MANY years ago, while at university, I became friends with a lecturer. He was a pioneer in his field, brilliant and inspiring. When I met up with him decades later I found that he had become a David Icke groupie. His intellect was ruined by beliefs in alien lizards, space ship moons and various other crackpot theories disseminated by Icke. His conversation was dominated by Icke’s Rothschild conspiracy theories. I was horrified by it all.
A foray into Icke’s website offers a glimpse into the paranoid darkness of the human soul. He preys on the vulnerable and propagates rabid anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, devoting an entire section to blood libels and anti-Israel tropes, hateful words which would not look out of place at a neo-Nazi rally.
Icke has now caught the attention of Britain’s self-appointed guardians of anti-racism, Hope Not Hate (HNH). Eleven days ago they announced their delight that Facebook had removed Icke.
They are correct to criticise this divisive and monstrous conspiracy theorist. I have seen first-hand how he destroys the lives of his followers and spreads hatred of Jews. But HNH undo their good work here by their usual trigger-happy promotion of censorship. As much as I despise Icke I don’t want him banned from the internet. Banning and censoring him is not the answer. Not only will Icke’s followers create a martyr of him but the furore generated gives him further exposure. Freedom of speech means that we have to let others speak, no matter how abhorrent or daft we find their views. Laws banning the incitement of violence are surely enough. Going further is a sign that the battle for free speech is being lost.
This is where HNH’s championing of deplatforming goes so wrong and should worry anyone who values free speech. Unless a person instigates violence they should be free to say what they like without being condemned and hounded for their words. In a free society we must debate with those we disagree with; we don’t have them censored and banished from public platforms.
During Ramadan, Jemma Levene, HNH’s deputy director, released a video with the Orwellian title of ‘Watch What We Say’.
My eyebrows rose to the top of my forehead as Levene admonished viewers about micro aggressions, warned them to monitor their words and twisted the meaning of the Jewish concept of lashon hara, a law against spreading gossip. Surely ancient Jewish sages did not mean this to be used as a political weapon to silence critics of Islamism?
If this wasn’t so serious I would have thought her video a parody.
How long are we going to give HNH a legitimacy they don’t deserve? They have become the authority of what is racist and what isn’t, and are spreading their paranoia through those like Levene who should know better. Under the guise of faux concern over racism, freedom of speech is slipping further away from us. Given that freedom of speech revolves around what is deemed ‘racist’, HNH is controlling the narrative on free speech. The more that censorship is imposed by post-liberal puritans like HNH, the boundaries between what is acceptable speech and what is not becomes narrower until we are forced to say nothing at all. As much as HNH try to position themselves as leading anti-racist champions, their tendency to obsess over the far Right means their judgement is off too. Giving disproportionate attention to the activities of the real far Right in Britain, they over-estimate their impact while under-estimating the threat of Islamism and the toxic politics of the Left.
Their problematic definition of the far Right unfairly labels some conservatives as fascists. It is an obsession that has blinkered them when it comes to the hatred and racism dominating the Left and explains why they were so late to the party when it came to criticising Labour’s anti-Semitism, a topic they only feebly cover.
Yet it’s because they are on the Left that HNH are awarded a moral legitimacy denied to those on the Right. It makes them difficult to confront without being accused of being morally impure or racist by these self-appointed guardians of our words. By allowing them to dictate the narrative on free speech, we acquiesce in their skewed world view. Not only does this obstruct debate but anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the politics of the Left risks being labelled ‘far Right’ by HNH and censored because of it.
These latest antics from HNH over Icke are a symptom that all is not well in our society. The freedom of a society can be measured by its approach to free speech and whether it is given to those we dislike. Our establishment, goaded by Leftie organisations like HNH, is cracking down more and more on free speech. Our once free country is starting to resemble a tyranny in its infancy. Censorship is an addictive habit, and a powerful one too. Who watches the watchmen?