A demonstration against The Satanic Verses, in Bradford, 1989. Photograph: Sipa Press/Rex Features
Peter Tatchell can usually be relied on for common sense, decency and a an instinct for fair play, especially when it comes to those difficult personal-meets-political questions that seem to crop up so often these days.
So when Tatchell came on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, saying that Keith Vaz has “not broken any laws” and should not resign from his position as chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee in the light of the Sunday Mirror‘s revelations, my initial reaction was to agree.
Tatchell said he could see no public interest in publishing the story:
“As far as I can see he has not broken any laws, or caused anyone any harm and there’s no allegation of hypocrisy; buying sex in this country is lawful,” Tatchell told Radio 4’s Today Programme on Monday.
“Keith Vaz has a strong record of supporting gay rights. He has never gone tub-thumping in terms of supporting family values so what is the public interest in publishing this story … Whatever you think about Keith Vaz behaviour and some people might take the view that it was irresponsible and wrong, I don’t think it’s a resigning matter. I don’t think there is a serious conflict of interest there” [The Home Affairs Select Committee is currently overseeing an inquiry into prostitution laws. An interim report published in July recommended significant changes to existing laws so that soliciting and brothel-keeping are decriminalised].
Tatchell also suggested that Vaz may have been entrapped by the paper and argued it appeared to be a “classic tabloid sting … “It’s a throwback to the sensationalist tabloid style of the 1980s. It’s not something you’d expect to see in 2016”.
All of which is true and needed saying: well done Peter!
So why am I not inclined to take up cudgels in defence of Vaz?
It isn’t just because ever since entering the Commons in 1987 (the first Asian MP since 1929, alongside pioneer black MPs Paul Boateng, Diane Abbott and Bernie Grant), he’s been a rank opportunist and unprincipled careerist of almost breathtaking shamelessness (well described here); his personal dishonesty and contempt for free expression, secularism and enlightenment values was exposed once and for all within two years of entering parliament:
Rushdie affair (from Wikipedia):
Shortly after being elected in 1989, Vaz led a march of several thousands of Muslims in Leicester calling for Salman Rushdie‘s book The Satanic Verses to be banned. According to Rushdie’s autobiography Joseph Anton, as quoted by Douglas Murray in The Spectator, Vaz had earlier promised his support against the fatwa:
- Vaz said, in that phone conversation, that what had happened was ‘appalling, absolutely appalling,’ and promised his ‘full support’. A few weeks later he was one of the main speakers at a demonstration against The Satanic Verses attended by over three thousand Muslims, and described that event as ‘one of the great days in the history of Islam and Great Britain.’
Vaz is a Catholic of Goan origin. But even so, I’m sure he’s familiar with the Buddhist concept of Karma (an attractive idea, even for an atheist like myself): it means, roughly, “what goes around comes around.”
Readers may remember the incident a week or so ago when Fran Cowling, the NUS lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) representative, said that she would not share a stage with Peter Tatchell, whom she described as “racist” and “transphobic”. The row was covered in some detail by Comrade Coatesy here, and in the Guardian here.
Tatchell, a long standing campaigner for gay rights and human rights more generally, quite understandably, decided to mount a public defence of his good name against these outrageous slurs. As a result of doing so, he was denounced yet again, in this hysterical Open Letter – which includes the truly Orwellian charge of Tatchell referring to a “confidential email chain” that had been forwarded to him “without permission”, thus apparently making Tachell’s accuser the true ‘victim’ of this story!
The signatories include not just the usual NUS suspects and their petty bourgeois and authoritarian friends in academia, but shamefully, the editor of the anarchist Freedom News has signed, too.
It’s a depressing read, but serious in its way, as an example of the anti-free speech, authoritarian logic of extreme identity politics and the hysteria it can induce.
Note, in particular, this paragraph:
“Tatchell has a long record of urging that public platforms be denied members of ethnic and religious groups, especially Muslims. He has called for banning so-called “Islamist” speakers from Universities. He has even demanded mosques apologise “for hosting homophobic hate preachers” and give “assurances that they will not host them again.” Tatchell claims the right to decide who qualifies as a “homophobic hate preacher”; what counts is not inciting violence or any tangible threats to LGBT Londoners, but rather simply expressing religious opinions about homosexual acts. The peculiar urgency with which Tatchell targets Muslims lends credibility to the charge of racial insensitivity.”
