Some thoughts on the Harper’s Letter, a thread:
In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the willingness of a raft of actors left, centre and right, both in governments and civil society, to engage in censorship and to abandon due process and presumption of innocence.
But to limit this discussion to the acts of the extremely online mob, to, say, Jon Ronson’s concerns about Twitter public shaming or to the ill-defined term ‘cancel culture’—however troubling they are—entirely misses the wider atmosphere of an aggressive threat to civil liberties
And to restrict our concern to censorship imposed by the state or to believe that it is only possible for the state or for elites to engage in censorship and to deny other actors regularly censor too, is to be blind to the ways censorship operates at multiple levels in society
The no-platforming of speakers, organisations and publications by the liberal-left in various venues is a suicidal move, as it has simply been copied by conservative groups now freed from the societal ethos of respect for free expression. https://www.newstatesman.com/sarah-ditum/2014/03/when-did-no-platform-become-about-attacking-individuals-deemed-disagreeable
Religious groups or defenders of governments engaged in human rights violations to are now doing just the same as the liberal-left, via for example campus bans on BDS activists or other critics of the current Israeli government. https://www.aaup.org/news/statement-anti-bds-legislation-and-universities#.XwZGMpNKjMI
In some cases, the religious right’s efforts to de-platform is actively defended by the left, such as when socialist Iranian feminist Maryam Namazie was shouted down by Islamic conservatives at Goldsmiths University and the university’s feminist society defended the latter.
But it is also hypocritical of those Palestinian solidarity activists to (rightly) cry censorship when it happens to them, and then to try to get their conservative opponents shut down.
A number of academics have even been fired or ‘unhired’ due to their publicly expressed beliefs, for alleged transgressions, or without due process; When they are left-wing, the left will defend them, but not when such profs are right-wing, and vice versa. https://theintercept.com/2017/10/14/drexel-professor-ciccariello-maher-free-speech/
UK municipalities, police and private security firms restrict leafleting, busking, homeless people begging, ball games, ‘inappropriate dress’, and other ‘annoyances’ under such vehicles as Public Space Protection Orders and anti-social behaviour laws https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-47982434
And whenever there are major international meetings, whatever country, protest is now restricted to “designated protest zones” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_speech_zone
In the last week, what remained of free speech in Hong Kong has been entirely extinguished.
Western universities meanwhile are beginning to clamp down on criticism of China, lest Beijing dollars dry up. Yet if we criticize this, what leg do we have to stand on? https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/taiwan-files-formal-protest-with-ubc-after-university-listed-it-as-province-of-china
(Note, contra the arguments that only the state can censor, that as some of these are independent universities, this cannot be the action of a state, yet it quite clearly censorship.)
Conservative governments such as W Bush, Canada’s Harper, Australia’s Abbott and now Trump have repeatedly muzzled climate scientists and other earth science and conservation biology researchers. https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2012/03/01/prestigious_science_journal_slams_harper_governments_muzzle_on_federal_scientists.html
Some environmental activists have themselves engaged in destruction of scientific experiments they disapprove of, destroying GM crops, sabotaging geoengineering research, and even assault, arson and bombings of biotech and nanotech labs. http://blogs.nature.com/news/2012/05/green-groups-and-scientists-in-anti-gm-battle-amid-sun-cheese-and-folk-music.html
Authoritarian governments such as Turkey’s Erdogan have demanded that comedians who make fun of them be censored by foreign governments such as Germany. China has convinced tech giants to censor discussion of human rights domestically and overseas. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/04/15/merkel-allows-prosecution-of-german-comedian-who-mocked-turkish-president/
Local conservative politicians in some two thirds of EU member state Poland have declared their regions ‘LGBT-free zones’, tried to ban Pride parades as far-right thugs violently attack them. https://balkaninsight.com/2020/02/25/a-third-of-poland-declared-lgbt-free-zone/
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