Friday, 30 January 2015

Let’s abolish all blasphemy laws, worldwide

A year ago today an important campaign was launched. Here is its most recent statement:

A new international campaign launches today, Friday 30 January, aimed at abolishing “blasphemy laws” worldwide.

The End Blasphemy Laws campaign is thought to be the first campaign focusing solely on the issue of laws against “blasphemy” including “ridicule” and “insult” to religion or “hurting religious sentiments”.

The coalition behind the campaign, led by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and the European Humanist Federation (EHF) and numerous coalition partners, currently represents around 200 Humanist and secular organizations globally, and is open to all groups who oppose “blasphemy” laws, including religious and secular communities, human rights groups, and all advocates of freedom of expression.

Sonja Eggerickx, President of the IHEU, said,
In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings there have been renewed calls to abolish ‘blasphemy’ and related laws in almost every country where they still exist. Our organizations have worked for many years to protect this important right: to question, criticise, and yes even ridicule religion. Given this new impetus to challenge these anachronistic laws, we believe that we can work together across national boundaries to support local voices calling for the repeal of all such laws.

The idea that it is wrong to satirize religion, lends false legitimacy to those who murder in the name of being offended. The idea that it is taboo to question or to criticise religious authorities is one reason why sexual abuse in the Catholic Church persisted so long. The idea that “insult” to religion is a crime, is why humanists like Asif Mohiuddin are jailed in Bangladesh, is why secularists like Raif Badawi are being lashed in Saudi Arabia, is why atheists and religious minorities are persecuted in places like Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, and the list goes on!
Pierre Galand, EHF President, explained,
Our campaign does not target laws against incitement to hatred, which are legitimate. What we are concerned about is laws which restrict freedom of expression about religion. As a first step, we want to see the remaining laws against blasphemy and religious insult in Europe repealed. There is an obvious double standard issue as the EU has taken a clear stand against blasphemy laws in the world. Now it must encourage its Members States to abolish existing blasphemy laws, as recommended by the Council of Europe.
The campaign calls on transnational bodies and world leaders to look on “blasphemy” laws as they might look on laws restricting press freedom: as a clear restriction on free expression and indicator of wider social harm.

Meanwhile, officials in Saudi Arabia have had the opposite response to Charlie Hebdo, arguing for a United Nations resolution on “contempt of religion”, which the UN has reportedly agreed for discussion. The End Blasphemy Laws campaign website succinctly replies: 
First the OIC and its member states pushed for an international ban on blasphemy, then defamation of religion, now contempt of religion. It all means the same thing. Namely, they don’t want to hear people question, criticise or mock religion. But the OIC’s envisaged ban on “contempt of religion” cannot happen without fundamentally compromising freedom of expression, and that is why we must work to oppose restrictions on criticising religion, and it is why over time, all free and democratic states will repeal their blasphemy laws.
What’s Wrong With Blasphemy?

The End Blasphemy Laws campaign believes “blasphemy” and “insult” to religion laws are wrong in several ways:
-  They violate the human right to freedom of expression

-  They protect religious belief and practices, institutions and leaders, from legitimate and necessary criticism

-  They are intrinsically bad laws

-  They legitimize mob violence, vigilantism, and persecution of minorities

All these areas are discussed at The End Blasphemy Laws website.

Joe Stirling lights Holocaust candle at the Forum

On Holocaust Memorial Day, 27th January 2015, Joe Stirling lit the special Holocaust candle outside the Forum in Norwich marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and death camp.

After lighting the candle Joe gave a short address on how his parents, Ida and Alfred were deported from Koblenz to Sobibor in 1942, where they were murdered by the Nazis. 

Joe Stirling lives in Norwich. He is 90 years old. Joe was Sheriff of Norwich in the mid 70s, pioneered a well-known and successful travel business in the 1960s and has been a serving member of Lions International for over 50 years. He is also active in the Norfolk Humanists group.

Joe was chosen to light the Norwich candle because of his extraordinary life's journey, which took him from Nazi Germany to Liverpool Street, and eventually to Norwich.

His biographer, Phyllida Scrivens writes:
Escaping Hitler: A Jewish Boy's Quest for Freedom and his Future is the story of how Joe, born Gunter Stern, fled Nazi Germany as a fourteen year old in 1939, first by attempting to walk to England across four countries - Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland - and eventually on a Kindertransport into Liverpool Street, the final train to leave Cologne. 

Escaping Hitler: A Jewish Boy's Quest for Freedom and his Future has a release date of January 2016.  Click here for the Facebook page.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Next Skeptics Talk

Tim Bastable

Tuesday, February 3 at 7:30pm

Scan the media and the internet and you can find renewable energy characterised as anything from a colossal waste of tax payers' money to a planet saving technology that will exploit an almost unlimited free energy flux. These extremes are the most polarised manifestation of an entirely false "political storm" about renewable energy, the reasons why we need it and the limits on its use.

The vehemently anti-nuclear green movement and the (often energy industry funded) anti-renewables lobby share culpability for the fog of misinformation surrounding an important path to reducing the carbon intensity of our energy supply. This talk aims to shine the spotlight of reason in an attempt to cut through the murk.

Tim Bastable has been involved in environmental issues since a night of malt whiskey and conversation with Dave McTaggart onboard the Rainbow Warrior in Lerwick Harbour in the mid-1970's. He's campaigned on various issues throughout his life and recently worked as writer and researcher on sustainability writing about climate change, renewables, and the politics of sustainability. He has helped run permaculture design courses and been involved in communal low impact living for many years. 

Current interests include the USA corporate campaigns to "muddy the climate change waters", monitoring the covert and overt policy changes on energy and climate in the present UK government, and realistic pathways to sustainability.

Ukip’s Matthew Smith faces retrial

From Great Yarmouth Mercury by Rosa McMahon:

Ukip’s Matthew Smith faces retrial as jury discharged in electoral fraud case

Matthew Smith arriving at his continuing trial at Norwich Crown Court. Two fellow defendants have been cleared.

A former Ukip parliamentary candidate faces a retrial from June 1, after jurors failed to reach a verdict on two remaining counts.

Matthew Smith, the Norfolk County Council member for Gorleston St Andrews, has been cleared of seven counts of electoral fraud.

But today jurors passed a note to Judge Anthony Bate, explaining they found it “almost impossible to imagine being able to reach a majority verdict” on two remaining counts of making a false statement in nomination papers.

The jury was discharged after around 18 hours of deliberation, at the end of the 17-day trial.

Judge Bate said: “In my judgment, this was a meticulous and thorough enquiry by the police major investigation team, who have navigated the obvious sensitivities and unusual legal aspects of this case with scrupulous care.

“The case was properly brought to the crown court for independent consideration by a Norfolk jury.”

He praised jurors for their “diligent” service, and said the “measured” terms in their final note reporting deadlock were to their credit.

Brett Weaver, prosecuting, said the crown remained of the view that there was a case to answer, and it was in the public interest to pursue this.

