Tag Archives: censorship

In Praise of David Cameron (& Co): A Libertarian Fatwa

by Keir Martland

Not long ago, I wrote something nasty about Margaret Thatcher for the Libertarian Alliance. Yet even I will concede that in order to be so cruel about the old cow one must inevitably come across as sympathetic to some less than civilised people. In order to attack the Thatcher government and its record one must to some extent deny the existence of the many problems this country faced in 1979: the rampant inflation; the militant trade unionism; the lack of self-respect as a nation; the high rates of direct taxation; the low levels of home ownership. I will concede that even if one takes a dim view of the Thatcher government, there are many allowances that can, and indeed must, be made.

However, when considering the latest tax credits debacle, I am unable to make similar allowances for Mr Cameron and his government. This particular episode is a perfect example of economic illiteracy, legislative incompetence, and constitutional ignorance.

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Debate: We’ve Never Had it So Good

My college’s History Society was to have a debate today, which was cancelled. Censorship! No, actually, revision sessions were scheduled at dinner. But, as the likelihood of this debate taking place before the end of the term is now virtually zero, here is what I intended to say – and will say when it goes ahead. 

Motion – ‘We’ve Never Had it So Good’

I must take issue with this motion. I find it patronising and almost 100% wrong.

Oh, indeed, some qualifications are called for. I won’t try to deny that we are all immeasurably better off than our 1914 counterparts in that we can Skype people, we can live our lives without fear of rickets, polio, or David Lloyd George , and we can go days without having to do anything involving a great deal of physical exertion. Maybe this means we are freer in some sense, but it is certainly not up for debate that we are more comfortable on the whole than our great grandparents were when they were our age. What is up for debate is whether we are, in addition to being better off in terms of lifespan and technology, better off in politics, economics, the law, society, and culture.

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Jesus and Mo: it’s time to pick a horse


By Lawyers’ Secular Society Secretary Charlie Klendjian (H/T Old Holborn for the link)

A few weeks ago I appeared on the BBC1 programme The Big Questions to discuss, well, a big question: “Should human rights always outweigh religious rights?” You can watch it on YouTube here.

I very much enjoyed the experience, and not just because of the limitless KitKats the production company generously laid on. What I haven’t found so enjoyable, though, is subsequent events.

On the programme were two friends of mine, Chris Moos and Abhishek Phadnis of the LSE Students Union Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society. They were on the programme because they had recently got into trouble with their university for the hideous crime of…wearing “Jesus and Mo” t-shirts at the LSE Freshers’ Fair in October of last year.

The LSS fully and unequivocally supported Chris and Abhishek and we condemned the LSE’s disgraceful reaction to such a harmless act (see herehere and here). I’m pleased to report that Chris and Abhishek did eventually receive something resembling an apology from the LSE but unfortunately this was only after my student friends had formally instructed a Matrix QC and Leigh Day solicitors to help them. You can read Chris and Abhishek’s joint statements about what happened at Freshers’ Fair here (day 1) and here(day 2); you can read Abhishek’s fantastic blog post about it here; and you can read their joint statement in response to what they see as LSE’s “half-apology” here.

The Big Questions showed the t-shirts Chris and Abhishek were wearing, though they didn’t show any close-ups. Sitting next to me on the programme was Maajid Nawaz, who is the Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn and the co-founder and chair of the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think tank. Nawaz made it very clear on the programme that he, as a Muslim, had no objection to the t-shirts.

Shortly after the programme went out Nawaz tweeted a picture of one of the Jesus and Mo cartoons from the t-shirts – the same picture at the top of this blog post – saying:

“This Jesus & Mo @JandMo cartoon is not offensive&I’m sure God is greater than to feel threatened by it الله أكبر منه”.

And then things got crazy: there were death threats against Nawaz and a petition calling for his de-selection as a PPC.

So far, so bad.

Then things got crazier.

