Free Speech & Finsbury Park

BY SAM WHITE

As news of the barbaric terror attack near Finsbury Park Mosque unfolded this week, the country convulsed. Another slaughter, but this time different. Just as brutal and horrifying as previous attacks, but committed not by a Muslim, but against Muslims. One person killed and ten injured after they left the mosque late at night, ploughed into by an anti-Muslim terrorist in a hired van, a startlingly crude murder technique taken straight from the ISIS playbook. The worst fear now is that Islamist horror spawns continuing counter-horror in return. The emergence of a backlash should have been avoidable, but it’s evident now that when elected politicians refuse to honestly face up to worsening Islamism, repugnant fringe actors—savage and unrestrained—will step in and commit atrocities of their own.

And in response, the left steps up its barrage against anyone right-of-centre who blasphemes against Islam. While it’s vital to counter the threat of further anti-Muslim violence and guard the safety of all communities, it must be ensured that the Finsbury Park attack isn’t used to derail proper criticism of Islam, to subvert arguments for a more robust approach toward jihadi terror, or to restrict free expression. Unfortunately though, the tone of debate since the attack suggests a further drift toward censorship and wilful ignorance.

In general, the sentiment among liberal commentators has been that to prevent anti-Muslim ideas proliferating we should crack down on ‘hate speech’. But the definition of hate is widening alarmingly. Tabloid newspapers are regarded with suspicion. Many people seem to think that further restrictions must be placed on which opinions we’re allowed to hear, as we’re too reactive and dim to be trusted with a plurality of views. We mustn’t talk or think like the Express or the Daily Mail, which are terribly infra dig. Instead, we must strive to be more like Polly Toynbee and the Guardian.

But we’re hindered already by an obscene amount of speech policing. London mayor Sadiq Khan—who’s clearly incapable of taking care of a major, multicultural city—set up the Online Hate Crime Hub earlier this year to ominously skulk around discussions on social media. And then there’s our out-of-control culture of mob pressure and public shaming, enabled by the mainstreaming of an extreme brand of political correctness.

With Jeremy Corbyn’s ascent to the head of the Labour Party, hard-left social justice bigots, coagulating under the Momentum flag, have grown newly aggressive, and will go after non-Trots on social media with panting, hysterical vigour. They delighted in Katie Hopkins being sacked from LBC recently, and see shutting down free speech as a gloriously progressive act.

This wretched lurch toward speech restrictions and thought policing must be forcefully rejected with great urgency. The sole method we have to peacefully resolve conflict is through verbal negotiation. If you take away the capacity to openly articulate opinions and ideas, then the only remaining conduit of expression is physical violence.

That doesn’t mean that we bend our country to the garbled rantings of every racist conspiracy theorist or deranged jihadi halfwit that happens to cough up a point of view. But it means that we don’t shut people down just because they overstep the ever-encroaching boundaries of approved debate.

And increasingly, it’s not terrorists being restricted—as we’d like them to be—it’s ordinary people with valid concerns. Speakers are compelled to check their speech and self-censor when discussing immigration (it’s not too high), multi-culturalism (it’s wonderful), Islam (the religion of peace), and terrorism (nothing to worry about).

And disturbingly, approval of censorship has gained traction. We’re in the midst of an assault on free expression, led primarily by left-wing former liberals, who’ve morphed creepily into the things they used to fight against. So convinced are they now of their own infallibility, that they’ve become profoundly illiberal, to the point that they’d actively prevent dissenting opinions from being heard.

They don’t call it censorship, they talk about safe spaces. And they wouldn’t refer to heresy, they want to stamp out hatred, which they believe themselves to be at war with. But in reality, hatred and extremism are the precise things their actions foment, as those suffocated by the soft jackboot of progressive groupthink grasp for a means to push back, no matter how perverse it might be.

Pretending traditional or patriotic views are dangerous, and harassing those who express them, will only result in resentment and distortion. Protecting one religion from criticism while all others are fair game is palpably unjust. A crudely binary worldview is taking hold, in which politics is a morality contest, those who don’t cleave to the progressive worldview are inherently monstrous, and right wing newspapers are disruptively malevolent and should be shut down.

Unless we want further division, more avoidance of the real issues, increasing violence and a chronic breakdown in civil order, the regressive, anti-free speech mindset can’t be allowed to become the dominant mode of thinking. We must, most importantly of all, be free to openly criticize all religions, especially Islam, with which the left has become bizarrely, blindly infatuated.

(Image Courtesy: Rob Tornoe, Political Cartoons)
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