A retrial on the two remaining counts has been fixed for June 1 at Norwich Crown Court, and is set to last two weeks.

Smith had been selected to stand for parliament in the key seat of Great Yarmouth at the next general election.

But he was suspended from the party after allegations emerged surrounding forged signatures on nomination forms submitted by UKIP in the 2013 county council elections, during which he acted as the party’s agent.

Smith, 27, of High Street, Gorleston, stood trial at Norwich Crown Court after denying six counts of making a false statement in nomination papers knowing that they contained false signatures and three of making false nomination papers.

After 13 hours of deliberations, jurors found him not guilty of one count of making a false statement and three of making false nomination papers.

They later cleared him of three further counts of making a false statement.

The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the two remaining counts of the same charge, and they will go to a second trial.

Fellow UKIP members Michael Monk, 60, of Freeman Close, Hopton, and Daniel Thistlethwaite, 20, of Station Road South, Belton, had both denied one charge of making a false statement in nomination papers and were cleared.

Under election rules, all candidates standing as councillors must obtain 10 signatures on nomination forms.

The prosecution alleged seven out of eight forms submitted by UKIP in that election contained forged signatures. Giving evidence, Smith had claimed he submitted forms with genuine signatures but that these were later substituted in an attempt to smear him.

Smith had originally worked for the Conservatives but fell out with the party after leaving acrimoniously in 2011.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Haymarket Haven

Notices from The Peoples' Picnic, to be found at Haymarket 8pmTuesday, Saturday and Sunday:


Severe Weather Emergency Protocol

People sleeping rough in Norwich can access emergency accommodation and support during periods of exceptionally cold weather through the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP). This is activated by a temperature of zero degrees Celsius or lower forecast for at least three consecutive nights.

Through SWEP, we aim to prevent loss of life and reduce the number of people sleeping on the streets. While we have arrangements in place to prevent and respond to rough sleeping at all times of the year, SWEP ensures a place of warmth and safety is available for those people sleeping rough who are not normally eligible for services, or who have a long history of sleeping rough and have refused previous interventions from housing options services.

Once a decision has been made to activate SWEP, we - together with partner agencies - ensure that people who are out on the streets are offered emergency accommodation. The person in question must be in agreement with receiving our assistance.

SWEP gives such services an opportunity to engage with individuals who have previously refused assistance, so that every effort is made to prevent them from returning to a rough sleeping lifestyle

We urge anyone who encounters people who are homeless and rough sleeping to make the person aware there is immediate help available for them and to notify us by emailing or calling 01603 212950/ 01603 412180.

Acting locally for the hungry of Norwich

The Peoples' Picnic writes:

Its freezing out there and its more important than ever that we keep getting hot meals out to people.

Just because somebody is with less does not mean they are worth less. We are a collective group of people dedicated to making sure the less fortunate and vulnerable are not forgotten in society by directly providing meals and other essentials to those in need! Let’s put the unity back in community!

We are a 100% non-profit, grass-roots movement, founded in February 2013. 

Every Tuesday and Saturday (and possibly another day too, to replace the Sunday meals) at 8pm we serve wholesome home-cooked meals and other food to the homeless and hungry of Norwich

Money donations can be made via PayPal by using this link… every penny counts and goes directly towards helping those in need!

To arrange to drop off food or other items please email 
Norwich - or or
Dereham -
Brundall area -
Reepham/Fakenham -
Beccles/Lowestoft -

If you would like to come along and help please join the volunteers page here

.•:*¨¨*:•.Thank you for your support!.•:*¨¨*:•.
.•:*¨¨*:•.You are all AWESOME.•:*¨¨*:•.

For general enquiries/more information or if you feel you could help with donations or volunteering contact You can follow us on twitter @kcpeoplespicnic

We also need any spare food, warm clothing, blankets etc you may have lying about..Thanks for taking the time to read and as always your support is invaluable XXX

Thanks to the Norfolk Humanists for publicising this fine work.

Good question from EDL News

From EDL News by Gary Hastings


They tell us they are not racist but have the backing from the English Defence League, Britain First and the British National Party which is probably why they attract supporters such as Jacqui Jackson.

Chichester based racist, Jackson, took to Facebook to proclaim to fellow Kippers that she has just renewed her membership for the oddball party.

We were a bit gobsmacked about what we saw next on her Facebook page – an attack on Labour MP Chuka Umunna who she described as a ‘muzslime’ and a ‘paki’.

Chuka is of Nigerian decent and not Muslim, he is Anglican.

It does not stop there. Her Facebook timeline is like a advert for UKIP and is jammed full with racist and Islamophobic posts.

So Mr Farage. Is this the type of Party Members you are trying to attract to your group with your divisive dog whistle politics.

Two Norfolk UKIP members cleared of fraud

From Great Yarmouth Mercury by Christine Cunningham:

Matthew Smith arriving at his continuing trial at Norwich Crown Court. Two fellow defendants have been cleared.

The men had been standing trial alongside Matthew Smith, the Norfolk county council member for Gorleston St Andrews who had been selected to stand for parliament in the key target seat of Great Yarmouth at the next general election.

The charges relate to county council elections in the Yarmouth area in May 2013, when Smith stood for election and acted as Ukip’s electoral agent.

Fellow UKIP members Michael Monk, 60, of Freeman Close, Hopton, and Daniel Thistlethwaite, 19, of Station Road, South, Belton, had both denied one charge of making a false statement in nomination papers.

They were found not guilty by a jury at Norwich Crown Court today after about eight hours of deliberation.

Smith, of High Street, Gorleston, has denied six counts of making a false statement in nomination papers knowing that they contained false signatures and three of making false nomination papers.

The jury is still considering its verdicts on those charges.

Under election rules, all candidates standing as councillors must obtain 10 signatures on nomination forms.

The prosecution alleges that seven out of eight forms submitted by UKIP in that election contained forged signatures.

The jury has been sent home for the night, and will continue deliberations on counts relating to Smith tomorrow.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Local EDL blog trawl

We are well into the New Year, so time for a descent into the local EDL blogs. 

I found revealing evidence of the dwindling relevance of the EDL in general, but still with flashes of the old EDL smears, lies, hatred, and violence that so galvanised opposition to the EDL-brand of street politics.

The East Anglian Blog & Radio Show, and has nothing but a list of advertisements for some radio show.

EDL Ipswich has no posts for 2015, and most of 2014 posts are advertising the EDL shop.

EDL Norwich seems to have disappeared.

EDL Norfolk has two posts this year and no comments.

EDL Cambridgeshire is defending UKIP and having a go at Harriet Harman, claiming "When it comes to Women Rights in Islam .... She has nothing to say ......... Funny that"

EDL Cambridgeshire is wrong.

A short google shows that as long ago as 2006 Harman said here that the veil harmed Muslim women's opportunities for human rights. 

EDLCambridgeshire FAIL.