Last week two of our flagship news programmes, Channel 4 News and BBC’s Newsnight, in covering Nawaz’s plight, refused to show the cartoon he had tweeted. Displaying an inexplicable impatience to get into the Easter spirit in January, Channel 4 News decided to use what looked like a “black egg” to cover the image of Mohammed:

J and Mo.jpg censored

Newsnight didn’t even do that; they just avoided it completely. As the eccentric Christian blogger “Archbishop Cranmer” put it, this is how Newsnight depicted the cartoon:

Jesus and Mo BBC

In censoring themselves Channel 4 News and Newsnight not only failed in their task of reporting the news to their viewers – to enable their viewers to form their own opinion about the cartoon – but they also reinforced the very religious taboo that Nawaz had received death threats for challenging and which had landed Chris and Abhishek in hot water with the Libyan School of Economics – sorry, the London School of Economics. As Nawaz tweeted:

“Thank you @Channel4News you just pushed us liberal Muslims further into a ditch #LynchMobFreeZone #TeamNawaz”.

I am appalled at the treatment of Nawaz and I am appalled at the editorial decisions ofChannel 4 News and Newsnight to censor the Jesus and Mo cartoon. Religious censorship is bad even on a good day, but when it prevents discussion of the actual news item at hand it becomes surreal.

It’s high time we all faced up to a very unsettling reality here: sharia law is alive and kicking in the United Kingdom in 2014, and so is its deadly blasphemy code. After Nawaz had tweeted the picture Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation referred to him as “Gustake Rasool”, which means “Defamer of Prophets”. This is a religious and legal charge punishable by a death sentence in Pakistan. Nawaz travels regularly to Pakistan and has family there. Shafiq also tweeted that:

“We will notify all muslim organisations in the UK of his despicable behaviour and also notify Islamic countries”.

It’s tempting to think this is a difficult legal or moral conundrum. It isn’t. There are difficult legal and moral issues out there but this is not one of them. The question before us is very simple: do we have the right to depict Mohammed? It’s a simple question and so it deserves a simple answer. The answer is either yes or no. My answer is yes. If your answer is “yes, but”, then sorry that’s just not good enough. If you have to pause for thought before answering the question then you’ve probably already decided the answer is no.

“Oh but we have to be respectful because depiction of the prophet Mohammed is forbidden in Islam and so it’s offensive to Muslims”, I hear you say, clutching your dusty GCSE Religious Studies certificate proudly (I have an ‘A’ grade myself; it was one of my favourite subjects).

You’re wrong.

Point 1: there is a history within some strands of Islam of depicting Mohammed.

Point 2: all Muslims are individuals. Some of them will find a depiction of Mohammed offensive and some won’t. Why are you more concerned about the Muslims that want to enforce blasphemy codes rather than those challenging them, often at great risk? In choosing to instinctively sympathise with those seeking to enforce blasphemy codes you make it even harder for liberal and secular Muslims to rise up. As Nawaz says, you push them “further into a ditch.” You side with the oppressor rather than the victim. Think about that, carefully.

Point 3: notice how you just belittled all Muslims as unhinged individuals with hair-trigger tempers who cannot handle their ideas being challenged – in this case a picture of a man with a beard. Which other group of people would you treat like that? Is that showing “respect” towards Muslims? Or is it showing disrespect? Or is it possibly even de-humanising them?

Point 4: if someone is offended, so what? Do you know how offended some men (and women) were at the idea of women having the vote in this country? Do you know how offended some white people were at the idea of racial equality in the US and South Africa? Do you know how offended some Christians were at the Life of Brian and the work of the wonderfully irreverent late comedian Dave Allen (Allen also received death threats, incidentally)? Do you know how offended some religious people are at the idea of gay couples marrying? Challenging power always offends those who hold the power, or those who benefit from the power, that’s being challenged.

Point 5: this isn’t just about a cartoon, or Maajid Nawaz, or LSE students. It’s about our democracy asserting the vital principle that no idea is beyond challenge, criticism or even ridicule. Free speech and free expression are our safety mechanisms; without it there is no limit to harm.

