Take the time to insult Erdogan

By Jake Wilde

Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, does not like to be insulted. In that sense he is no different from the rest of us. Where he differs from most of us is that he arrests people who do so.

He doesn’t care if you’re at home, whether your insult was intentional or if you had no idea it was even an insult.

He certainly doesn’t care if you are a journalist, an academic, or a Tolkien-loving family doctor 

But matters have taken a more worrying turn. He now doesn’t care whether you’re Turkish or not.

Twitter is the bane of Erdogan’s life. He banned it in Turkey in March 2014 and again in July 2015. He is responsible for 60% of all of Twitter’s removal requests.

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Take the time to insult Erdogan. While you’re still allowed to.

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Charlie Hebdo and the Turds That Won’t Flush

By David Paxton

‘Ding’ ‘Ding’ Round 57…

‘He’s obsessed’ you remark. Well yes actually, I am a bit. But even when I think enough should have been said on this matter yet more turds float to the surface and I think it important to try and flush them. By now however, it’s beginning to feel like nothing so much as playing whac-a-mole. But with turds.

Much has already been written about the PEN debacle. This by Tom Owolade is typically good. I have also attacked Glenn Greenwald’s laughable contribution here. But the same tropes keep coming up again and again. 10 days after the massacre I posted this long and, I had forlornly hoped, exhaustive piece breaking down the various forms of apologia. I think it holds up. However, the superbug like inability for some of this bullshit to die is quite something to behold and is itself worthy of examination.

As I said at the time, the filthy fifth-columnist detritus require little examination. They are Islamists and wish to exculpate Islamists. The Useless Idiots like Nabilla Ramadi suffer from a form of Muslim nationalism that makes her bend any truth or logic to ensure that all Muslims are not tarred with the same brush. Even though no serious person seeks to do so.

But there are the others. The sort of smart, talented and lauded person who when not writing novels sends letters to PEN explaining why the unbelievably brave shouldn’t be granted a bravery award. These are the ones deserving a second glance. Yes, because they really should be allies but also because their problems are seemingly a touch more complicated.

As Owolade wrote:

Charlie Hebdo is a satirical magazine whose staff were murdered for the crime of blasphemy. This fact alone should entail support and sympathy from everyone who believes the right to mock ideas and cause offence trumps acquiescence to blasphemy law.

This is obvious. He goes further:

But Charlie Hebdo are not racist and their staff were not murdered for racism and hate speech. They were murdered for depicting a religious figure.

And yet those writing to PEN, months after the event, keep insisting black is white.

Good people, not horrible Tories like me, but proper lefty types, people who know, people who work for Charlie Hebdo, people who are French, folks that have actually sodding read it, tell them in many different ways, repeatedly, what Charlie Hebdo were/are about. It is crystal clear what they are about and there is no possible excuse for ignorance. Yet ignorance is what flows from the fingers and mouths of these weapons. This is no longer a lack of information, or even a difference of opinion. This is a mental condition. It is the practice of denying clear reality no matter how much evidence is smashed across their heads.

As tempted as I am to call this mendacious, I truly believe most of it is not. They just don’t have the faculties to face up to objective reality and accept what that would mean for their comfort blanket of a world view.

I previously described such people’s world view as following the 3 Stages of Stupidity. In it short it goes thus:

1: Always holding unequivocal support of the underdog

2: Divide the world into oppressor/oppressed

3: Assume the superior virtue of the oppressed.

When David Frum obliterated Gary Trudeau he expressed a similar variation, which he knocks down into two stages:

1. Identify the bearer of privilege.

2. Hold the privilege-bearer responsible.

I won’t quibble.

There is really something in this. Please read my full and fleshed out explanation as I still think it is the clearest answer to the mystery of their pathology. Add to this explanation the tendency in many educated ‘liberals’ to be singularly unable to empathise with a thought process involving any aspects that mean nothing to them. A fervent devotion to religion and the feeling that blasphemy is enough gets no dice. It must be identity politics or economics. Those are the only tools in their box.