So, at some point, it has apparently become acceptable for supposed leftwingers to consider speaker tours for homophobic bigots to be a matter of indifference, and that it is “racially insensitive” for LGBT rights campaigners to object to people expressing “religious opinions about homosexual acts“. Most decent lefties (and liberals) will find this euphemistic description of far-right hate preachers pretty sickening. Now, some might disagree with Tatchell on minor tactical issues of precisely how he approaches this, but my gut response, when ‘lefties’ tell gay rights campaigners to shut up about organised far-right bigotry is: “fuck off”.
Also: “The particular urgency with which Tatchell targets Muslims“? Well – which Muslims? All of them? An attack on a far-right preacher who thinks all gay people are animals is an attack on all Muslims? Isn’t it “racially insensitive” to identify all Muslims with the hard-right ideologues that Tatchell feels “urgent” about?
What a wretched, hypocritical shower these self-righteous NUS authoritarians and their academic friends, are!
Like (I’m sure) most decent people, I was appalled to read in today’s Observer that the NUS’s LGBT representative, one Fran Cowling, has denounced Peter Tatchell as “transphobic” and “racist”.
The “evidence” for this nonsense is non-existent to any rational person, so I don’t intend, here, to even dignify it with a response: Comrade Coatesy deals with it here.
Suffice to say that my immediate reaction was that Fran Cowling, the NUS’s LGBT representative who made these comments, may be mentally ill: certainly, she should not be taken as speaking on behalf of the NUS: the NUS told the Observer “Tatchell has not been ‘no-platformed’ by the union as a whole, and that it was up to Cowling to make her own choices with regard to this event.”
So I assumed this was the reaction of one strange and disturbed individual, carried away by the self-righteous logic of identity politics. Until this was drawn to my attention:
Here is what passed – overwhelmingly – at NUS LGBT conference 2015
Motion 101: End Transphobia, Biphobia and Islamophobia on Campus
Content warning: Transphobia, biphobia, and Islamophobia
1.1. NUS LGBT has a duty to protect and promote the rights of those who self-define as part of LGBT NUS, on campus at University or college and in wider society.
2.2. All students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, have the right to a safe environment at their University or College campus where they can learn, develop as an individual, and achieve their full potential. This safe space must include an environment that is free from all forms of discrimination and prejudice including but not limited to: homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, racism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism.
3.3. Transphobia is an irrational dislike, hatred, prejudice and/or discriminatory action towards individuals who define as Trans, including (but not limited to) transgender, transsexual, transvestite, and genderqueer people, and anyone who does define into the gender binary norms of society.
4.4. NUS Liberation Campaigns have previously passed ‘No Platform’ Policies in order to protect students from individuals who preach prejudice and discrimination based on an individual’s identity, and who incite hatred against an individual based upon their identity or beliefs.
5.5. The NUS LGBT Campaign and the NUS Women’s Campaign have previously passed policy refusing to share a platform with Julie Bindel, a journalist and author who is notorious for her transphobic publications and views, and other individuals who hold transphobic views.
Conference further believes:
1.1. Julie Bindel is renowned for her transphobic viewpoints, which first came to light in her article Gender Benders, Beware (2004). Bindel has apologised for the ‘tone’ of this article, but has not renounced further writings which argue that Trans people should be denied medical care. Moreover, she has spoken at events such as Femifest 2014 that explicitly exclude Trans people.
2.2. Julie Bindel argued in her latest book, ‘Straight Expectations’ (2014) that that bisexuality doesn’t exist as a sexual identity, thus erasing bisexual individuals’ identities and experiences.
3.3. Julie Bindel has also criticised women who wear the niqab in her article for the Daily Mail: Why are my fellow feminists shamefully silent over the tyranny of the veil (2013); in refusing to believe that Muslim women have made their own decision to wear the niqab she denies Muslim women agency.
1.1. That the NUS LGBT Officers and members of the NUS LGBT committee shall not share a platform with Julie Bindel.
2.2. That the NUS LGBT Officers and members of the NUS LGBT Committee shall not engage with transphobic, biphobic or Islamophobic speakers
And here is a motion that passed at NUS Trans Conference in autumn 2015 – note “The sharing of content on social media is also granting a platform … Covering transphobic speech both in a positive and negative light is still granting it a platform”
Motion 108 | Hate has no place on campuses
Content Warning: Transphobia
1.NUS has a duty to protect and promote the rights of those who self-define as trans, on campus at University or college and in wider society.
