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Sunday, January 18, 2015


Since the slaughter of nine cartoonists and journalists at the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo a huge amount of pious nonsense has been said and written about defending free speech and the right to offend. Indeed, many of the West’s leaders, including the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron, marched arm-in-arm with France’s François Hollande and over three million French people to pledge and show their commitment to free speech and the right to ‘offend’. 

Yet out in the real world ‘offending’ against Western societies new politically correct totems of racial inclusivity, sexual tolerance, religious cohesion and all the other ‘isms’ so beloved of our multicultural nirvana is increasingly difficult, or indeed, an ‘offence’ in itself. Western society, and the UK in particular, may pay lip-service to the concept of free speech but has over the last two decades become so inured to protecting minorities from possible ‘offence’  that any dissent in the form of criticism is regarded as either extremist or criminal. 

Now our post Charlie Hebdo world is already extending its talk of ‘extremism’ beyond the kalashnikov wielding jihadists and their head-hacking disciples to include the far-right and anyone else who criticises Islam too much. Many establishment people are, having perhaps looked at Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons for the first time, characterising their arabic caricatures as both racist and as ’going too far’ and thus are slowly becoming apologists for their creators murderers. 

Free speech should mean just that, the right to say and offend anyone regardless of their religion, race, sexual orientation, disability, and physical appearance. People’s feelings should be open to attack but the introduction of the concept of  ‘hate’ speech’, ‘incitement’, ‘extremism’ and of course the catch-all, ‘causing offence’ mean that virtually any dissent, whether verbal or written, can be censured or prosecuted, or both, and our ‘Free Speech’ championing governments are to blame.

The relentless pursuit of inclusivity and tolerance have instead created a society that is both intolerant of dissent and which fears and avoids virtually anything that may cause ‘offence’. Schools and universities are increasingly encouraged to preface literary and artworks with ’Trigger Warnings’ in case the content upsets or emotionally disturbs a reader unprepared for such ghastliness. Lectures are can be stopped or elicit protests on the grounds that the words or subject that are intended to be discussed, abortion or non abortion for instance, may be too offensive for some to hear, or even consider as a concept.

Yet ironically it is at one of our centres of learning and of free speech, The Oxford Union, that our post Charlie Hebdo love of ‘Free Speech’ is about to be truly tested. The Oxford Union has a history and reputation for inviting people from all walks of life and opinion to speak and that list includes many controversial figures from all sides of the political spectrum including politicians like Tony Blair, Tony Benn, US Presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, the Reverend Ian Paisley, the current Home Secretary Theresa May, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, Yasser Arafat as well as quirkier figures like Pamela Anderson, Russell Brand, Salman Rushdie and Tracy Emon. All have spoken and demonstrated the value of ‘free speech’ at its most basic, the freedom to speak ones view and for the listener to hear them. So it is ironic that less that ten days after the Charlie Hebdo slaughter that there are calls for the Oxford Union’s latest guest speaker, Marie Le Pen, the leader of France’s Front National, to be banned from speaking on the grounds that her words would promote division and Islamophobia. 

There is also a good chance that Marie Le Pen may become the President of France in two years time so hearing her speak and debating with her may have some validity… The move to ban her is 
also systemic of the UK’s growing victim culture. Marie Le Pen’s words may offend so rather than let her speak she should be banned. Silenced. Any words, spoken or written, that challenge our new totems of inclusivity and tolerance, are now silenced by cries of racism, Islamophobia, homophobia sexism, and fattism (the victim du jour,). 

If it offends, or hurts or hates then whole armies of bureaucrats and the ‘offended’ are now on hand to prosecute and to hound the ‘offender’ and silence them. A great victimhood waiting to be outraged or offended, their fingers forever poised over their Twitter App, ready to wail and demand retribution. For them free speech is only about the power to say NO and never about the right to say YES. 

Of course uncensored bigotry is offensive and upsetting. Words, despite the schoolyard rhyme, can and do hurt. Hatred causes fear and alarm, and so can cartoons. Yet in the US, the Ku Klux Klan can say what they want protected by the First Amendment as can pornographers, racists and fascists alongside communists, anarchists and Islamists for that is the essence of free speech. Hate speech is as valid as nice speech, it is the darkside of the same coin and by prosecuting and silencing all that offends we risk creating a world of bland soundbites and inane platitudes and that would be the greatest offence of all. 

© Nigel Wingrove 2015

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Last year (2014) following the brutal abduction of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok, Borno by militant Islamist movement Boko Haram, (’Western education is forbidden’), President Obama’s wife Michelle posted a photograph of herself on twitter holding up a sign which read #BringBackOurGirls. Within hours hundreds of thousands of celebrities and ’concerned’ people worldwide reposted the same hashtag and achieved absolutely nothing, accept perhaps a sanctimonious glow of having done the right thing. Indeed following this decisive action by America’s First Lady, the European Union followed the Twitter assault on Boko Haram with one of their own, passing a resolution “calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the abducted schoolgirls”. Boko Haram, of course, ignored both, and in the meantime have gone from strength to strength, recently murdering some 2000 people around the town of Baga. The schoolglrls are, surprisingly, nowhere to be seen…

While Boko Haram were busy raping schoolgirls and massacring villagers and anybody else who doesn’t adhere to their brand of Wahhabi and Salafi inspired jihadism another group of happy-go-lucky head-hacking rapists were getting ready to party. The new gang had the catchy name of  Islamic State of Iraq and Levant or ISIL for short and this time the party was in Syria and Iraq where there were thousands of defenceless Yazidis Christians and other minority groups that these new Islamists on-the-chopping-block could amuse themselves with. 