But I really didn’t expect things to have sunk quite this low:

Francine Prose on Comment is Free:

The narrative of the Charlie Hebdo murders – white Europeans killed in their offices by Muslim extremists

The fucking narrative? It was a massacre. It was events. Strange it should take a novelist to attempt remove all flesh and life from such a discussion. Though I suppose when it serves her purpose so clearly…

As for her summation of the narrative, white folks killed by ‘dem brown folk, if this were true it would be a fact and not a narrative. But it isn’t even true. Check the list of the dead. And who is spreading this ‘narrative’? Something this wrong needs a reason. She is actually willing to change the facts in order to not have to adjust her own pitiful ‘narrative’.

Comment is free but she comes close to making one wish it wasn’t.

She goes on:

The bitterness and rage of the criticism that we have received point out how difficult people find it to think with any clarity on these issues and how easy it has been for the media – and our culture – to fan the flames of prejudice against Islam. As a result, many innocent Muslims have been tarred with the brush of Islamic extremism.

The bitterness and rage is because people such as herself are denying reality and propagating 24 carat bullshit to obscure the obvious clarity about the murder of innocents.

If it is easy to fan the flames, perhaps it has less to do with our difficulties and more to do with the postjudice that follows yet more users of the right to free speech being slaughtered by religious maniacs. The very rights she nominally campaigns in support of. Her final sentence takes the biscuit though. If she wishes for the Muslims that have nothing to do with these crimes to be free from association with them, is it not best that her and others stop representing these crimes as springing from the collective anger of the same mass of people? By pretending it isn’t blasphemy but some reaction to socio-economic factors the suspicion is cast on those they have lumped together by a demographic distinction. If one seeks to deny the real motivation and replace it with their ‘narrative’ about reactions stemming from Muslim anger are they not doing the heavy lifting in this job of tarring?

She has plenty more:

But I also don’t feel that it is the mission of PEN to fight the war on terrorism; that is the role of our government.

When one realises the opponents in this war are the greatest threat to free speech going, it most certainly should be. It is all of ours. But nobody is asking her to pick up a rifle and stag on. There is some part of this fight that calls for removing the taboo of religious offence, which aids in demystifying the beliefs of these loons. That as it happens is dangerous work. Charlie Hebdo was doing that work. It is what they were to be recognised for. At worst she is seeking to undo that work and at best pretending it wasn’t being done.

I have nothing but sympathy for the victims and survivors.

This is untrue. She also has contempt for their output. She makes this clear.

As a friend wrote me: the First Amendment guarantees the right of the neo-Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois, but we don’t give them an award.

If only we could all have friends so insightful and quotable. This thought from her chum works to show it is possible to stick up for the worst speech imaginable without approving of it. Fine. The problem is though, Charlie Hebdo weren’t Nazis, or even close. In fact, they were anti-Nazis and everyone is sick to death with having to point this out. There is no way she doesn’t know this. Yet still she pretends and willingly smears the dead as purveyors of detestable speech. It really is becoming ever more clear that reality is not unknown but merely unwanted.

And the idea that one is either “for us or against us” in such matters not only precludes rational and careful thinking

No. A thousand times no. Some people are for us. Some people are against us. That is rational and it is careful. If you have a masturbatory sense of your own intelligence that requires a masochistic search for nuance where there is none to be found, you have a problem. Not only were the attackers against us, they couldn’t be more clear and loud about this fact. Yet again they choose to listen to themselves rather than the facts.

One of the more disappointing aspects of this is that they are helping least the people their pitifully solipsistic sense of guilt is meant to be considering. The peoples most in need of the liberating view points of Charlie Hebdo are the Muslims, atheists and others stuck in places far less amenable to a free existence than France. Try Raif Badawi, Avjit Roy or Sabeen Mahmud if you wish to get specific.

This brings us on to Teju Cole. This ball of self-regard and pretension specifically draws a line between Charlie Hebdo and Roy and Badawi. In his letter to PEN he wrote:

I would rather honor Raif Badawi, Avijit Roy, Edward Snowden, or Chelsea Manning, who have also paid steeply for their courage, but whose ideals are much more progressive than Charlie’s.

