Category Archives: Liberties

Tolerating Sectarianism

The March issue of Index on Censorship is celebrating 40 years of exposing censorship and giving voiced to the censored. This takes the form of a series of articles attempting to analyse, and provide some context, to the changing censorship landscape.

Inevitably, one of these articles takes a long – and interesting – look at the Muhammed Cartoons Controversy. In it, Kenan Malik summarises some of the views of Fleming Rose – the editor of Jyllands-Posten at the time – thusly:

Tolerance, Rose told me, should be ‘about the ability to be exposed, and to accept things you don’t like’, the ability ‘to live with what you find distasteful. What you don’t like, what you abhor’. But the concept has, in recent years, been ‘turned on its head’. Tolerance, he explains, ‘is no longer about the ability to tolerate things for which we do not care, but more about the ability to keep quiet and refrain from saying things that others may not care to hear. Jyllands-Posten was criticised for being intolerant. That suggests tolerance is something demanded of th one who speaks, or the one who draws the cartoon, or writes the novel, rather than something demanded of the one who listens, or looks at the cartoon or reads the novel. That’s why I say that tolerance has been turned on its head’.

Tolerance, in other words, used to mean the acceptance of diversity and difference. Today it has come to mean the very opposite: the refusal to accept diversity and difference, the insistence that others abide my views of what is acceptable and unacceptable. Once every group insists that other groups have to respect its boundaries then every social conversation has to take place across a barbed wire fence of ‘tolerance’.

This is not something I’d previously considered but, anecdotally, it did strike me as being very true.

Traditionally, the concept of tolerance has embodied a strong element of tit for tat – I accept that you might say something I find offensive and in return you accept that I might say something you find offensive. We don’t have to agree with each other, we don’t even need to pretend to respect each other. We simply have to recognise that it is in both our interests to not start imposing endless restrictions on each other.

There has probably always been a minority that has been unable or unwilling to understand this reciprocity. These are the people who noisily demand special privileges while seeking to deny rights to others. I don’t think that these people are in any way representative of the communities which they claim to represent and, traditionally, most of us have simply ignored them.

What has changed is that the media have become more willing to pander to this aggressively reactionary minority, and politicians have become more willing to respond to them. This works to the detriment of us all and leads towards the situation in which these self-appointed spokesmen engage in an endless cycle of seeking to suppress any opinions that don’t suit their agendas.

A truly tolerant society is one in which we recognise that we don’t all agree and that fundamental disagreements are inevitable. Trying to wish away these disagreements does not lead to greater tolerance – it leads to rampant sectarianism – and that, ultimately, will benefit no-one.

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Quote of the Day: Sexual correctness gone mad

And in a slight deviation from my usual Quote of the Day posts, I’m going to give you two quotes from the same article because it’s that good:

[H]ere’s an experiment you can try at home: go to any porn site that ranks its most popular clips, and have a look at the top 100 clips that people actually pay for – the range of outfits, body types, situations, ages and skin colours far exceeds anything you’ll find in FHM’s list. When it comes to what people find sexy, there’s a truth in porn considerably purer than the sterile, manufactured consent of glossy magazines.

Sexual correctness is a fundamental failure of journalism, and not just in the moralistic right-wing end of the press. I can’t remember the last time I saw an informed discussion of porn in a mainstream news publication. Many of those touted as ‘sexperts’ simply aren’t; a situation not helped by the craven attitude of bodies like the British Psychological Society. Features on alternative sexual choices, lifestyles or fetishes invariably resort to cheap smirks at the expense of its subjects; while journalists interviewing figures in the adult entertainment industry seem compelled to demand that they justify their ‘aberrant’ behaviour.

Both quotes come from Martin Robbins

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Quote of the Day: Defeating terrorists with songs, not surveilance

Norway shows that the effective way to deal with terrorism is not through abandoning privacy, spying on citizens, or turning to naked barbarism. As the UK did in the 80′s and 90′s, it should be dealt with as a crime, without the special venom which only serves to feed more violence and hatred. It takes a strong person to react with intelligence, but only a thuggish fool to react with fear and anger.

Andrew Norton.

I have long felt that the most appropriate way to respond to extremists is to point and laugh. A crowd of 40,000 Norwegians demonstrated this very effectively on April 26th.

