Douglas Murray said of last Saturday’s attack on Israel: “Sometimes a flare goes up, and you see exactly where everyone is.” He was referring to the response by some members of the anti-colonial Left, such as Novara Media’s Rivkah Brown, who tweeted: “Today should be a day of celebration for supporters of democracy and human rights worldwide, as Gazans break out of their open-air prison and Hamas fighters cross into their colonisers’ territory. The struggle for freedom is rarely bloodless and we shouldn’t apologise for it.” (She later apologised.)
Rivkah was far from alone, with equally appalling reactions by an assistant professor at the LSE, the Chicago chapter of Black Lives Matters and Dr Ashok Kumar, a Professor at Birkbeck, who said the murder of more than 250 young people at the Supernova outdoor rave was a “consequence” of “partying on stolen land”.
But the reaction to the attack also shone a light on something else – namely, the double standards of those who penalise people for exercising their right to lawful free speech.
At the Free Speech Union, we’re constantly being assured that no-platforming visitors to universities with heterodox opinions is justified because allowing them to speak will make vulnerable people feel ‘unsafe’.
That was the argument for stopping Dr Kathleen Stock speaking at the Oxford Union and the reason for trying to cancel Prof Alice Sullivan and Prof Selina Todd’s book party at Edinburgh University. On college campuses, we’re told, preserving the psychological wellbeing of members of ‘oppressed’ identity groups must take priority over academic freedom and free speech, hence the need for ‘safe spaces’ and ‘trigger warnings’ – and woe betide anyone who commits a ‘microaggression’.
Yet the same activists who are so quick to silence others in the name of ‘safety’ have been openly celebrating the terrorist attacks on Israel. For instance, the Women’s Officer of Sussex University Students’ Union addressed a pro-Hamas rally in Brighton on Saturday night, describing the massacres that had taken place that morning as “beautiful” and “inspiring”. Not much concern there for the safety of Sussex’s Jewish students. And in what moral universe is it acceptable to behead a baby for the sin of being born Jewish, but asking someone where they’re from or touching their hair is beyond the pale? It’s almost as if woke activists have only been pretending to care about psychological harm as an excuse to silence their political opponents.
The police, too, have been revealed as deeply partisan by their failure to arrest any pro-Hamas protestors – at least initially. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, given that last year the police decided to drop all charges against a group of men who spat at a bus full of Jewish teenagers on Oxford Street. At a demonstration outside the Israeli Embassy on Monday night, thousands of protestors let off flares and chanted “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” – code for wanting to wipe Israel from the face of the earth. Yet the only arrests made were for criminal damage.
A man who was holding up a Palestinian flag in front of the Embassy complained about being told to move on by the police – “I thought this was supposed to be a free country?” – but he got off lightly, considering a person is guilty of an offence under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 if he “displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening… within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress”. Apparently, it’s a section 5 offence to wear a football shirt referencing the Hillsborough disaster in which 97 people were killed – as one crass Manchester Utd fan discovered at the FA Cup final – but not to taunt Israeli Embassy staff by celebrating a tragedy in which 10 times that number were killed.
The police don’t show anything like the same restraint when faced with much more menacing individuals, such as the elderly woman who took a photograph of a feminist sticker on a trans pride poster outside the headquarters of Hebden Valley Pride. Greater Manchester constabulary used CCTV footage and face recognition technology to track her down and then hauled her in for questioning.
And what about non-crime hate incidents? According to the FSU’s calculations, these have been recorded against the names of over 250,000 people in England and Wales since 2014, including four boys at Kettlethorpe High School for not treating the Quran with sufficient respect. Yet to my knowledge, none of the people celebrating a mass casualty attack by a proscribed terrorist organisation in Britain’s cities have had NCHIs recorded against them.
Could it be that the police’s determination of what constitutes ‘hate’ is entirely dependent on how ‘oppressed’ the so-called victims are perceived to be? Apparently, you can say what you like about murdered Jews, but if you breach an Islamic blasphemy code you’re for the high jump.
Don’t misunderstand me. This isn’t a call to silence anyone expressing sympathy for the Palestinian people or waving the Palestinian flag. I’m just pointing out that in the past week numerous actual speech crimes have gone unpunished, whereas the police are constantly harassing people for exercising their right to lawful free speech on the grounds that they’re being ‘hateful’ – and the same double standard applies to the self-appointed guardians of ‘psychological safety’ on campus.
A flare has gone up, as Douglas Murray says, and we can see more clearly than ever before that the attack on free speech in the name of protecting the vulnerable from harm – “Hate speech is not free speech” – is just a rhetorical smokescreen.
What it’s really about is forcing anyone you disagree with to STFU.