Much more progressive? This really does confirm either startling ignorance or a willful denial of reality. I would like very much to hear his response to this question: What are Charlie Hebdo’s ideals? As I wrote in my Letter to Laurie Penny:

Charlie Hebdo consistently and unfalteringly engaged in opposition to the following:

  • Corruption in government
  • Unwarranted power of big business
  • Europe’s disastrous austerity policies
  • Israeli actions in Gaza
  • Restrictions on immigration
  • Anti-immigrant policies
  • Any form of racism
  • Organised Religion
  • The Le Pen family, the National Front and their populist politics

This list hints at some pretty progressive ideals no? I will go further, I cannot conceive of an organisation with more progressive ideals than Charlie Hebdo. On what grounds does Cole feel qualified to draw this line? He needs to back this up. Avijit Roy was described by many as Bangladesh’s Charlie Hebdo and Raif Badawi is in prison for the same reasons so many at Charlie Hebdo are dead. Could it be that there isn’t a real difference in their ideals but that the other two happen to be a bit brown? It’s the only answer that fits the facts. And it is pathetic.

To read the letters justifying the grandstanding of these people is depressing. I am both saddened and maddened that such self-serving discharge is openly expressed by people considered to be thinkers and that in our time this is what passes for an intelligentsia.

We are bound by duty and decency to show solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. But more than that we are bound by self-preservation. A case I have made previously. (Shit, hasn’t all this been said previously?)

Their bravery is beyond question, that giving them an award for it should be questioned on taste grounds is wrong. That the objections to the taste are fabricated from falsehoods and smears is odious. Salman Rushdie said “I hope nobody ever comes after them”. It’s a noble sentiment. My nobility is really beginning to show cracks.

The limits of Cultural Appropriation

By Robbie Travers (@RobbieTravers)

Cultural appropriation is a concept that should be viewed with deep suspicion.

 My objections to it are simple: Firstly, it is deeply authoritarian to police the behaviour of people because they are deemed to be appropriating the property of other cultures, often ones that are deemed to be marginalised. We should never seek to police behaviour that does not call for violence, or behaviour that are not violent. For example: teens wearing Bindis and Indian headdresses at festivals.

 The argument that many of these teens don’t understand the culture behind these items of clothing is levelled. The argument that they are participating in oppression by wearing them, either in a state of blissful ignorance or actively, is actually redundant. Cultures often take items from other cultures and integrate them as part of their culture, and whilst it may offend some, not allowing cultures to share and adopt traditions of oppressed cultures becomes authoritarian. How so? It creates privileged groups of people with culture that cannot be mocked, discussed and that their culture is there property and theirs alone.

 But also, what is an oppressed group? as different groups have different ideas of oppression. Are our values universal? as many of those who dress as Arab’s are criticised, but yet not all Arabs are oppressed, look at the Saudi Royal family for example. The argument falls to scrutiny.

 Secondly, the often hypocritical proponents of cultural appropriation define culture as a commodity that is in the possession of marginalised groups. That this is something they alone should have the ability to control and they alone possess. Culture should never be anyone’s property, nor should it exclusively belong to one group: this is how culture stagnates as it goes without discussion or adaptation.

 However, these same proponents are incoherent when it comes to the culture of groups in perceived positions of power, with some individuals claiming that cultures only occur due to marginalisation, hence groups in power have no culture and others claiming that only marginalised groups have ownership of their own culture. This is ridiculous, promoting the thinking that only certain groups should be privileged to have ownership and control over their culture. I don’t think any group should have said powers, but it is inconsistent to suggest that certain groups should and shouldn’t have this ability.

 Yet somehow, it remains their belief that culture should remain in the property of those who own it, rather than anyone outside said groups to try and adopt or adapt aspects of it.

 Cultural appropriation also tries to appeal to the idea of collective and ancestral guilt, that white people are somehow responsible for the actions of their ancestors and hence should respect other cultures due to their “sins.”

 However, consider this closely, are all white people the same? No. Those who often claim that white people appropriate other cultures and hence create mindless stereotypes appeal to mindless stereotypes to prove their arguments are solid. But also we should bear in mind that we don’t judge groups not perceived to be in positions of power for the sins of their ancestors, why should we do so to groups in power.

 Or why at all. If someone hasn’t committed a crime, don’t punish them for it.

 Hence, Cultural appropriation should fail to be convincing to any logical and rational thinker, as it is illogical and hypocritical thinking.

