Monday, June 24, 2024
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Free speech? Only if Owen Jones approves of it


THE idea that silence is violence originated, as far as I can tell, from the Black Lives Matter movement. Just like that movement’s name, one cannot deny that the phrase has a certain persuasive combination of simplicity and partial truth.  

When glaring injustice is present, to remain silent is suspect. As the Left-wing historian Howard Zinn once said: ‘You can’t be neutral on a moving train’. Of course, what constitutes ‘glaring injustice’ is subjective and, as we’ve seen with the radical woke activists, increasingly subject to mission creep. 

Former England rugby union international and BT Sport commentator Austin Healey found this out for himself at the weekend when Jack Duncan, a socialist and LGBT activist, targeted him not for something he said, but for what he didn’t say while commentating. 

Duncan tweeted that he had previously berated Healey for saying nothing in support of the Rainbow Laces campaign by gay rights group Stonewall, which urges sports participants to wear multi-coloured laces in support of LGBT inclusivity. 

Healey replied, stating: ‘It’s not my job to mention it and I’m just doing my job. I’m against all forms of discrimination and always have been.’ 

Healey also took issue with the bizarre notion that he had ‘attacked’ Duncan for pointing out his silence, when he merely took issue with being told he had to speak.  

This would be classic gaslighting, except Jack Duncan is so well insulated inside his echo chamber that he doesn’t even realise that it is he who anybody not on the radical Left sees as the attacker.  

It is Duncan after all who admits he has launched repeated attacks against Healey for his silence. It is Duncan who has nearly 40,000 Twitter followers. So perhaps one could be forgiven, like Healey, for being sceptical as to his motives. 

Healey’s scepticism was well placed. Just a few hours later, Jack Duncan released their private correspondence and subsequently tweeted BT Sport asking: ‘Are you really going to tolerate this from your key co-commentator against a gay fan in this of all weeks?’ 

Now I don’t know whether repeatedly and publicly implying that someone is bigoted for their silence and complaining to their employer is defamatory, but it is certainly threatening. I would urge you, Mr Healey, to get a legal opinion. 

Alas, this is not where our story ends. Enter Owen Jones, the infamous Guardian columnist, identity politics activist and apparently (or predictably) a firm advocate of compelled speech. Jones tweeted Austin, saying: ‘You could have responded by saying you support it, but instead you threatened to sue him.’ 

Well what if he doesn’t support it, Owen? And what if he doesn’t support it for non-bigoted reasons? Or do you not believe there are such reasons?  

Perhaps some people don’t like the unquestioning ritualistic dimension to things like taking the knee and wearing rainbow laces. Perhaps, more importantly, they don’t like the fact that people like you and Jack Duncan pounce on them at the first opportunity for not doing what you expect. Do you really think this is how you build allies? 

The problem with rituals like taking the knee and wearing rainbow laces is that they all get lumped together as an unequivocal ‘good’ which nobody wants to be seen objecting to.  

There is no room for nuance or complexity in Jack Duncan and Owen Jones’s world view — why would Austin Healey not say anything, unless he was a homophobe?  

Yet even in the LGBT world of identity politics there is nuance, development, and competing if not conflicting interests (as feminists have found out when discussing transgenderism). Who cares to remember that Stonewall was against gay marriage only a decade ago? 

Owen Jones has form on compelled speech issues and his own brand of intolerance. After Ashers’ Bakery refused to bake a cake with a message supporting gay marriage, Jones said on BBC’s Question Time: ‘There is no place for those sorts of attitudes in the modern world. But if you do have those attitudes, in my opinion, don’t run a service that’s open to the public – it’s as simple as that.’  

Yet where Jones saw discrimination, even the Supreme Court’s most liberal judge, Lady Hale, saw compelled speech. She wrote: ‘There is a clear distinction between refusing to produce a cake conveying a particular message, for any customer who wants such a cake, and refusing to produce a cake for the particular customer who wants it because of that customer’s characteristics. 

‘The bakery would have refused to supply this particular cake to anyone, whatever their personal characteristics. So there was no discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.  

‘If and to the extent that there was discrimination on grounds of political opinion, no justification has been shown for the compelled speech which would be entailed for imposing civil liability for refusing to fulfil the order.’ 

There are so many contradictions in Jones’s views on free speech that one doesn’t know which thread to pull. In this regard, he has become emblematic of the radical Left.  

For example, Jones doesn’t believe the owners of the bakery can use their Christian views as a defence. Yet would the journalist, who constantly writes about Islamophobia, support forcing an Islamic bakery to print a cake with the prophet Muhammed on? Or is gay marriage (that thing Stonewall didn’t support until ten years ago) more important than free speech? 

This intellectual gymnastics routine would be truly impressive if it wasn’t so menacing. One can only hope that people like Austin Healey fight back and garner the support to do so.  

Every time they are bullied by the likes of Duncan and Jones and fail to respond, it makes it a little bit harder for the average person to reject anti-bias training at work, to criticise Black Lives Matter, to state biological facts, or support a ‘controversial’ speaker. Twitter might not be the real world, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an omen. 

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Matt Archer
Matt Archer
Matt Archer teaches philosophy, theology, psychology, sociology, and politics. He’s a freelance writer and tweets as @mattarcher91.

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