American Express called capitalism “racist”, Forbes Media Chairman Steve Forbes asked whether the company would be bringing in those representing other viewpoints.
As we highlighted last week, Orwell Prize-winning author Kate Clanchy has come under attack for her memoir Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me. Last Monday, Clanchy expressed her gratitude for the chance to rewrite her book in response to the criticisms.
Jake Kerridge has written a piece for the Telegraph asking whether the “imagination police” in publishing are ruining literature: “Clanchy’s publishers will be poring over her revised manuscript with all the minute attention of 19th-Century Egyptologists reading the Rosetta Stone.”
One of Clanchy’s former students, Shukria Rezaei, wrote a defence of her in The Sunday Times stating that “critics have no right to be offended” on her behalf. “In the book, she describes one of her pupils as having ‘almond-shaped eyes’,” Rezaei says. “Critics labelled this description patronising, insulting, offensive, colonialist and racist. This upset me. I am that girl with the almond eyes. I did not find it offensive.”
Rezaei says that the description is “at the core” of her identity as a Hazara, a persecuted ethnic group in Afghanistan, and described Clanchy’s words as “a beautiful reference”.
Free Speech Union General Secretary Toby Young has written about the Clanchy affair in his Spectator column this week, highlighting the fact that the Orwell Foundation, which awarded Clanchy its highest prize in 2020, failed to come to her defence. “Orwell had an extraordinary gift for prophecy,” he writes, “but I doubt even he could have foreseen that in 2021 the intellectual community which failed to defend free speech would include a literary foundation named after him.”
Comedy Unleashed TV pilot
Comedy Unleashed, the politically incorrect comedy club, is filming a TV pilot over three nights from 13th to 15th September. The line-up includes Leo Kearse, Jojo Sutherland, Andrew Doyle, Dominic Frisby, Tobias Persson, Tony Law and more. Tickets can be purchased via Eventbrite. The Free Speech Union’s staff will be in attendance.
In case you missed it…
Toby spoke to the TaxPayers’ Alliance last week about Britain’s Free Speech Crisis.
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