A rebuttal to the censorious student Left

By Tom Owolade (@owolade14)

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The recent attitude displayed by the NUS Women’s campaign received scorn on twitter and elsewhere but they revealed a mindset undimmed by shame or contrition. Whether it was suggesting clapping be replaced by jazz hands, or insisting gay men stop culturally appropriating black women, the absurdity of these suggestions were plain to see. Yet, despite this, the values that informed these suggestions – emphasising narratives over facts, and identity over principles – is espoused unabashedly by many, and therefore merits examination.

 

The influence of these values is clear and growing. In universities, Individual liberty and moral universalism continues to dwindle whilst identity politics and a culture of moral relativism flourishes. Freedom of speech, a pre-condition for free and open societies, is being curbed by censorship and self-censorship, from debates to classrooms to online forums. This censorious climate is caused by a widespread belief that the freedom to express oneself must be balanced against securing the comfort of those without ‘privilege’. The assumption of individual liberty – and its possibility of offending anyone – is replaced by an assumption of collective responsibility to tiptoe around our thoughts, trying desperately not to offend those most vulnerable in society- namely people of colour, LGBT people and women. Freedom is speech is transformed from a right into a privilege, to be exercised responsibly in accordance with particular issues.

 

Firstly, self-censorship is nourished by this attitude: individual viewpoints are burdened with the responsibility of not being offensive when talking about issues that affect victimised groups. An offence to them, it is argued, constitutes an act of oppression, disabling their dignity and therefore requiring a response even – especially!  – at the expense of certain principles; principles are married with privilege and thus are meaningful only in consequential terms. Because of this, censorship in some instances can be excused under the invocation of victimhood – and the consequent challenge to privilege – however spurious: from no-platforming feminists with the ‘wrong’ and ‘oppressive’ opinions to banning music videos with the ‘wrong’ and ‘oppressive’ messages. And because of this, the central tenets of liberalism are unravelling in a relativistic swamp. The fundamental logic justifying this new censorship is indistinguishable from the logic that justified old censorship: the sheer arbitrariness of ‘offence’ legislating against individual liberty and conscience. Who is defined as oppressors and oppressed is done spuriously, one persons oppressors is another persons oppressed – to some, because of her identity, Julie Bindel qualifies as a victim. However, because of her views on Trans issue and Islam, her censorious critics paint her as a perpetrator of oppression. The fact that her censors don’t subscribe to objectivity means that there isn’t a meaningful criterion for distinguishing whether she is privileged or unprivileged – they rely on a binary that doesn’t account for the fluidity of identity and beliefs. Liberal minded people rely on an insistence on objective principles. Julie Bindel should be afforded the right to express her beliefs unencumbered by attempts to silence or intimidate her, as should anyone expressing their beliefs irrespective of whether their identity qualifies as victimiser or not.

 

We live in a world where the lucid expositions of Locke and Paine have lost their allure and potency and given way to postmodernism: an ideology so convulsed by a cult of victimhood it censors without compunction under the pretext of protecting the ‘victims’ and arraigning the ‘privileged’. It is through this context that we can observe the flourishing of safe spaces, trigger warnings and cultural appropriation. These practices contain within them principles one can reasonably be sympathetic with: empowerment of previously persecuted groups and an attack on structural inequality. The incontestable progress made by society partially depended on advocacy of these principles, it would be wrong to entirely dismiss them.

 

However, when these beliefs – admittedly noble – are shot through with the fanaticism induced by identity politics, then censorship and the policing of behaviour is normalised: a vital component of free societies –  individual rights – is made secondary to special rights accorded to groups, people are thereby viewed through regimented and differentiated moral prisms rather than through a universalism that views each person as an individual. Following from this, people are infantilised; People who, by accident of birth, happen to be ‘privileged’ have their behaviour and individual conscience policed; It also infantilises the victimised groups who, by accident of birth, are assumed to be allergic to controversial views, and are thus mollycoddled from dangerous and contestable beliefs. It is therefore counter-productive to its stated aims of empowering victimised groups.