2.All students, regardless of their gender identity, have the right to a safe environment at their University or College campus.
3.Transphobia is an irrational dislike, hatred, prejudice and/or discriminatory action towards individuals who define as trans.
4.NUS Liberation Campaigns have previously passed ‘No Platform’, “no sharing of platforms” and “no invite” Policies in order to protect students from individuals who preach and incite hatred against an individual based upon their identity.
5.Legally “hate speech” does not cover transphobic speech
Conference Further Believes:
1.1. Transphobic, homophobic, biphobic, racist, sexist, ableist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and/or antiSemitic speakers have no place at universities or colleges.
2.2. “No sharing of platforms” and “no invite” Policies do not limit the freedom of speech
3.3. Transphobic speech should be legally recognised as hate speech
4.4. Transphobia and transphobic speakers have lead to poor access to health care and welfare services by spreading myths about trans people.
5.5. By allowing transphobic speakers onto campus this can affect the mental health of trans students on campus.
6.6. By giving a speaker a platform it is a method to legitimises their views
7.7. The sharing of content on social media is also granting a platform
8.8. Covering transphobic speech both in a positive and negative light is still granting it a platform.
9.9. Transphobic speech is still transphobic hate speech even if they are a member of another or the same liberation group.
10.10. There is no such thing as reverse discrimination.
11.11. Universities and Colleges should be a place for trans people to thrive where they feel safe and accepted.
1.1. To support all campaigns, protests and petitions making people who are Transphobic, homophobic, biphobic, racist, sexist, ableist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and/or anti-Semitic speakers not to invited onto campuses.
2.2. To not share platforms with and not to invite onto campuses all transphobic speakers including but not limited to: Germaine Greer1 , Julie Bindel2 , Julie Burchill3 and Milo Yiannapolous4 .
3.3. To actively campaign against the platforming and inviting onto campuses of all transphobic speakers at universities.
4.4. To encourage the platforming and inviting onto campuses of people from liberation groups, specifically pertaining to the issue at hand.
5.5. Encourage students’ unions to have safe spaces for trans people, as well spaces where they can operate autonomously
6.6. To work on making transphobic speech covered under the definition of “hate speech”
So it would seem that Fran Cowling is not just an individual lunatic, but is acting on behalf of the NUS’s LGBT conference: in which case socialists have a job of work to shake these tossers out of their self-righteous idiocy, before society as a whole declares them beyond the pale.
Some of Jeremy’s supporters may accuse me of betrayal and of aligning myself with his right-wing critics. Not so. My criticisms are rooted in a leftist, human rights politics that is democratic, secular and internationalist – Peter Tatchell
From International Business Times
Like many others, I face a real dilemma. I’ve known Jeremy Corbyn for more than 30 years and love nearly everything he stands for. Yet there are a few important issues on which I profoundly disagree with him. Does this mean he should no longer have my support?
Jeremy is not a saint. He’s never claimed to be. Even the best, most admirable politicians usually get some things wrong. Jeremy is no exception. On a majority of UK and foreign policy issues he’s spot on, with real vision and an inspiring alternative. On a small number of issues he has made lamentable misjudgements. Despite these shortcomings, I’m backing his bid for the Labour leadership. Here’s why.
I look at the big picture and judge politicians on their overall record. What are their ideals, motives and aims? What kind of society are they striving for? How would their policies impact upon the average person? On all these assessment criteria, Jeremy is on the right side and is the most progressive candidate on nearly every issue.
He has strong, unique policies for social justice and equality – to secure a kinder, gentler, fairer and more inclusive, harmonious Britain. I am with him in opposing austerity. So is much of the country – including the Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru, with whom I hope Jeremy and Labour will make common cause in a quadruple alliance.
Jeremy’s plan to invest in infrastructure to reboot the economy is backed by 41 economists, including a former adviser to the Bank of England. His strategy echoes FDR’s New Deal and proposals from the International Monetary Fund.
A Corbyn premiership would reverse damaging, cruel welfare cuts and the privatisation of vital public services. He’d tackle climate destruction, rocketing rents and house prices. Trident renewal, foreign wars and the sinister Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership would be nixed. His administration would bring rail and energy companies back into decentralised public ownership. All sensible, compassionate policies. Good for him.