Edl East Anglian Division Page are advertising a proposed demo in an example of the triumph of optimism over experience, and there are desultory comments on the TV programme “Angry, White and Proud”

At least one member has seen the light. He comments:

Andy Essex hahaha.......look at any EDL demo and all you see is people drinking, idiots staggering around and violence. Look at Rotherham on the documentary, SEA and others walked into Rotherham, no cans, no drunks, no violence.....then it cuts to the EDL demo where people are fighting with eachother. 

Another thinks Pegida is the way to go:

Craig North Well I preferred the early EDL days. I am freelance now but I see Pegida as the way forward. EDL did a great job for 4 or 5 years to wake up the working classes,but its downfall was it didn't evolve. The drinking culture and the refusal to appoint a new 'face' as leader after Tommy Robinson left has hurt them. Also it became far too politically correct and lost its edge from 2011 onwards. Pegida is growing massively everywhere and their UK page has hit 10,000 members in its first week. EDL deserves its place in history for what its achieved,but its time for the next chapter.

(Pegida, or “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident”, is anti-establishment, anti Islamist, and full of neo-Nazis. Its leader Lutz Bachmann was exposed last week in German tabloids for posing as Hitler on his Facebook page, and has since stepped down:

A fine role model.  Or not.)

This site proclaims " EastAnglianEDL Peacefully protesting against millitant Islam", so how does the site manager explain this comment, dated January 13, apparently from an American, in response to a posted article on a proposed EDL anti-mosque march?:

Daryl Kabatoff We will make Canada and USA a trap to the Moslems, none are to leave here alive. Deportation is no longer an option as they will cause problems for others in the countries we deport them to, and they will end up causing us more problems later. Jail is not an option either, there they brutalize prisoners who dare to cook pork in the communal kitchens and brutalize prisoners who dare to decorate their cells with non-Islamic pictures, and there they recruit other prisoners into Islam. The most "moderate" of the Moslems come for your jobs (and tax money) and gladly pay halal taxation, which is used to fund jihad. We must shoot them on the streets, shoot them where we find them, and after we cleanse North America, then we must turn our sites to other continents. Americans and Canadians will work together to overthrow corrupt governments around the world.

Apart from the irony of having a foreigner take on the EDL job of voicing hatred against Muslims this is a shocking rant by someone who does not seem entirely sane.

(LATER:  I googled this unusual name and discover there is a notorious gun nut Daryl Kabatoff who has a record for such unsettling posts.)

The post bristles with hatred and incitement to violence and is probably illegal.  

It is a disgraceful post, and directly contradicts the claim of "Peaceful protest". It shames the East Anglian EDL in particular and the EDL in general.  It has been on the East Anglian EDL Facebook page for 13 days now.

Let's see how long it stands after this exposure.

Friday, 23 January 2015

"Fantasy" defence?

From Great Yarmouth Mercury by Lucy Clapham:

Defence case for Gorleston UKIP supporter in fraud trial described as ‘fantasy’

Matthew Smith arriving at his continuing trial at Norwich Crown Court.

The defence case for a former UKIP parliamentary hopeful standing trial accused of electoral fraud has been described as “little more than fantasy”.

Matthew Smith is one of three UKIP supporters standing trial at Norwich Crown Court.

The charges relate to the 2013 county council polls when Smith acted as UKIP’s electoral agent. The prosecution claim there were forged signatures on seven of the eight forms submitted by the party.

Smith, 27, of High Street, Gorleston, has denied six counts of making a false statement in nomination papers, knowing they contained false signatures and three of making false nomination papers.

Michael Monk, 60, of Freeman Close, Hopton, and Daniel Thistlethwaite, 20, of Station Road South, Belton have pleaded not guilty to one charge of making a false statement in nomination papers.

Summing up yesterday Brett Weaver, prosecuting, said Smith’s explanation for false signatures appearing on forms was that someone had removed the genuine paperwork and replaced it with forms containing forgeries.

“The most unlikely course of steps must have taken place, so unlikely we say impossible,” Mr Weaver added.

He told the jury Monk and Thistlethwaite were willing to submit bogus forms, and added: 
Through their actions together and Mr Smith the integrity of our election system was damaged. There’s no conspiracy here… no mystery man on the grassy knoll of the town hall.
Piers Wauchope, for Smith, said anyone with a pass to the town hall could gain access to the office where forms were kept, and said the office itself was “insecure”.

He added: 
Mr Weaver makes much of the difficulty it would be to get one of these forms and get a copy and produce another one. Is it really that difficult? You’ve got an office here with a photocopier.
He told the court experts had not been able to say the forged signatures on the forms “were the work of one person”.

”Several people have been filling in the signatures and there’s not a scrap of evidence the crown can rely on that any one of those forged signatures was written by Matthew Smith,” he added.

Monk, representing himself, said that, according to the prosecution, his motivation for committing the alleged fraud was because he chose the “easy route”.

“I do a full time job, 45 - 50 hours a week, and I still commit myself to this because I believe in it. The allegation that at the very end I would partake in a fraud, a shortcut, that would undermine all our good just not believable,” he added.

The trial continues.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Elsie Tilney, Norwich’s unsung heroine

From EDP24 by Chris Hill:

Elsie Tilney, Norwich’s unsung heroine of the Holocaust, given international honour by Yad Vashem

Surrey Chapel missionary Elsie Tilney from Norwich, who helped Jewish people to escape from Nazi internment camps during the second world war.

Norwich’s unsung heroine of the Holocaust has finally gained international recognition for her selfless actions to protect Jewish people during the Second World War – and her home city has been urged to help celebrate it.

The story of Elsie Tilney

Elsie Maude Tilney was born in Norwich in 1893. In 1919 she applied to the North Africa Mission (NAM) and was appointed jointly with the Mildmay Mission to the Jews.

She spent several spells in northern Africa until the second world war loomed.

In 1939, Elsie travelled to Vienna, in Austria, and brought a one-year-old Jewish girl called Ruth Buchholz back to Paris on July 23. Ruth later became the mother of Philippe Sands QC, whose family research helped uncover Elsie’s exploits.

Elsie continued working in Paris until it fell under German occupation in June 1940.

Along with hundreds of other foreign nationals, she was placed in an internment camp at Vittel – described as one of the more “hospitable” camps, as it was located in requisitioned hotels.

One of the most extraordinary accounts of Elsie’s selfless bravery involves Sashe Krawec, a Polish soldier who was imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto, but was transferred to Vittel along with 400 other Jews on the basis of his South American passport, probably bought on the black market. Elsie became his English teacher.

When orders were issued for all those people to be taken to Auschwitz for extermination, Sashe mysteriously disappeared – until Vittel was liberated by French forces in 1944.

A letter included in a NAM newsletter tells of some of Elsie’s actions. It says: 
She hid for a period of 16 weeks a young Jew condemned to be sent to an annihilation camp in Poland.
A second letter says: “When the Germans abandoned the camp in September, she again put herself in great personal danger by hiding the camp records and papers, for she had been camp archivist.”

