Shall we ban everything?

In our brave new world of post-modern identity politics, Leveson inspired press censorship and political correctness, it has become quite fashionable to ban people.

BRITISH MP George Galloway, heavily bruised, is shown after he was assaulted on a West London street on Friday (photo credit: TWITTER)
BRITISH MP George Galloway, heavily bruised, is shown after he was assaulted on a West London street on Friday
(photo credit: TWITTER)
I never expected that the pro-Israel movement would collide with the burgeoning transgender movement.
The only link I knew of was the transgender icon Jane County revealing herself to be a devoted philo-Semite.
But that’s nothing more than an endearing anomaly. The collision I experienced was admittedly unintentional but also illuminating.
In our brave new world of post-modern identity politics, Leveson inspired press censorship and political correctness, it has become quite fashionable to ban people. Clowns like Russell Brand and Anjem Choudary are fine because they are clowns. But people who really challenge consensus are another matter.
Today we can marvel at liberal minded people attacking feminists and democratic states.
This summer we saw a global backlash against the State of Israel. In Manchester where I was living, I saw the daily protest on King Street outside the Jewish owned cosmetics shop Kedem. They sell Israeli goods – but an awful lot of places do. The fact that Kedem is owned by Jews made it a curious target. The protest became so febrile, some called it the battle of King Street. A heavy police presence separated the pro-Israel from the pro-Palestine protesters.
There was no actual violence but the air of menace was palpable.
A pro-Israel supporter shouted into his megaphone: “This is a British shop paying taxes to the British government. They are trying to sell soap.” His plea was all but drowned out over the roar of people shouting: “Free Palestine, free Palestine.”
Quite how that was to be achieved on the streets of Manchester was unclear.
We saw people doing Nazi salutes and declaring their love of Hitler. The fact that Jews had to take to the streets of Manchester’s most affluent shopping district and shout “never again, never again,” was truly depressing. Attacks on Jewish businesses call to mind deeply unsettling historical parallels.
Among our liberal arts establishment, Israel bashing has become something of a right of passage. But it is a notably one-dimensional expression of outrage.
The UN recently announced that the death toll in Syria had reached and possibly exceeded the 200,000 mark. Will we hear trendy liberal artists in Hampstead calling for a Syria boycott? Unlikely.
The BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement seeks to delegitimize the Jewish state by any means possible. They will shut down academics, authors, musicians, journalists; as long as they manage to hammer Israel, censorship can be seen as a progressive means to a progressive end.
Recently I had the privilege of hosting an evening with the effervescent author Julie Burchill. We discussed her latest book about Israel and anti-semitism, Unchosen. But the event almost didn’t happen. We received a letter of complaint from a group of trans activists urging us to cancel her appearance. The contention arose on account of an article Burchill wrote in The Observer in 2013.
Her friend Suzanne Moore had been issued with death threats for saying she wished she had the body of a Brazilian transsexual. Her remarks were clearly intended to be camp. Nothing more. Whatever her intention was, she shouldn’t have been threatened with violence. Burchill waded into the argument and wrote a strongly worded piece, that certainly contained some inflammatory statements. I do not support the sentiments expressed by Burchill in that article. But I realize that it was written in a blaze of anger. Moreover, I do not think that the article should give cause to expel her from public life.
The feedback we received from some of the trans activists suggested that the Observer article was more than enough to expel her from public life. One even compared her to Nick Griffin, and another suggested a boycott of Waterstones (where we held the event) might be in order if we didn’t cancel.
So frivolously accusing someone of fascism and calling for a bookshop to be boycotted – is this progress? Julie’s friend, namesake and fellow feminist, Julie Bindel, has been apologizing for 10 years over an article she wrote that some deemed to be transphobic.
It was certainly milder than Burchill’s Observer piece. Still, it was considered to be a bit sarcastic, and she has never been able to live it down. Her appearances are often boycotted, leading to audience members hurling abuse at her, or organizers telling her not to show up.
In an online debate about banning Julie Bindel for her alleged transphobia, someone reasonably asked if they could share some of Bindel’s articles, so that people could understand what her ideas are. A boycotter replied: “That would require me to read her venom. Which I leave to those not personally victimized by it.”
People who seek to censor really don’t care about ideas. Just their delight in playing the victim and blaming others for their misfortunes. They talk about “triggering” – the notion that merely hearing someone you disagree with could warp your tiny mind beyond all recognition. Surely this is an indicator of someone so unsure of themselves they don’t feel that they can have their convictions challenged.
In a free society your convictions can and should be challenged. On any given day I am offended by something. It could be someone’s hairstyle or the angle at which they wear their hat. Or George Galloway warning Israeli tourists not to come to Bradford. But this is the price we pay for freedom, and it’s a price worth paying.
Censorship as a knee-jerk reaction leads to shops being boycotted because of a conflict raging thousands of miles away, feminists being barred from attending a debate about anti-Semitism, and people wanting to ban a writer without reading their work. This way peril lies. So lighten up, liberals of the free world.
The author runs literary events at the Waterstones bookstores in the UK.