by Johanna Markind
Two events last week crystallized the grave danger facing freedom of speech in the United Kingdom.
Previously published under the name "Free speech loses to Islamists at UK universities.
Warwick U. Students' Union Censors Speaker Against Radical Islam, Then Caves
WASH's president objected and began an online petition asking the union to reverse its decision. Prominent people, including Richard Dawkins and physicist Brian Cox, signed the petition.
Others, like Salman Rushdie and science writer Ben Goldacre, also criticized the decision. Dawkinscomplained, "To ban a speaker you happen to disagree with is a contemptible betrayal of everything a university stands for." Rushdie echoed this observation, commenting, "Protecting students from ideas is idiocy. It is the free play of ideas that universities must protect." Under the public pressure, the students' union buckled and reversed course on September 27, offering a "full and unequivocal apology" to Namazie.
Warwick University and its students' union have been criticized before for creating a campus atmosphere hostile to free speech. Spiked gave the students' union a red (worst) rating and the university itself a yellow rating in its Free Speech University Rankings. What's new here isn't the effort to suppress speech, but the positive outcome.
The moral? Firm and outspoken support for free speech is an effective tool against politically correct speech suppression.
"Passion for Freedom" Show Not So Passionate, Censors Anti-ISIS Artwork
"Passion for Freedom 2015" Poster
One of the advertised entries this year, called "ISIS Threatens Sylvania," consisted of a series of seven satirical light box tableaux by the artist known as Mimsy. The scenes showed peaceful village residents going about their business, like girls going to school and people vacationing at the beach, suddenly assaulted by armed Islamists. Police alerted organizers that they considered the work's content "potentially inflammatory" and that, if it were included in the six-day show, police would charge £36,000 for security.
The show opted to drop the piece, which remained listed in the program and online. The move was condemned by the Index on Censorship, but major celebrities did not speak out about it as they did over the Warwick University Student Union ban; perhaps they did not know about it.
"ISIS Threatens Sylvania" remained listed on the Passion for Freedom show website.
The threat of radical Islam is not shrinking, but growing. As it grows, decisions about whether to speak out about, expose, and confront it have become more widespread and urgent. Unfortunately, the counter-pressures not to do so – be they fear of physical violence, ideological disdain and intimidation (political correctness), or the more mundane one of cost – often overwhelm the impulse to speak out. Once upon a time, a group of people asserted their country's freedom by "mutually pledg[ing] to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." Freedom will survive only if people are willing to make these sacrifices.
Johanna Markind is Associate Counselor for the Middle East Forum.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.