Elsie stayed at Vittel until the Germans abandoned it in September 1944, and then remained to help with the repatriation of about 200 Jewish people.

After the war, Elsie travelled to Lisbon, and worked with the Swiss Mission in South Africa. She eventually moved to Florida in the USA, where she lived close to her brother, Frederick. She died there in 1974.

The extraordinary story of Elsie Tilney had never been told until it was uncovered two years ago by London barrister Prof Philippe Sands, when he began researching his family history.

He discovered that his mother Ruth Buchholz had been rescued from annexed Austria as a one-year-old in 1939 and taken to Paris by the devout Surrey Chapel missionary, who was subsequently held for four years at an internment camp in Vittel, in occupied France.

There, she used her position as camp archivist to hide camp records and papers which could have exposed Jewish internees to Nazi suspicion, and the horrors of the concentration camps.

One Polish soldier named Sashe Krawec, destined for Auschwitz, was hidden in Elsie’s bathroom for 16 weeks – until Vittel was liberated by French forces in 1944.
When you look back at the facts, how people lived daily under the threat of Nazism and in those conditions during the war, you cannot believe how people in those conditions could risk their lives to save other people.                                                                                      Joseph Schultz
Now, her humble heroism has been formally honoured as Righteous Among the Nations by the official Holocaust remembrance authority at Yad Vashem in Israel – one of more than 25,000 people recognised for risking their lives to save Jews during the darkest days of the war, but only the 21st British recipient of the honour.

In a London ceremony on Wednesday, a medal is due to be presented by Israel’s ambassador to Elsie’s closest living relative, 84-year-old Joseph Schultz, who lives at the Great Hospital in Norwich’s Bishopgate.

And on February 1, the people of the city have been invited to join a special commemorative event and service at Surrey Chapel, Elsie’s spiritual home.

Dr Derek Haylock, a retired elder at Surrey Chapel who is organising the event, said: 
We knew of Elsie Tilney as one of our missionaries, but she was not much more than a name in our archives. The story of her extraordinary exploits in France during the Second World War was something she seemed to have kept to herself.

We’re very excited that one of our former church members is being honoured as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, one of only 21 such award to British people. This award is a great honour for our church, for Elsie’s surviving relatives and for the city of Norwich.
Mr Schultz said: “Elsie was my mother’s first cousin, but I can’t really remember her saying anything about her. I think people were more modest in those days, they didn’t wave flags about to say what they had done.

“Elsie is an unsung local heroine, and she is very similar in many ways to Edith Cavell. When you look back at the facts, how people lived daily under the threat of Nazism and in those conditions during the war, you cannot believe how people in those conditions could risk their lives to save other people.

“I am very proud to be associated with her, even at this distance. I think locally many people will be very, very surprised to learn of this story, but they can be very, very pleased about it too.”

The commemorative event at Surrey Chapel on Botolph Street in Norwich will start at 4.30pm on Sunday February 1, with a presentation by Philippe Sands QC, followed by a themed evening service from 6.15pm–7pm.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Good Sport

From Graduate Fasttrack with Alioune Ngom

Basque athlete Iván Fernández Anaya was competing in a cross-country race in Burlada, Navarre. He was running second, some distance behind race leader Abel Mutai - bronze medalist in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the London Olympics. As they entered the finishing straight, he saw the Kenyan runner - the certain winner of the race - mistakenly pull up about 10 meters before the finish, thinking he had already crossed the line.

Fernández Anaya quickly caught up with him, but instead of exploiting Mutai’s mistake to speed past and claim an unlikely victory, he stayed behind and, using gestures, guided the Kenyan to the line and let him cross first.

Ivan Fernandez Anaya, a Basque runner of 24 years who is considered an athlete with a big future (champion of Spain of 5,000 meters in promise category two years ago) said after the test:
But even if they had told me that winning would have earned me a place in the Spanish team for the European championships, I wouldn’t have done it either. I also think that I have earned more of a name having done what I did than if I had won. And that is very important, because today, with the way things are in all circles, in soccer, in society, in politics, where it seems anything goes, a gesture of honesty goes down well.
He said at the beginning: “unfortunately, very little has been said of the gesture. And it’s a shame. In my opinion, it would be nice to explain to children, so they do not think that sport is only what they see on TV: violent kicks in abundance, posh statements, fingers in the eyes of the enemy …”

Stand Up to Racism

From Foreigners in UK:

National Demo Against Racism and Fascism to be held in London

The National Demo Against Racism and Fascism will be held in London on 21st March 2015.

The demo organised by Stand Up To Racism, will oppose the Islamophobic backlash across Europe following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, France.

“In the wake of the horrific murders in Paris a wave of Islamophobia is sweeping Europe. In France Mosques and prayer halls have been violently attacked with guns and grenades, whilst the hashtag #KillAllMuslims has trended on social media worldwide,” says Stand Up To Racism.

The demo will also say no to scapegoating immigrants, to anti-Semitism and yes to diversity, stressing that migrants are welcome in the UK.

It will be held on 21st March which is the UN Anti-Racism Day.

Stand Up To Racism holds that this year’s “is set to be the most racist General Election campaign in British history.”

More than 10,000 people took part in last year’s UN Anti-Racism Day national demo in London.

Will you take a stand against racism on 21 March?
Join us!

Check the Facebook event here:

Great Yarmouth Conservatives were "upset"

From Great Yarmouth Mercury by Christine Cunningham:

Former UKIP candidate alleged to have upset Great Yarmouth Conservatives with his success with voters

Matthew Smith.

The chairman of Great Yarmouth Conservative Association told a jury there had been comments about wanting to discredit former UKIP Parliamentary hopeful Matthew Smith after his party’s success in the local elections.

Jenny Beesley was given a court order to attend and give evidence in the trial of Smith, who is one of three UKIP supporters accused of electoral fraud at Norwich Crown Court.

The charges relate to the 2013 polls in the Great Yarmouth area when Smith stood for election and acted as UKIP’s electoral agent.

The prosecution claim there were forged signatures on seven of the eight forms submitted by the party in that campaign.

Smith has denied six counts of making a false statement in nomination papers, knowing they contained false signatures and three of making false nomination papers.

Giving evidence Mrs Beesley told the court how the executive committee held a meeting on June 18, after the 2012 elections, which had been a disappointing result for the Conservatives: 
Feelings were running high at the meeting.
She said Smith, who used to work as a full-time administrator for the Conservatives before joining UKIP, was discussed at the meeting.

Smith left the Conservative party in 2011 and won an unfair dismissal case and Mrs Beesley claimed that Great Yarmouth councillor George Jermany made a comment asking why Smith was dismissed and asking if they could “damage his reputation.”

She said it was pointed out that there was a confidentiality clause not to discuss the matter and added: 
After the behaviour of that meeting I am afraid I was rather disgusted.
Mr Jermany, was also recalled as a witness and admitted he was probably quite vocal at the meeting and discussed what could be done about UKIP, However he denied saying about damaging Smith’s reputation. 
I said could we do something about him. His reputation did not come into it.
He said his comments were directed as to how his party could take on UKIP such as asking what their policies were for Great Yarmouth.

