Censorship and Identity: Free speech for me but not for you
Anti-racist black lesbian, Linda Bellos, was disinvited from giving a talk at Cambridge University because of her views on "trans politics". Whether it's redressing historical wrongs, new hate speech legislation, or safe spaces as a human right: when does the desire to accommodate aggrieved groups become censorship? And what's truly at stake? A debate among public intellectuals at London's Battle of Ideas, a festival held each autumn at the Barbican (and other locations) in London, England — to talk about the big questions we're facing today.
We often don't have a diversity of voices. Fox News is run by Rupert Murdoch and created by Roger Ailes and then its main guy was Bill O'Reilly. There is not a lot of anything there except a lot of loose skin and apparently Viagra floating around throughout the system. As a news consumer and as a sentient human being, I want different viewpoints represented.
– Nick Gillespie
What I would say to all those people who think they're defending me by telling people what they may or may not say… shut up. Shut up. – Trevor Phillips
It's been called the "culture of shut up". On the one side: those who present the free speech argument as the basis for expressing their beliefs; and on the other, those who see such beliefs as racist, sexist, xenophobic, or simply offensive. Both sides have accused the other of practising "shut up" politics. These days it seems you cannot turn around without stepping into the battle zone, in one form or another: members of Black Lives Matter are met by a new and angry group: the police in Blue Lives Matter. Renowned Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche is called out for insensitivity toward transgender people.
The politics of outrage is especially intense on university campuses. Dalhousie University student activist Masuma Khan angered many when she posted on Facebook that people should boycott Canada Day because of its 400 year history of genocide. She said: "white fragility can kiss my ass". A fellow student then filed a complaint that her post was blatant discrimination against white people. At the University of Berkeley, free counselling was offered to students who felt they might be adversely affected by the words of Ben Shapiro, a right-wing commentator who was invited to speak on campus. In the larger world, free speech is sometimes shut down by ultra-conservatives. At Poland's annual nationalist rally, some participants said that Muslims living in the country should be placed under surveillance and made to wear arm-bands. In France, many nationalists want to limit or rid the country of new immigrants. The populist Sweden Democrats has targeted journalists because it believes they are endangering traditional Swedish values.
Trevor Phillips is the founding chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Britain. He believes that joblessness and social inequality are major currents fuelling the tensions in many cultures worldwide. So what's to be done? That's one of the questions public intellectuals explore in this debate recorded at London's Battle of Ideas.
The Battle of Ideas festival is held annually at the Barbican Performing Arts Centre in London, England. It's supported by the Open Society Initiative for Europe.
Guests in this episode:
- Nick Gillespie is a libertarian journalist and editor-in-chief of Reason.com.
- Toby Young is co-founder of the West London Free School and associate editor at The Spectator.
- Jodie Ginsberg is the chief executive of Index on Censorship.
- Trevor Phillips is the founding chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. He is also co-founder of the diversity analytics research company.
- Frank Furedi is a public intellectual, author and professor emeritus of sociology at the University Of Kent.
- The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics by John B. Judis, Columbia Global Reports, 2016.
- Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World by Timothy Garton Ash, Yale University Press, 2017.
- Free Speech on Campus by Howard Gillman, Erwin Chemerinsky, Yale University Press, 2017.
- On Censorship by Salmon Rushdie, The New Yorker, May 11, 2012.
- A Nation of Snowflakes by Adam Swerer, The Atlantic, September 26, 2017.
- The Two Clashing Meanings of 'Free Speech' by Teresa M. Bejan, The Atlantic, December 2, 2017.
- 11 Canadian Books That Have Been Challenged, CBC Books, February 28, 2018.
- The Age of Offence by Ira Wells, Literary Review of Canada, April 2017.
The Battle of Ideas Festival is presented by the Academy of Ideas at The Barbican in London. Battle of Ideas 2018 will take place on 13 & 14 October.
**This episode was produced by Mary O'Connell.