In my book, he is head and shoulders above all the other Labour leadership candidates, both in terms of his past political record and his political agenda for the future. But the single most important over-arching reason for supporting Jeremy is that Britain needs to turn away from the flawed and failed policies of business as usual. He is shaking up the establishment and breaking with the cosy political consensus that has been shared by Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems and UKIP. The mainstream, middle-of-the-road policies of the last decade are not the answer. All they offer is more of the same, which is what got us into the current mess.
Jeremy is thinking beyond what is. He’s imagining what could be. It’s a much needed political rethink, which leaves his rivals lagging far behind. Now that he has a serious chance of winning the Labour leadership, Jeremy has faced a barrage of accusations over his contacts with anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers and Islamist extremists. This puts me in a very difficult position, given my advocacy for human rights. At what point do links with bad people put a politician beyond the pale? How many flawed judgements does it take to cancel out all the good that a MP might have done and espoused?
Read the rest of this entry »
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Peter Tatchell is an admirable man who has campaigned bravely on LGBT rights and many other issues. However I cannot agree with the thrust of this post, recently published in Gay London. To summarise, he regrets the way in which the LGBT community has retreated from ‘radical idealism to cautious conformism’. He wishes instead that LGBT campaigners questioned the institution of the family and were generally less bourgeois, and complains that more timid types only jumped on the LGBT bandwagon when it was safe to do so.
But this can be turned round I think. One might conjecture that the handful of LBGT men and women who were prepared to campaign and be visible forty years ago were unusually independent and tough minded. They were perhaps thus also more inclined to be non-conformist and politically radical in ways that went beyond sexual orientation.
I should note at this point that the ‘pink’ in ‘pink prosecco’ only references my slightly sub-shirazian shade of politics. However personally I don’t see why LGBT people should be expected to be any more or less radical than anyone else. It’s a sign of progress not regression that people who are dull, or disagreeably right wing, are as happy to identify as LGBT as creative, radical, edgy types. Peter concludes:
“The unwritten social contract at the heart of the recent campaigns for LGBT law reform is that gay people should behave respectably. No more cruising, orgies or bondage. In return, the ‘good gays’ will be rewarded with equal treatment. The ‘bad gays’, who fail to conform to conventional morality will, of course, remain sexual outlaws. Is that what we want? A prescriptive moralism that penalises non-conformists within our own community?”
But why should bondage and a rejection of conventional morality be seen as LGBT specific issues?
This statement from Peter Tatchell first appeared at Harry’s Place, a site we don’t usually have much in common with. But in this case, it’s impossible to disagree:
The BNP & EDL claim to oppose Islamist extremist bigotry but in reality they generalise and abuse all Muslims. Many of their protests are menacing, even violent.
Islam is not the main problem. Islamist fundamentalism and violent jihad are what we should focus on opposing. It is important to make a clear distinction between Muslims and Islamist extremists. Don’t confuse the two. Unite to isolate the main threats: the Islamist far right and its BNP and EDL equivalents.
I support today’s Unite Against Fascism (UAF) counter-protest against the BNP. But UAF is not consistent. UAF commendably opposes the BNP and EDL but it is silent about Islamist fascists who promote anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism and sectarian attacks on non-extremist Muslims.
This silence and inaction by the UAF is a shocking betrayal of Muslim people – abandoning them to the Islamist far right.
Islamist fascists want to overthrow democracy, establish a clerical dictatorship, suppress human rights and kill Muslims who don’t conform to their hard-line interpretation of Islam.
It is time the UAF campaigned against the Islamist far right, as well as against the EDL and BNP far right.
Above: O’Brien coming out?
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has reacted to the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic, who has been accused of inappropriate behaviour with male priests.
Earlier on Monday, Cardinal O’Brien apologised to those he had offended for “failures” during his ministry and announced in a statement that he was standing down as leader of the Scottish Catholic Church.
He will not take part in electing a new pope, leaving Britain unrepresented.
In a statement, Peter Tatchell said:
Cardinal O’Brien condemned homosexuality as a grave sin and was a long-time opponent of gay equality.
He supported homophobic discrimination in law, including the current ban on same-sex marriage.