Michael Monk, 60, of Freeman Close, Hopton, and Daniel Thistlethwaite, 20, of Station Road South, Belton have also pleaded not guilty to one charge of making a false statement in nomination papers.

Giving evidence Monk said he was “truly astonished” when told that some of the signatures on the nomination papers were not genuine.

I have no idea how that happened.
He said the allegations were “fantasy” based on no evidence whatsoever.

He added: 
I just could not believe it. I would not get involved in anything like this. I would not have allowed it.
Thistlethwaite also said he had no idea where any fake signatures came from and said they had no problem in getting people to sign nomination papers,

He denied they were under any pressure to get the nomination papers filled in and returned on time.

There was no sense of urgency.
The trial continues.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Fame at last

From EDP24

Norwich set to feature in Channel 5’s new binge drinking TV series

Celebrating NewYears 2015 in Norwich, too many drinks of alcohol and this guy finds himself arrested after an altercation of fighting on Prince of Wales Road in Norwich.

Life after dark in Norwich’s night-time economy is set to be laid bare as part of a new documentary series looking at the post-pub problems that develop on nights out in the city.

Celebrating NewYears 2015 in Norwich. A female reveller on the floor in Prince of Wales Road in Norwich. Pic: Rob Colman.

Norwich After Dark is part of Channel 5’s Closing Time series, which started this month and explores the UK’s binge drinking culture, featuring what happens after dark in places like Newcastle, Southampton, Cardiff and Norwich.

The Norwich episode, which has not yet aired, will feature the work of the city’s pioneering SOS Bus with casualties being patched up on board the medical bus as well as looking at what goes on in taxi waiting rooms.

As reported this month, police say the Prince of Wales Road area is now “saturated” with bars and clubs and have called on the city council to take action to prevent new venues from opening.


And when are the bar and club owners of Prince of Wales Road and Riverside going to be made more responsible for cleaning up after their clients?  This blog has asked this question before.

UKIP GY case continues

From the Great Yarmouth Mercury by Lucy Clapham:

UKIP supporter told police nomination form complaint was made when it was ‘clear’ his party could win seats

County councillor Matthew Smith attends Norwich Crown Court

A former UKIP parliamentary hopeful standing trial for alleged electoral fraud told police the case against him and his party was politically motivated.
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Matthew Smith told detectives he took issue with the fact a complaint about nomination forms for UKIP candidates who stood in the 2013 Norfolk County Council elections were made well after they were submitted to town hall authorities.

The 27-year-old, of High Street, Gorleston, is one of three UKIP supporters accused of electoral fraud and currently standing trial at Norwich Crown Court.

The charges relate to the 2013 polls in the Yarmouth area when Smith stood for election and acted as UKIP’s electoral agent.

The prosecution claim there were forged signatures on seven of eight forms submitted by the party in that campaign.

Speaking in court yesterday Brett Weaver, prosecuting, read out summaries of interviews Smith had with police in August and October in 2013.

Mr Weaver said Smith had told detectives the complaint had been made where it was “clear that his party was doing particularly well and on course to win some seats”.

Smith also claimed paperwork was not stored securely at Great Yarmouth town hall and anyone could take a bit of paperwork and “do whatever they want with it”, the court heard.

In his interview he added: 
It’s not within the realms of impossibility that could happen at that town hall. Knowing about the strength of ill feeling against me and my party I wouldn’t put that past them.
The court also heard that Smith had spare nomination packs for all nine UKIP candidates standing in the election to use as replacements in case people made mistakes - and he told police he may have replaced one document in the run up to the polls.

Mr Weaver said Smith, who had been selected as UKIP’s prospective parliamentary candidate for the next general election, had stated there were “never two forms for a candidate ongoing at the same time”.

“If there was a mistake on a completed form Smith stated that ‘you must do the whole thing again,’” he added. “Once a completed form had been submitted to the town hall additional forms would have been thrown away.”

Later on in the interview Smith was asked if he had “substituted or replaced” any forms, the court heard.
Mr Weaver said.
Smith stated he may have done so for one or two of Jonathan Childs’ [UKIP candidate for East Flegg]. He had to take one page out and get it re-done 
UKIP member Michael Monk and Daniel Thistlethwaite, who stood as a candidate in the West Flegg ward in the 2013 election, are also on trial.

Smith has denied six counts of making a false statement in nomination papers knowing that they contained false signatures and three of making false nomination papers.

Monk, 60, of Freeman Close, Hopton, and Thistlethwaite, 20, of Station Road South, Belton, pleaded not guilty to one charge of making a false statement in nomination papers.

The case continues.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo, free speech and the unilingual left

Lost in translation: Charlie Hebdo, free speech and the unilingual left

by Leigh Phillips:

In the 48 hours after the Paris massacre, much of the anglophone activist and academic left were quick to sneer at public displays of solidarity with the murdered cartoonists and journalists of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and criticized the vigils, demonstrations and editorial cartoons from other artists as siding with racists.

Of course the killing of journalists is a bad thing, so the argument goes, but come on, Charlie Hebdo is “a racist publication.” So what do you expect? is the implicit, victim-blaming conclusion.

The millions of people, atheist, Christian, Jew and Muslim — including trade unionists bearing the drapeaux rouges of the communist CGT union and activists from far-left groups such as the Parti de Gauche and the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste — who spontaneously filled the streets of towns and villages across France in solidarity with the slain journalists and in defence against this manifest attack on freedom of speech, or who changed their social media avatars to a black square with the words Je suis Charlie were, in the words of prominent British socialist commentator Richard Seymour writing in Jacobin magazine and on his own blog, “platitudinous,” “mawkish and narcissistic” and engaging in a “blackmail that forces us into solidarity with a racist institution.”

Elsewhere many leftists such as Jon Wilson writing on LabourList have declared “Je ne suis pas Charlie” and that this is about Islamophobia and war. Those who stand up for freedom of expression today, they argue, are at best unwittingly performing an ideological service to militarist elites and at worst actively lining up with the war party just as liberal hawks such as the late Christopher Hitchens, Nick Cohen and Paul Berman did after Sept. 11, 2001.
The last few days have been a humiliation for the anglophone left, showcasing to the world how poor our ability to translate is these days

The last few days have been a humiliation for the anglophone left, showcasing to the world how poor our ability to translate is these days, as so many people have posted cartoons on social media that they found trawling Google Images as evidence of Charlie Hebdo’s “obvious racism,” only to be told by French speakershow, when translated and put into context, these cartoons actually are explicitly anti-racist or mocking of racists and fascists.

