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Hate speech is not free speech

Claire Taylor

ImageI would like to make a couple points about Milan Rai’s editorial and Helen Steel’s article in response to the events at the London Anarchist Bookfair in October (PN 2612–2613). They concern the appropriateness of the right to free speech when it is applied to who someone is, as opposed to what someone choses to think or to be.

Firstly, both authors address the issue from the perspective of defending free speech. But there is a difference between free speech as it relates to competing ideologies (what we chose to think) and as it relates to us at a fundamental human level (who we are). Rai’s position is extrapolated from his earlier case that communist denials of free speech to fascists in the 1930s actually served to facilitate the rise of Hitler (PN 2610 - 2611).

Communism and fascism are ideologies in conflict. Surely free speech is not an absolute right where it involves the denigration and dehumanisation of people not on the basis of their ideology, but of who they are (for example, Jews, in Rai’s context). He says, ‘Freedom of speech is deeply connected to freedom of thought. Most of us discover what we really think by talking with others, by expressing ourselves, and then hearing other people’s responses. Everyone should have the chance to find their own political truths, to make mistakes, to grow and to stand on their own feet intellectually’. But insert the denial of basic human rights to specified racial groups as the ‘political truth’ to be contested, so that they may take the opportunity to ‘grow and to stand on their own feet intellectually’, and you can see the problem.

Rai and Steel both similarly miss the point about free speech in relation to transgender struggles. They are implicitly equating being transgender with having an ideology, so that what is up for debate is reduced to an abstract ‘political truth’. To be a transgender person is not to hold a ‘political truth’ (although of course this may follow, depending on the wider conclusions they may draw from the way they are treated).

Gender is not something you adopt or abandon because you feel like it, but a state of being. It is therefore not legitimate ‘free speech’ to spread ideological propaganda against transpeople, such as the leaflet handed out by TERFs [‘trans-exclusionary radical feminists’ – ed] at the Bookfair, but an act of ‘hate speech’ (and, cf PN’s ‘we’re not saying the leaflets were hate speech’, this was propaganda of the most vile, dehumanising nature, and it makes me wonder whether Rai has actually read it). So the status of free speech as a denial of who someone is, rather than what they choose to believe, is at the heart of the issue.

My second, related point, concerns what Steel’s article leaves unsaid. She is surely consciously aware, that when she refers to the denial of ‘women’s experiences’, the silencing of ‘women’s voices’, the need for ‘women-only meeting spaces’, and observes that ‘women are subject to oppression, sexual violence and harassment on the basis of our sex’, she is acting on an assumption that the reader is going along with her definition of who ‘those born female’ refers to.

This deliberate obfuscation applies to the Bookfair leaflet as well. Either transwomen are women, or they aren’t. Her appeal for ‘free speech’ is actually an assertion that they are not. This is an ideological position – a political truth – not a fact. Even the more typically reactionary institutions of state are gradually abandoning it, which is what makes the Gender Recognition Act so pivotal for all concerned. HS makes a choice, not to believe that trans people are who they say they are.

Dressing up hate speech as ‘free speech’ is a deliberately clever angle being worked by ‘TERFs’ because of the legal implications. Hate speech is legally recognisable and punishable, but free speech is a generally progressive cause defended by ‘right-minded’ people (as well as by Jo Johnson). But free speech is misapplied if it includes asserting that trans-rights equate to ‘rape culture’ (which the leaflet does). PN readers are put in danger of missing the fact that transgender rights is one of the great human rights issue of our generation. When the struggle is won, which side will we have taken?
Claire Taylor

(I am a white, cis-gendered anarcha-feminist of Steel’s generation, a one-time PN volunteer and long-time member of the Anarchist Federation)

Anarchy’s Weinstein moment?

Christopher Draper, Llandudno

ImageCongratulations on having the courage to spot the ‘elephant in the room’ and devoting five pages of the last issue of PN to bans, censorship and bullying in the anarchist movement. The movement I joined 50 years ago as a teenager has been taken over by authoritarians whose ‘anarchism’ amounts to little more than attacking opponents.

It is crucial that this incident is not viewed as an isolated event or exceptional behaviour. Four weeks after the London violence, a friend of mine and fellow peace activist and PN subscriber was physically ejected from the Manchester Anarchist Bookfair.

Too many political activists wrap the black flag of anarchy around themselves without abandoning authoritarian party-building tactics and psychology. Over the last decade or so, those of us active in the ‘Peace & Love’ politics that formerly characterised much British anarchism have been first derided, then insulted and isolated, censored, banned and even physically attacked by authoritarians determined that their sectarian, sociopathic version of anarchism predominates.

A key ingredient of this authoritarian take-over is the widespread adoption of anonymity. PN commendably continues to identify its editors and correspondents but this practice is now almost entirely absent from anarchist media. Regrettably, most individuals claiming to speak and act for anarchism hide behind masks and fake names. How can anonymity ever foster accountability and comradeship?

This is all a far cry from past decades when anarchism was a widely-admired and emulated political model with intellectual credibility. After the London Bookfair violence, some anarchist groups issued statements applauding the perpetrators, causing their national organisation to rupture, but I consider this a hopeful result.

The attack on Helen Steel was but the tip of a very dangerous iceberg. The anarchist movement could not and should not have continued with business as usual.

The bullies and bigots have had their way for too long. Free speech, real names and the absence of bans and censorship are essential ingredients of anarchism that must be restored. Only if peace-minded comrades actively intervene will the movement once again practise what it preaches. If freedom-lovers would just turn up the volume (preferably to 11) on their still, small voices the 2017 London Anarchist Bookfair might yet prove a watershed, anarchism’s Weinstein moment.

Feminism is a distraction

Steve Richards

ImageIf feminism is conflated with peace, then CND can also do without me. Many bourgeois women do very well in the so-called patriarchy which has nothing to do with peace. Public schoolboy Blair declared the class war over and initiated a new ministry for bourgeois women, headed by a bourgeois ‘toff’.

Another part of the big lie is the history of the suffragettes. The last thing they wanted was equality, especially with the working class, which would soil their aims and more especially with working-class men. Why would Sylvia Pankhurst not speak to her mother or sister? Socialists they were not. 1914 suffragettes campaigned ‘For King, country & Empire’. They also campaigned for conscription for working-class children; boys to be sent to the front and girls to munitions factories. Do your research!

Are trans rights a diversion?

Vida Henning, Havant

ImageI find myself disturbed and puzzled by the situation at the Anarchist Book Fair.

As I’m now rather elderly, I rarely go to meetings and demonstrations but I do read a lot. I seem to have gathered some idea about gender problems but don’t think all this heat generated about it has much point.

Who is being discriminated against and whatever is this to do with a government that clings to nuclear weapons, can’t manage Brexit, and is shoving more and more people into real poverty? What I do know about governments, as part of the ruling class, is the divide-and-rule tactic has a long history.

If you were not born a woman you cannot just become one but should you not have been born physically a human female there is nothing to stop you trying to help with the sorting out of our world.

You might even embrace the idea, propounded by some, that women are kind, sensitive, caring, patient, home-makers and, therefore, become so yourself. But even with the help of surgery, medication, changing your clothes, putting on make-up, growing your hair, you will never be able to be a woman so why try?

From the articles in the last Peace News (PN 2612–2613), I gather the Anarchist Bookfair was anything but peaceful and that I find shameful.

I would however be happy to listen to a transrights person’s viewpoint although I must confess such a thing seems inexplicable to me but I’m prepared to be proved otherwise.

Should you be able to find someone able to have a civilised exchange via email, please pass on my particulars.