In the light of these allegations, his stance looks hypocritical.
He appears to have preached one thing in public while doing something different in private.
Several other prominent opponents of equal marriage are guilty of double standards and vulnerable to similar exposure. They include anti-gay clergy and politicians.
It is estimated that around 40% of Catholic priests in Britain are gay, which makes the church’s opposition to gay equality so two-faced and absurd.
Nearly half of all Cardinals worldwide are thought to be gay.
Recent revelations in Italy have alleged the existence of a gay mafia within the Vatican, including senior Cardinals and other Vatican officials, and their participation in gay bars, clubs, saunas, chat rooms and escort services.
The Vatican is shamelessly championing homophobia and the denial of legal equality to gay people, while hosting a hotbed of secret, guilt-ridden clerical homosexuality.
“Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently” – Rosa Luxemburg
An unpleasant-sounding character called Barry Thew wore the t-shirt shown below, in the Manchester area, on the day that two women police officers were murdered there. He has now been given a four month jail sentence for the crime of giving “insult” under Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act.
This follows hard on the heels of the student jailed for tweeting something vile and racist
about Fabrice Muamba, a boy jailed for putting something sick and disgusting
on Facebook about April Jones and Madeleine MacCann, and a young man
sentenced to community service for posting something on Facebook celebrating the deaths of British soldiers in Afghanistan.
In none of these cases was it claimed by the prosecution that the offending comments amounted to incitement to violence or any other criminal act other than giving offence and/or insult. The tweet about Muamba was, conceivably, an act of racial discrimination but that was not the prosecution’s case. The boy who posted vile stuff about April Jones and Madeleine McCann was possibly guilty of the crime of harassment (against their parents), but again, that was not the charge; it was brought under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003
, which outlaws “send
[ing] by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive
or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character” (my emphasis -JD).
The religious lobby (spearheaded by the Muslim leadership, happily followed by Christians and all other mainstream religions) has succeeded in establishing the giving of “offence” against religion as a crime. The Blair government, in desperate need of Muslim support following Iraq, brought in the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations, 2003
which make it an offense to “discriminate” against anyone on grounds on their religion – unless the ‘discriminator’ is itself a religious organisation! This sort of nonsense has been further perpetuated by the rise of identity politics and relativism on the so-called “left.”
Those of us who support free speech and insist that it is a fundamental component of the great progressive heritage
of the Enlightenment (of which Marxism is a product) are, these days, constantly having to rebut
those who seem to think that free speech doesn’t
include the right to give offence or to be stupid and wrong (in which case, what DOES it mean?) or who muddy the waters by suggesting that expressing offensive opinions is the same thing as an act of violence or discrimination. Some of the people who seem unable to comprehend these fairly simple distinctions do seem to be a bit thick
, and generally fall into the “liberal”/relativist catagory.
But others are clearly engaged in a superficially coherent, thoroughly reactionary and (usually) religiously-based attack upon freedom of speech, using the fundamentally dishonest ‘argument’ that supporters of free speech are positively in favour of some (imaginary) “duty to be offensive.”
A further argument (usually implied, rather than openly stated) is that freedom of speech is the product of a particular form of liberal politics, very often derided as “bourgeois,” “European”, or “Western”.
Mehdi Hasan, a smooth operator and practiced dissembler, came out with the following (below)
reactionary and intellectually bankrupt excercise in obscurantism at a recent debate
Mehdi Hasan, political director of The Huffington Post UK, called for a crackdown on the culture of Islamophobia and argued freedom of speech was not an “absolute right” during a debate on Thursday.
Speaking opposite Times columnist David Aaronovitch at a HuffPost/Polis debate, on the right to offend, Mr Hasan argued free speech was being “fetishized” and claimed many free-speech campaigners in the west were guilty of “brazen hypocrisy.”
“We have a civic duty not to offend others,” he told the a packed audience at the London School of Economics.
“How can you construct a civilised, cohesive society if we go round encouraging everyone to insult each other willy nilly?
“Yes we do have a right to offend but it’s not the same as having a duty to be offensive. You have a responsibility not to go out of your way to piss people off.
“I have the right to fart in a lift, but I don’t do it because it is offensive.
“Some people want the right to be offensive but then get cross when people are offended.”
[NB: Peter Tatchell on the Barry Thew case and “the right to be offensive” here]