The best example here is the very widely shared cartoon by the slain editor Stéphane Charbonnier, known as Charb, of a black woman’s head on a monkey’s body above the phrase Rassemblement Bleu Raciste (Racist Blue Rally). The French are aware that the woman in the cartoon is the justice minister, Christiane Taubira, and that the red, white and blue flame in the cartoon is the logo of the Front National, which had recently gotten into hot water for publishing a photograph of a baby monkey and the words “At 18 months” next to a picture of Taubira and the word “Now.” The Front National’s slogan is Rassemblement Bleu Marine (Navy Blue Rally), a play on the name of their leader, Marine Le Pen. It is obvious to any French person familiar with the political context that the cartoon is mocking the racism of the Front National and indeed Taubira herself, in the wake of the massacre, has mounted repeated defences of Charlie Hebdo.

Another would be the cartoon of pregnant Boko Haram sex slaves under the slogan “Hands off our benefits!” which many English leftists held to be a self-evidently racist commentary on the Muslim “demographic threat,” when the cartoon is actually a clunky “first-world problems” commentary on complaints over the French government restricting child benefits for top earners, suggesting that rich French people really have nothing to complain about compared to people’s travails in northeast Nigeria.

In an extremely widely shared post (Over 90,000 shares as of the time of writing) Jacob Canfield at The Hooded Utilitarian showcased a series of Charlie Hebdo cartoons and declared, “Its staff is white. Its cartoons often represent a certain, virulently racist brand of French xenophobia. While they generously claim to ‘attack everyone equally,’ the cartoons they publish are intentionally anti-Islam, and frequently sexist and homophobic.”

First of all, its staff is not all white, not that a small newspaper with a tiny all-Caucasian employee roll is automatically a signifier of racism in any case. Copy editor Moustapha Ourrad, for example, was among those murdered by on Wednesday. Next, the cartoon that Canfield feels is homophobic, of a male Charlie Hebdo writer kissing an imam under the words “Love is stronger than hate,” was the cartoon that filled the front cover in 2011 the week after the paper’s offices had been firebombed by Islamists, completely destroying all their equipment, for printing an edition “guest edited” by the Prophet Mohammed to celebrate the election of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Islamists of the Ennahda party in Tunisia. This was also the time of growing conservative opposition to gay rights, culminating in the country’s massive right-wing Catholic anti-gay-marriage protests of recent years. Five months earlier, the government had crushed legislation to legalize same-sex unions.

In this context, the cartoon can only be seen as expressly anti-homophobic, giving a big, wet, cheeky kiss to the likely homophobic Islamists who had tried to kill them. (One friend told me after I explained the context behind this cartoon that it was still problematic because “at a time when Muslims in Western countries are the target of Islamophobic prejudice, we should be sensitive to their religious sensibilities. A cartoon of two men kissing is offensive to them.” To my mind, if there’s anything homophobic going on here, it’s the idea that gays should hide themselves so as not to offend those who maintain a hatred of homosexuals.)

How can we trust these leftists’ critical analyses of other events in foreign lands such as Ukraine, Syria or Mali if it turns out they haven’t done their due diligence as researchers when it comes to the far more accessible French context? These otherwise well-meaning but non-French-speaking knights-in-social-media-armour have embarrassed themselves by spouting off about things they know not quite enough about. This is not clear-headed thinking. This is not leftist or anti-racist thinking.

It is an illogical, self-destructive, identity politics mess where all accusations of racism are instantly believed and anyone who raises questions is racist themselves. Accusations of racism (indeed any accusations) must be substantiated by the accuser, not automatically presumed to be true. Automatic presumption of racism without substantiation is not anti-racism; it is cowardice and vanity, as it suggests the individual is more interested in ensuring he or she does not appear racist rather than in actually countering racism.

But this episode is about more than just the willful ignorance of a unilingual left luxuriating in its whipped-up dander; there are deeper worries about how such left and liberal critics are approaching freedom of speech in general. The whole affair is quite the nadir for the identitarian left, an object lesson in how its current tendency toward a censorial, professionally offence-taking prudishness is limiting the left’s advance, cutting us off from how most ordinary people live their lives and navigate prejudice, and a breach with hundreds of years of leftist thought and practice with respect to the enduring question of freedom.

Charlie Hebdo is, above all, a child of the upheaval of May 1968. It was founded in the wake of the publication ban on its predecessor, Hara-Kiri Hebdo, after the latter cheekily poked fun at the right-wing president and hero of the Resistance, Charles de Gaulle, upon his death.

It was born a left-wing publication, indeed a far-left publication, brimming with insolence and bile for capitalist, governmental and clerical elites. In the English-speaking world, malheureusement, we don’t really have a tradition of satirical newspapers quite like Charlie Hebdo or its rival Le Canard Enchainé (The chained-up duck), which combine cheeky editorial cartoons with investigative journalism and opinion. The closest approximation would be Private Eye in the United Kingdom. But the format has spread throughout the francophone lands, with imitators in Belgium, Switzerland and French-speaking Africa, both sub-Sahara and the Maghreb.

Charlie also embraces a politics of anti-clericalism — a species of militant secularism that targets priests, monks, nuns, bishops, popes, rabbis and, latterly, imams and mullahs specifically as individuals (believed to be pompous, hypocritical figures preaching a morality that they do not observe themselves) and not just as representatives of a religion — that dates back to the original Jacobins in the French Revolution. Anti-clericalism has also existed in varying forms in Spain, Latin America, Québec, Russia and contemporary Iran.

The targeting of Catholic priests by anarchist revolutionaries during the Spanish Civil War and Orthodox priests by Bolsheviks were two of its most violent expressions. But anti-clericalism never really existed in the same way in the Protestant (and thus anglophone) world due to the break with Rome in the 16th and 17th centuries and Protestantism’s transformation of an individual’s relationship with the church hierarchy and God himself. Related to this, the paper’s style of comedy, gouaille — a bawdy, impertinent, insolent, often obscene humour corrosif — is a part of a Parisian tradition that finds its origins in the time of the French Revolution as well, and which Arthur Goldhammer, the translator of Thomas Picketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, explains well: “It's an anarchic populist form of obscenity that aims to cut down anything that would erect itself as venerable, sacred or powerful.”

It’s not witty. If anything, it’s rather juvenile. In mocking the idea that there should be no graven images of Mohammed, one of Charlie’s cartoons was of a naked prophet with a star instead of a bumhole under the slogan “A star is born.” It’s puerile, infantile, not infrequently unfunny. It’s fart jokes. It’s whoopie cushions. It’s Monty Python’s masturbation-themed and Vatican-mocking “Every sperm is sacred” sketch.

Leftists must make a distinction between blasphemy and racism. The two are not the same thing. No one has the right not to be offended. This is not an arcane point. After decades of legal abeyance, blasphemy and “religious insult” laws are making a comeback.