The rise of Islamic State on a tide of blood, rape, heads, genocide and atrocity videos has had the West in turmoil about how to fight it, not least because ISIL’s brand of slice ’n’ dice Wahhabism, which encourages the taking of sex slaves and souvenir heads, has acted like Islamic catnip to the legions of young wannabe jihadists that mope about Western cities despising Western culture and spend their evenings watching radical Imans and decapitation porn on Youtube. In fact, ever since the Islamic State spread out from Syria into Iraq and started decapitating Western hostages, and at the same time turning their chief hacker, Jihadi John, into an internet sensation, ISIL have put the West on the back foot and high-lighted yet again the West’s seeming inability to confront Islamic fundamentalism. 

With ISIL, while there was universal condemnation of its brutality this was, and is, always mixed with the absurd spectacle of Western leaders, like the British Prime Minister David Cameron, and numerous media outlets, who repeatedly state and trumpet that ISIL is an affront to Islam, and that it is not representative of Islam or Muslims generally as they are peaceful and represent a religion of peace. This is both patronising and nonsense coming as it does from non Muslims.

Yet this softly, softly approach to radical Islam’s excesses is as nothing compared to the West’s abject abasement and verbal contortions every time a ‘lone wolf’ ‘mentally deranged’ or ‘Asian’ drives a car into passers by, or stabs, or shoots, or decapitates or blows himself up in the name of Islam. Then, like the followers of Islamic State or Al Queda, these ‘Muslims’ are suddenly not real ‘Muslims’, but aberrations, or unMuslims, their actions and statements a bastardisation of Islam and Islamic teachings. So, in recent months as these unMuslims murdered, rammed and hacked to death people in Canada, Australia, France, the UK and the US we could relax because, although all the perpetrators were Muslim and all the victims weren’t, these attacks were, despite the evidence, carried out by unMuslims. Then France happened. 

Charlie Hebdo. A magazine born and put together by the generation of 1968. Its pages flavoured by the CS gas that wharfed in from the barricades that had lined the boulevards of Paris all those years ago and its ink the same as that which had written all the antiestablishment slogans that had inspired the students in their ‘revolution’, and now, 47 years later, that same ink had killed them. 

This magazine and its cartoonists, in a nation that loves cartoons and graphic art, had lampooned all religion and the Establishment, yet, like its close ally in print, the newspaper Libération, it had also embraced and championed multiculturalism, attacked racism, hated the Front National and generally pursued a left-leaning secular socialism. Therefore the murder of its editor and key cartoonists by French Muslims was both truly shocking to the French nation, and to the wider left-leaning establishment in the Western world generally. This was a bullet to the heart of Europe’s multicultural nirvana and it hurt. 

These murders couldn’t just be dismissed as the actions of the mentally disturbed or an unMuslim and at first it seemed that the media and the West’s political intelligentsia might just have been shocked out of their multicultural stupor and would see the Charlie Hebdo slaughter for what it really was: a  further demonstration, if one were needed, that the West is at war with a religious faith that has one aim, the establishment of a worldwide Caliphate that the rest the of the world must submit to or die. 

Yet within minutes of the attack the BBC and other news agencies, as well as politicians, were going through incredibly complex mental contortions in which to represent the wider French Muslim community as the real victims and, in an amazing piece of verbal dexterity by the BBC, they also managed to reappoint the wider blame for the shootings back to Chalrie Hebdo and the West by suggesting that the Islamic faith is more sensitive to attacks on it than other faiths and therefore it shouldn’t be ridiculed or criticised to the extent that Charlie Hebdo lampooned Islam as that would in a sense ask for Islam’s followers to attack it. The BBC also suggested that French society was to blame for not allowing Muslims to be truly both Muslim and French in France and that France’s very secularism was, in fact, a hinderance to Muslim integration and that France should therefore change its constitution to accommodate Islam rather than the other way round.

Then, as if to ram home the West’s utter inertia and ineffectiveness in the wake of a murderous assault on its values, France, having had its 9/11 moment, also had it’s First Lady moment and created a completely useless hashtag; ‘#JeSuisCharlie’. Now millions of people worldwide can hold up a pen, and a piece of paper, and for a brief, fleeting moment, feel that they are standing up to terrorism and radical Islam, or at least standing up to those ghastly unIslamic, unrepresentative, mentally-challenged Muslims that give all the nice Muslims a bad name. Then, in a few weeks, like the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, it will all be forgotten until the next time some unMuslims decide to demonstrate the failure of the West’s ongoing Appeasement policy. Perhaps our next hashtag campaign should be #IamNevilleChamberlin 

© Nigel Wingrove 2015