A QUESTION FOR THE BOARD
Has For Britain's Anne-Marie Waters found a chink in the Free Speech Union's armour?
Toby Young’s Free Speech Union (FSU), featured in Traffic Analysis passim, has made a storming start out of the stall but, as it rounds the first bend, it also approaches the first hurdle. And it is a hurdle that Young and his colleagues have themselves set high.
That very hurdle is expressed unequivocally on FSU’s website;
‘[The FSU] believes that if society doesn’t uphold the right to express controversial, eccentric, heretical, provocative, or unwelcome opinions, then it doesn’t uphold free speech’.
Defending free speech is like defending Aslan’s right to rule Narnia. It makes perfect sense as an idea, but it doesn’t exist in the real world. There is not now such a thing as free speech in the UK, unprotected as it is by an equivalent of the USA’s First Amendment. This is a true statement and cannot be gainsaid. It is an absolutist statement, but free speech is an absolutist concept. There is no Merkelian ‘free speech but’, or ‘free speech except when’. If one person in the UK languishes in jail, or any other punitive measure, for something they have said or written, then there is, de facto, no such thing as free speech. So the FSU are involved in a rearguard action, a restorative project. This is not to belittle them or their project in any way, just to provide the precise nature of their quest.
Then, of course, comes the Tommy Robinson test. Would you, Young was asked, let Robinson join. Young harrumphed and deflected, calling the decision ‘a question for the board’. He then went on to add the provisos anyone who has taken an interest in the FSU was dreading since its inception, and has rather been rumbled by another individual who would test FSU’s code of admission.
Anne-Marie Waters is, in the summation of Hope not Hate – and we will be featuring them in the near future - ‘the Islamophobic leader of [political party] For Britain’. In an essay for the veteran counter-jihad website Gates of Vienna, she writes the following concerning Young’s statements after his delegation of the Robinson question to FSU’s board;
‘In essence, [Young] said the union would not tolerate criticism of a person because of their sex (agreed), or because of their skin colour (agreed), or because of their religion (no, that’s entirely different)’. [The parentheses are in Waters’ original copy.]
Now, Waters has isolated the major flaw in Young’s mission statement; it leaves a loophole via which criticism of Islam will not be protected by the constitution of the FSU. It would be a huge statistical project to prove that the vast majority of statements that land individuals in trouble with the law pertain to Islam, but it is a pretty reasonable assumption. So, the mission statement of the FSU is reduced to the following; I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it, provided you don’t criticise Islam, inshallah. Slippery, to say the least.
Incidentally, even the caveats concerning sex and skin colour may be extended. If I call a particular person utterly unsuited for a particular job because she is a woman, this is most likely non-admissible, and if I say that under no circumstances should an honoured and ceremonial position such as the Speaker of the House of Commons be held by a black person, this is plainly ridiculous and needlessly offensive. But what if I say that, in my opinion, in general, women make lousy stevedores? Or if I point out the disproportionate amount of crime committed by black men? Will the FSU come to my aid if I am collared? Can Katie Hopkins – or Anne-Marie Waters – join Young’s selective club?
When pushed about whether Robinson had applied to join the FSU, Young Tweeted that someone called Stephen Lennon had applied, but that his card payment had been refused. True, or, even if true, a subtle smear job?
So, then. Should the Free Speech Union change its name to the Partial Free Speech Union, or the Conditional Free Speech Union? The Free-ish Speech Union? The Free Speech But Union? The Free Speech Brotherhood?
We support Young’s primary motivation in forming the FSU, but we will also watch his career, and the career of that organisation, with interest.
Photo credit: Kuolem A