Meanwhile, for the most part, Charlie Hebdo’s politics have been progressive. SOS Racisme, the main anti-racist NGO in the country, has partnered with Charlie in the past in campaigns against anti-immigrant politics, such as a joint campaign in 2007 against DNA testing for migrants aiming to be reunited with their families. Following the massacre, the organization offered its support to the newspaper and denounced the attack as an assault on free speech. The editor murdered this week by the Islamist gunmen, Charb, was a long-time member of the French Communist Party, supported the new far left Front de Gauche, opposed the adoption of the proposed neoliberal European constitution in 2005 and illustrated Marx: A User’s Guide, the 2014 book by the late, brilliant socialist author Daniel Bensaïd. One of those killed, Bernard Maris, was on the scientific council of ATTAC, the NGO critical of corporate-led globalization; ran for the Greens; was a critic of EU austerity and the eurozone; and wrote for a number of other left-wing publications.

The paper has no set editorial line per se, and its journalists frequently disagree publicly, but among the favourite targets of its cartoons and journalism are the far right and other partisans of anti-immigrant politics, corporate malfeasance, banker shenanigans, cuts to public health care, tax havens, and the arms industry. A scoop in Charliefrom last November, for example, revealed threatening text-message extortion of an assistant of a right-wing senator already indicted in an investigation into municipal vote buying. The paper is a furious opponent of the Israeli government’s regular assaults on Gaza. It defended Roma against government round-up and deportation. Charlie Hebdois part of the “mental furniture” of the left in France.

As Charb wrote in Le Monde in 2013, “It’s no secret: the current editorial team is split between supporters of the left, the far left, anarchism and environmentalism. Not everyone votes, but we all popped the champagne when [conservative president] Nicolas Sarkozy was defeated in May 2012.”

Of course, nothing stops one from being racist and otherwise left-wing, just as there are sexist animal rights campaigners and homophobic trade unionists. But describing Charlie as a “racist publication” makes readers think that the paper is akin to the house journal of the National Front.

Charlie, like many organizations, is a jumble of good and bad politics. In the wake of the attacks on the Twin Towers, like Christopher Hitchens, the editor at the time, Philippe Val, took a “clash of civilizations” turn that infused the paper. If the mockery of imams was just in keeping with the anti-clerical tradition, and obscene cartoons also targeted the Catholic hierarchy, there now seemed to be an undue emphasis on Islam. It also — like many on the French left, even anti-war campaigners — backs the contemporary ideology of laïcité. Strictly translated, laïcité is the French for secularism, but the translation doesn't do it justice. It's a sort of state-enforced anti-religionism rather than a simple government neutrality in the face of different faiths as exists in the U.S. (but not in Canada), but typically focused overwhelmingly on Islam.

They are right, those who say it is hypocritical to be raising the banner of freedom of expression today if one did not raise it in the face of the headscarf and burqa bans. (Formally, in 2004, it was the wearing of “conspicuous religious symbols in schools” that was restricted and, in 2010, face coverings in public, including motorbike helmets and balaclavas, were outlawed, but everyone knows who was being targeted). But the obverse of this is also correct: If you opposed the headscarf and burqa bans, then today you must rally to the defence of freedom of expression with respect to Charlie Hebdo.
They are right, those who say it is hypocritical to be raising the banner of freedom of expression today if one did not raise it in the face of the headscarf and burqa bans.

There is hypocrisy elsewhere as well. If Charlie typically rested unbothered by accusations of Islamophobia, its famed fearlessness reached its limit when cartoonist Maurice Sinet (nom de plume Siné) faced accusations of anti-Semitism. In 2008, Siné wrote in a column about rumours that President Nicolas Sarkozy’s son was to convert to Judaism prior to marrying the heiress of household appliance multinational Darty, joking, “He'll go a long way in life, that little lad.” He was prosecuted for incitement to racial hatred, as the sentence allegedly linked Jewishness with financial success, although the judge dismissed the case. Siné was in any case fired by Val, a decision that was defended by a series of right-wing intellectuals and attacked by their left-wing counterparts as a betrayal of free speech.

As a result of Philippe Val’s post-9/11 Hitchensian tubthumping, as we in English might describe his stance, a number of journalists felt they could not in conscience continue to work for the newspaper and quit, publicly criticizing the paper. Many people who claim to “criticize everything” actually don’t criticize everything equally, and in fact do single out certain racialized minority groups for unique opprobrium and so genuinely are prejudiced in some way. Many of the current wave of New Atheists such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher are examples of this: they claim to be criticizing all religions, but in fact reserve special criticism for Islam.

Even if no one particular Charlie cartoon can be said to be racist, and even if the paper also published covers depicting Pope Benedict kissing a Vatican Swiss Guard, a Palestinian woman being shot by an Israeli settler shouting, “Take that, Goliath!” as part of an anti-Zionist series entitled “The Torah Illustrated by Charb,” and many other cartoons that theJewish Daily Forward newspaper categorises as anti-Semitic (Honourably, The Forward has actually re-printed one of these “anti-Semitic” cartoons, in solidarity with Charlie after the massacre), overall, the paper’s hard-on for ridiculing Islam above all other targets fits with this “equal-opportunity offence” narrative. Some friends of mine say they stopped reading the paper around this time. One Catalan friend told me, “Charlie Hebdo used to be left-wing. It’s made my stomach turn for some time though.”

However, there is a difference between a left-wing newspaper gone rotten and a racist publication. For all of Hitchens’ support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I couldn’t at any point suggest he was a racist.

I offer all this history as background, as additional context that has been ignored by the “Je ne suis pas Charlie” critics. But I’ll go further: It shouldn’t even matter.

Even if Charlie Hebdo were a racist publication, the murders would still be an assault on freedom of speech, and leftists should still rise up with all the indignation that so many French people have righteously displayed. Not because, as elites have it, the Paris massacre is an attack on “Western values,” values that plainly do not exist outside of hackneyed, hypocritical bromide, but because freedom of speech is a left-wing issue. Indeed, it is the most important issue we should concern ourselves with. Everything else we ever do depends on this foundational freedom.
It is vitally important to be on guard against the certain wave of attacks on Muslims across France and the rest of Europe in the coming days and weeks.

It is vitally important to be on guard against the certain wave of attacks on Muslims across France and the rest of Europe in the coming days and weeks. Already at the time of writing, there have been some 15 violent reprisal incidentsagainst Muslims since the murders in Paris, including shots fired and three training grenades tossed at a mosque in Le Mans, shots fired at a prayer hall in Port-la-Nouvelle, and a bomb blast at a kebab shop in Villefranche-sur-Saone.

We must also be prepared to mobilize against the predictable, fresh round of efforts by elites to expand the security and surveillance state. Already, a panicked EU is to seek new anti-terror powersin the wake of the attack.

It is also worthwhile to recall how the Paris massacre fits within a wider story of a continued Western imperialist project in the Middle East. Although Western military intervention in Muslim countries undoubtedly produces “blowback,” whoever did this is not merely “reacting to Western imperialism.” They are autonomous actors. To reduce these murderers to automatons responding to military interventions in Iraq (a war France did not participate in) or Mali actually erases subaltern agency and thus is its own species of “noble savage” racism. Historically, anti-imperialist Arab resistance was primarily secular and socialist, not Islamist. We are abandoning our progressive brothers and sisters in these countries who are caught up in their own civil war that intersects with and is exacerbated by the Western War on Terror. The targets of political Islam, remember, are primarily other Muslims, such as in the case of December’s Pakistani Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar in which 141 were killed, 132 of them children. The same day, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula killed 25, including 15 children on a school bus, in Yemen. Rather than reinforcing Western imperialism, acts of blasphemy can — depending on how they are mounted — be an aid to secularists who are fighting Islamist reaction.