Point 6: if you say we should censor these images out of “respect”, is that really the right word? Or when you say “respect” do you really mean “fear”? As I have said before, if you’re scared about something then for goodness sake just say you’re scared. There’s no shame in that whatsoever. But there is shame in saying you respect something when actually you don’t respect it, or when you’re scared of it.

You might be thinking to yourself, “Ok, so what can I do?” Well here’s the good news. The solution is simple. You just have to be honest when talking about religion, and in particular Islam. And when I say honest, I mean ruthlessly honest. If you find the enforcement of sharia law in the UK abhorrent, please say so. If you find the willingness of 18 out of 56 UK mosques to conduct child marriages abhorrent, please say so. If you find the al-Madinah school in Derby abhorrent, please say so. If you find gender segregation in UK universitiesabhorrent, please say so. And if you find the imposition of Islamic blasphemy codes byChannel 4 News and Newsnight abhorrent, please say so.

Don’t think you can straddle both sides of the Jesus and Mo argument, arguing in one breath how free speech and free expression are important but in another breath how we have to be “respectful” and not cause offence, like a Hollywood stuntman expertly riding two horses. At some point those horses will go their separate ways. Pick a horse now – while you still have something of a choice.

The events of the last few weeks have demonstrated something that secularists are only too aware of: the urgent need for absolute honesty when it comes to discussing religion. After we had finished filming The Big Questions a gentleman from the audience came up to speak to me. It’s fair to say we were on different sides of the debate. When I told him I was a secularist he remarked dismissively and mockingly, and almost salivating at his own quick wit, “well I suppose someone has to be”.

Yes, he’s bloody right.

Someone has to be.


Views expressed are not necessarily those of the LSS.

You can sign a petition in support of Maajid Nawaz here.

Chris Moos and Abhishek Phadis have been jointly short-listed for the National Secular Society’s “Secularist of the Year” award. More details here.

Britain’s Idiotic “Opt-in” Porn Ban

via The Daily Beast: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/11/23/britain-s-idiotic-opt-in-porn-ban.html

By Brendan O’Neill

November 23rd 2013 5:45 am
In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron asks British blokes to fess up about their fantasies—for the good of the children.

In Britain, browsing internet porn is about to get a whole lot more complicated.

As of next year those who like to have an occasional self-fiddle while watching a saucy movie—that is, every male human being aged 13 and upwards—will effectively have to ask for permission from his Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Access to porn will be automatically blocked in the vast majority of British households—nine out of ten, the government estimates—meaning people who want to see this stuff will have to email or phone up their ISP and say: “Please turn off my filters.” Imagine how humiliating that will be. You might as well say to your ISP, “I like to wank while watching people have sex.”

It’s Prime Minister David Cameron’s idea. Convinced that the tsunami of porn on the internet is damaging young people, he has pressured ISPs to impose a pre-set parental control filter on all domestic internet connections.

These mandatory filters, which will come into effect early next year, will block pornographic fare. If you want porn, you’ll have to “opt in.” The government, without our say-so, is opting us out. One day next year Brits will wake up to discover that they no longer have access to certain images and words that they previously had access to.

The aim, says Cameron, is not to “lecture adults” about their web-browsing antics, but rather to empower parents, to allow mums and dads to keep their homes porn-free. “We are giving parents the opportunity to take a more positive role”, he says. “We are helping them with something they have asked us… to do.”

And what about those adults (let’s face it, mainly men) who have families but, every now and then in the privacy of their bathroom or study, also like to watch rollicking lesbians? How do they explain to their wives or girlfriends why they want these pesky “porn filters,” as absolutely everyone is calling them, switched off?

These “embarrassed husbands” will just have to “have a discussion” with their partners, Cameron says nonchalantly, as if he isn’t asking the men of Britain to do something many will find squirm-inducingly shameful. He’s effectively forcing British blokes to fess up about their fantasies, to make semi-public their private onanistic shenanigans.