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Quote of the day: Unwarranted

Of course the security services should be able to get a warrant to monitor genuine suspects. But blanket collection, without suspicion, or powers to compel companies to hand over data on the say-so of a police officer would be very wrong.

– Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group on the the government’s plans to revive legislation to enable them to eavesdrop on the communications of everyone in the UK, and monitor all phone calls, text messages, website visits and emails in real time. As quoted by Wired.

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I saw this headline on the New Humanist Blog: Tory MP Peter Bone: gay marriage reform could lead to two monarchs on the throne. And I thought: No it couldn’t. If a monarch was married to someone of the same sex, the UK would have a monarch and a monarch’s consort – just as Prince Philip’s official title is Queen’s Consort.

It sounded a lot like someone trying to invent a mountain out of a non-existent molehill. But I clicked through anyway and was confronted by this:

Bone has sent a letter to the Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone outlining his concerns. The legislation, to use the Sun’s words, “would mean a lesbian Queen having a Queen consort or a gay King having a King consort”

So my assumption turned out to be right. I have to admit, though, that Tory MP Peter Bone does invite a really obvious post title.

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Quote of the Day: Pass the pork scratchings

I think the defense, for all the incoherence of its arguments, will ultimately prevail — not because they are right, but because it’s just too damned inconvenient to be wrong. If you think too hard about this sort of thing, you’ll recognize the injustice; recognizing the injustice, you might feel obligated to do something about it. But that means making changes in the way you live; that means giving up things you’ve grown accustomed to. It means getting off the couch. Better not to think about it. Better to just look the other way.

Peter Watts on PETA’s ill-fated legal attempt, on behalf of five killer whales, to declare their incarceration to be in violation of anti-slavery laws. Go read the rest.

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Quote of the Day: Incompatible with irony

Rather fittingly – and as if to prove my point – my human rights were quashed by a person demonstrating one of the effects of sharia law; the threat of violence for criticising religion.

– Ann Marie Waters who was due to speak discussion of Islamic law at a London university on Monday. This discussion was abandoned after a mindless thug threatened the attendees and some students who happened to be in the foyer.

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Just a kind request… Or we’ll make your life hell

Rhys Morgan is an intelligent and articulate teenager and someone who impressed many with his work in publicising Stanislaw Burzynski‘s fradulent alternative medicine practices. Last week the University College London Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society were told that they should remove an image, taken from the cover of a Jesus and Mo book, from their Facebook page for their weekly pub meet.

Rhys, along with many others, used the same image on his Facebook page in a show of solidarity for their cause. He left the picture up for about a week, then changed it back and went on with his life.

Until today. Someone who is a Muslim discovered the picture and found it offensive. He politely requested I remove the image –

“… just a kind request to either hide it or completely delete the picture…”

– a request I declined because I do not follow Islamic scripture or rules.

At this point, all hell broke loose and he found himself on the receiving end of a stream of threats and abuse. Then his school stepped in… and threatened to expel him.

So here’s the picture in question:

And I think the head at Rhys’s sixth form college should sit down and think long and hard about why he is so keen to side with a bunch of bullies.

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Tim O’Reilly on why SOPA and PIPA are bad for business

The supporters of SOPA, and it’s Senate sister, PIPA claim that it will protect content industries. Tim O’Reilly very effectively takes this argument apart.

At O’Reilly, we have published ebooks DRM-free for the better part of two decades. We’ve watched the growth of this market from its halting early stages to its robust growth today. More than half of our ebook sales now come from overseas, in markets we were completely unable to serve in print. While our books appear widely on unauthorized download sites, our legitimate sales are exploding. The greatest force in reporting unauthorized copies to us is our customers, who value what we do and want us to succeed. Yes, there is piracy, but our embrace of the internet’s unparalleled ability to reach new customers “though it may not be perfect still secures to authors more money than any other system that can be devised.”

These bills are designed to protect companies that are unable – or unwilling – to respond to current market demands. Any law that tries to protect unrealistic business models is, inherently, a bad law.

I am aware that SOPA has been shelved. But being shelved is not the same as being killed. And PIPA is still working its way through the Senate legislative process.

I said yesterday that this site is going dark on Wednesday, as is Pulpmovies, in support of the Stop SOPA campaign. This is still going to happen.


It turns out that SOPA has just been unshelved.

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