Author Kenan Malik puts it well when he writes how the Charlie massacre connects to the front lines of struggle for free speech in the Middle East and within Muslim communities in the West. “What is called ‘offence to a community’ is more often than not actually a struggle within communities. There are hundreds of thousands, within Muslim communities in the West, and within Muslim-majority countries across the world, challenging religious-based reactionary ideas and policies and institutions; writers, cartoonists, political activists, daily putting their lives on the line in facing down blasphemy laws, standing up for equal rights and fighting for democratic freedoms.”

Likewise, Iranian-French graphic novelist and author of bestseller Persepolis Marjane Satrapi defended Charlie in an interview with the New York Times, arguing that criticizing the paper was “the wrong conversation.” “I wasn’t always in love with what they did, but I was in love with the idea we had one magazine that was this subversive,” she told the U.S. daily. “People have the right to have a different point of view, and to provoke. If we allow acts like this to create a climate of fear, we will have lost our freedom.”

And indeed, many Muslims see the attack on Charlie as akin to the attempted assassination by ISIS of the Syrian revolution’s activist-cartoonist Raed Fares. While Western leftists scoffed at what they felt was the mawkish Princess-Di-style sentimentality of the Je suis Charlie meme, many Muslims in France and worldwide were perfectly happy to embrace the slogan. While the delicate flowers at the CBC and the Guardian were fretting over whether to reprintCharlie Hebdo drawings, Arab editorial cartoonists in Lebanon, Qatar and Egypt were made of much tougher stuff.

It is also necessary to point out the jaw-dropping hypocrisy of the French president marching along other world leaders in defence of freedom of expression when in September, domestic authorities banned protests against Charlie cartoons as well as Palestinian solidarity marches during the Israeli assault on Gaza last year. The West’s strategic ally, Saudi Arabia, on Friday mounted a public flogging of the jailed liberal blogger Raif Badawi, a double standard that Arab cartoonists have lambasted.

Many of those among the elite who today make reference to freedom of speech made no such reference when U.S. forces bombed the offices of Al-Jazeera in Kabul and Baghdad, when NATO targeted Serbian TV, or when seven Palestinian journalists were killed by the IDF last year. Leaked documents appearing in Britain’s Daily Mirror suggest that in 2004, George Bush and Tony Blair considered bombing the Qatar headquarters of al-Jazeera, a building where 1,000 people work. As the Dutch-born Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Bernard Holtrop said upon seeing world leaders march in Paris in solidarity with his slain colleagues, “We have a lot of new friends, like the pope, Queen Elizabeth, and Putin. We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends.”
Many of those among the elite who today make reference to freedom of speech made no such reference when U.S. forces bombed the offices of Al-Jazeera in Kabul and Baghdad, when NATO targeted Serbian TV, or when seven Palestinian journalists were killed by the IDF last year.

But the hypocrisy of elites over freedom of speech does not make freedom of speech something leftists should oppose or be unconcerned about. Indeed we should expect liberal democracy to be incapable of defending basic liberal principles. The left should not fight elite hypocrisy with its own version of hypocrisy.

There is a worrying trend on the left to dismiss freedom of expression as part of the colonialist project, to repudiate free speech as a meaningless elite piety. In recent years, the liberal-left, particularly in the anglophone world, has taken to demanding the censorship of “offensive” or “triggering” speech, and student unions, theatres, universities, schools, municipalities, art galleries and other public venues have increasingly shut down a wide range of speech acts. Even many traditional civil liberties groups appear to be cowed. Demonstrators go beyond protesting those they oppose, and now try to actively prevent them from speaking, as in the case of efforts to disinvite Bill Maher from UC Berkeley last year — ironically during the 50th anniversary of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement protests. In 2014 in the United States, campus protesters prevented commencement addresses by former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, attorney general Eric Holder, and IMF head Christine Lagarde. According to campus free speech group FIRE, 39 protests have led to the cancellation of protested events on campuses since 2009. All this is contrary to traditional leftist defence of freedom of speech and must be strongly opposed. The politics of the speaker should make no difference here.

We counter bad arguments with good ones. The minute that we begin embracing censorship, it will be our own ideas that sooner rather than later will be deleted by the censors. And the irony is that while these calls to censorship frequently come from the “social justice left,” it is precisely as a result of the liberal foundation of freedom of expression that the women’s movement, the civil rights struggle and gay liberation have achieved all that they have.

Today, we cannot denounce the Conservative government of Stephen Harper for muzzling climate scientists or efforts by energy giant Kinder Morgan to restrict the freedom of expression of anti-pipeline protesters if we don’t also stand up for the right of those we disagree with — and in particular those we strongly disagree with — to speak.

Speech acts whose content we agree with are easy to defend, so defending them is not really defending free speech at all, but rather just asserting our own speech. This is just as arbitrary as the vis et voluntas, or “force and will,” attitude that King John took to executive decisions before he was forced signed the Magna Carta, the first civil liberties charter and founding document of all our freedoms, 800 years ago this year.

It is worthwhile recalling how Noam Chomsky in 1979 not only signed a petition in defence of the freedom of speech of French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson, but also, because the grand old man of the left so believes in this ideal, wrote an essay, “Some Elementary Comments on the Rights of Freedom of Expression,” that was printed as a preface in a book by Faurisson. Today’s leftists spurning free speech are dwarfed by Chomsky, a moral giant who was even willing to defend hate speech.

“Even if Faurisson were to be a rabid anti-Semite and fanatic pro-Nazi — such charges have been presented to me in private correspondence that it would be improper to cite in detail here — this would have no bearing whatsoever on the legitimacy of the defence of his civil rights. On the contrary, it would make it all the more imperative to defend them since, once again, it has been a truism for years, indeed centuries, that it is precisely in the case of horrendous ideas that the right of free expression must be most vigorously defended; it is easy enough to defend free expression for those who require no such defence.”

The left would do well to remind itself that freedom of speech is not a pick-and-choose buffet dinner. Throughout our history, from Robespierre to Stalin, every time we have spurned this freedom as a bourgeois bagatelle, as a trinket to be set aside for the sake of solving allegedly more worrying social injustices, disaster has swiftly struck.

Freedom of speech is no liberal bauble. It is the first freedom, upon which all other liberties depend.

Longue vie à Charlie Hebdo.

Leigh Phillips is a formerly Brussels-based EU affairs journalist and science writer who has written for the Guardian, Nature, the Daily Telegraph, the Globe and Mail, and Jacobin, among other outlets.