 

It is also wrong in principle. It is carried out with noble intentions, confidently posturing as ameliorative. It intends to inoculate downtrodden groups from dangerous ideas and the hostile terrain of those with privilege. In reality, it limits civil discourse and stifles the engine of free societies: the capacity to discuss ideas and express one’s moral convictions with the inviolable liberty conferred to all citizens. This is why, most of all, this new manifestation of censorship necessitates a rebuttal.

James Snell has written a piece arguing the concept of trigger warnings is both wrong in principle and counter-productive in practice.

Robbie Travers has written a critique of the concept of cultural appropriation. Arguing it is myopic, dysfunctional and fundamentally reactionary.

Siding With The Philistines: Exhibit B and Index on Censorship’s Julia Farrington

Promotional still for Brett Bailey’s artwork Exhibit B.

On the 24 September, the UK saw the closure of yet another controversial artwork in response to the mobilisation of protests. The installation Exhibit B, conceived and directed by the South African artist and provocateur Brett Bailey, takes as its starting point the 19th century phenomenon of ‘human zoos‘, and is described by Bailey as follows:

What interests me about human zoos is the way people were objectified. Once you objectify people, you can do the most terrible things to them. But what we are doing here is nothing like these shows, where black people were brought from all over Africa and displayed in villages. I’m interested in the way these zoos legitimised colonial policies.

Since 2012, Exhibit B has played in some 19 cities before arriving in London and received considerable acclaim. Lynn Gardner in the Guardian called it “both unbearable and essential”, Allan Radcliffe in the Times called it “remarkable . . . powerful and upsetting”, and Neil Cooper, reviewing the installation for the Edinburgh Festival (and perhaps putting his finger on the masochistic pleasure in which Bailey invites his Western audiences to marinate), revealed that “the guilt [Exhibit B] provokes is devastating”.

Others, like Laura Barnett at the Telegraph were less sure. Acknowledging its merits, she nevertheless found Exhibit B to be “a highly problematic” and possibly exploitative piece of work. She did not, however, call for its closure. Nor, to my knowledge, did any other serious-minded writer, whatever their view of its worth. And, whether it succeeded or not, Bailey’s work was generally agreed to have been at least intended as an indictment of Western colonialism.

But soi-dissant anti-racist activists were in no mood to be so tolerant or broad-minded, and they did not hesitate to accuse both artist and production of outright racism. In Berlin, Bailey’s work was greeted with furious protests and, upon learning that Exhibit B would be performed at The Barbican in London, a Birmingham activist named Sara Myers started an online petition, demanding the immediate withdrawal of Bailey’s “racist” work. “If Brett Bailey is trying to make a point about slavery” Myers instructed, “this is not the way to do it.” This sentiment was rewarded with nearly 23,000 signatures.

Protests outside the venue followed, blockading the road, and on 24 September, the Barbican announced, with regret, that it was cancelling all shows:

Due to the extreme nature of the protest outside the Vaults, regrettably we have cancelled this evening’s performance of Exhibit B as we could not guarantee the safety of performers, audiences and staff. We respect people’s right to protest but are disappointed that this was not done in a peaceful way as had been previously promised by campaigners.

For those committed to the defence of free inquiry and artistic expression, this is not a complicated matter. And it would be only slightly more complicated if the work in question were indisputably racist. The right of artists to express themselves as they see fit must be inviolate, as must the right of audiences to make up their own minds about the merits of what they produce. It bears repeating that an axiom of free speech advocacy is the willingness to defend the expression of opinions with which one vehemently disagrees.

But in a dismal op-ed for the anti-censorship advocacy organisation Index on Censorship, its associate arts producer, Julia Farrington, found herself unable to do any such thing. Her article, it should be noted, appeared on the Index website on 22 September – that is, after the petition and protests had been launched but before Exhibit B‘s cancellation. By 25 September, Index had found it necessary to issue an unsigned clarification of their official position, stating:

Those who read [Julia Farrington’s] article following the cancellation and our short comment on it have interpreted our stance as one that in some way excuses or condones the protesters and the cancellation of the piece. This was certainly not our intention . . . People have every right to object to art they find objectionable but no right whatsoever to have that work censored. Free expression, including work that others may find shocking or offensive, is a right that must be defended vigorously.

This must be news to Farrington, whose defence of Bailey’s right to conceive and present his work is tepid in the extreme. Instead, her article takes the side – with minimal equivocation – of those noisily declaring themselves offended by it.