There are so many things wrong with Cameron’s porn filter plan that it’s hard to know where to start.

First, as the free speech campaign group Open Rights points out, internet filters can be notoriously clumsy, often blocking stuff that isn’t actually pornographic or violent but which is merely “adult”: articles about smoking, advertisements for booze, etc.

Open Rights spoke with some of the ISPs who have agreed to impose a porn block in British households, and they admitted that other material might also get blocked—including “violent material, suicide-related websites, anorexia, and eating disorder websites.” So whole swathes of the internet are going to have a forcefield erected around them, and actual, sentient, fully grown adults will have to ask permission to penetrate this forcefield.

Second, and more importantly, Cameron’s plan represents an alarming intrusion into our homes, into our private lives, into the sovereignty of the family itself.

The imposition of filters on domestic internet connections won’t actually stop wily, web-savvy young people from seeing porn. Armed with smart phones and tablets, and aware that there are Wi-Fi connections pretty much everywhere these days, even the offspring of men and women who agree to allow ISPs to determine what bits of the internet their household can access will find a way to watch mucky movies. If those of us who were children in the pre-web 80s could find a way to source, store, and surreptitiously look at porno mags and crappy VHS videos of Italian women giving blowjobs, then today’s permanently connected youth will surely work out how to circumvent blocks and get their fix of filth.

But what these filters do is set a dangerous precedent: they will say it is okay for the government to behave as parent to their nation, as the stern, finger-wagging father to its citizens.

Cameron is in essence assuming the role of in loco parentis in relation to almost every household in Britain. But households are not only made up of children; they consist of—in fact they are run by—adults. And by forcing mandatory web filters on households Cameron is arrogantly overruling these adults, in the process denting both their rights to access online whatever the hell they want and their authority over their offspring.

It is one thing for the adults in an individual household to take measures to prevent their children from seeing porn; many do that, and good luck to them. But it is another thing entirely for ISPs, cajoled by officialdom, unilaterally to enforce child-protection measures on almost every home in Britain.

That interferes with private life, with parental authority, with the sovereign rights of individual families to determine, relatively free from everyday social mores and expectations, what their values and ideals should be. Using children as a moral shield, Cameron is sticking his foot in the door of family life, assuming the authority to switch off porn on everyone’s internet just as surely as our mums would switch off our TV sets when it got ridiculously late.

We need to challenge this top-down decree that all web connections should, by default, be child-friendly. What if Cameron decides next that erotic literature or fiery political tracts are also harmful to children and thus web access to them should be automatically switched off? No good can come of allowing politicians, in cahoots with ISPs, to tell the public what a “normal” internet should look like.

Censorship and the Woolwich murder

by John Kersey

It turns out that ITV’s video of the comments made by one of the murderers in the Woolwich atrocity yesterday was censored. Not, you might imagine, to remove graphic images of bloody violence, but for a different reason.

If you watch the broadcast version of the ITV video, you can see that a voiceover has been put over the beginning of the tape. The killer is speaking, but we can’t hear what he is saying.

 Now watch the full version of the same tape here.

The censored words are, “There are many, many ayah throughout the Koran [referring to religious verses] that says we must fight them as they fight us, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” In other words, this is further evidence that the killer used the Koran to justify his actions. Why do you think that people didn’t want us to hear that?

France today – the UK tomorrow

David Davis

Government internet regulation: this is how it will be here, and soonish I guess. Harriet- Harmonisation, Corpus Juris and all that.

Speaking merely personally and very generally, I don’t think we will ever return to a state of even partial liberalism, like what existed for some decades aaround the turn of the 19th Century and a little after. WE’d better try to enjoy what’s left, and make the best of the Endarkenment to come.

There will be local and passing opportuities for skilled people to keep stuff working, here and there, to preserve archives and libraries of knowledge where possible for the distant future, and to try to maintain something of what we might have had.

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