Although Sara Myers’s petition explicitly demands the Barbican cancel its performances of Bailey’s work – and although Farrington does mention this fact – she persistently misdescribes Myers’s transparently censorious campaign against venue and artist as “a boycott”. And it is the protestors to whom she awards credit, without irony, for “ensuring dialogue is happening”.

Like them, she had not seen the work for herself at the time of writing. Nevertheless, “what interests me here,” she explains, “is the mindset of the institution presenting this piece of work and whether it considered, if at all, the possibility of a hostile response.” Contrary to appearances, it is the Barbican which is unmasked as the real villain. They did, she concedes, commission a public debate on the matter, but their hand was forced by the protests which, she argues, were themselves a product of the venue’s insensitivity and incompetence. Farrington justifies this conclusion by declaring her belief that:

The role of the arts institution . . . is to manage the space between the artist and the audience.

And with that she burdens the venue with responsibility for the row. Actually, the role of an arts institution – be it a cinema, theatre, or gallery – is neutral: to provide space for the exhibition of work and to promote said work as it sees fit. Those who elect to exhibit challenging material should be supported in their efforts, not presented with further obstacles.

To insist that venues and institutions “manage the space between the artist and the audience” as a precondition to exhibiting potentially controversial content will only help further deter the emergence of provocative art. (“We are thinking of exhibiting Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò at your local. Please read the attached synopsis and let us know your thoughts.”)

Not only would such a process be time-consuming, cumbersome, and – I would imagine – expensive, but it would also present a number of practical problems. Who, for instance, decides what level of potential offence and provocation demands prior consultation with outraged community activists? And who decides which of the activists’ subsequent demands are reasonable? And, most importantly, what exactly does this alleged obligation to “manage the space between the artist and the audience” actually require of the venue?

To Farrington, I imagine the phrase seems collaborative and cuddly. But in this context “manage the space between the artist and audience” sounds a lot to me like a euphemism for “listen to community concerns and make the requested changes accordingly.”

It is instructive to listen to Sara Myers debating one of the actresses in the work on Newsnight. Amid Myers’s various complaints about offence and bad taste, and her demands for an apology and “holistic reparations”, she averred that she would “not necessarily” seek to interfere with an artist’s vision. All she wanted, she announced, was to be consulted.

But then would she feel satisfied if, once her views had been heard and taken into account, the work in question remained unchanged? Interestingly, by way of an answer to this yes/no question from presenter Kirsty Wark, Myers turned her attention to the moral deficiencies she perceived in the production:

There’s no whiteness in that exhibition. All there is is black people standing in various cages with chains…

A reductive piece of critical analysis, to be sure. To Wark’s hypothetical that scenes involving the degradation of blacks required a “white representation,” she nodded: “Yes, it needed to be balanced.” I don’t know what I dislike more; the presumption of the words in that sentence or the pedagogical tone in which they were uttered.

Myers never did get around to giving Wark a straightforward answer, but it was evident to me that she was not about to be appeased by any amount of consultation so long as the show went ahead unaltered. Had it done so, I imagine she would have denounced the consultation efforts as a cosmetic sham designed to shut her up and pressed for further direct action.

But Farrington was not satisfied that the protestors’ concerns had been adequately dealt with either. She described the two hours alotted to the public debate commissioned by the Barbican as “woefully inadequate”, and welcomed the activists’ call for further “engagement and dialogue”:

As anticipated the debate changed nothing in the short term, the work will open this evening as planned, but there was an urgent call for a longer, fuller discussion which hopefully Barbican will respond to as a matter of urgency.

Myers’s petition is unambiguous in its demand for the censorship of Exhibit B. And the jubilation with which she and her supporters welcomed the news of the performance’s closure, two days after Farrington’s article appeared, speaks to their true motivations. These are not people interested in opening dialogue but in policing it and closing it down.

How on earth did a free speech advocate find themselves so far on the wrong side of an elementary free speech debate? The nature of the performance, its subject matter, and perhaps most importantly, the skin colour of the protesters, appear to have presented Farrington with a conflict. She is a free speech advocate. But she is also clearly sympathetic to the view that structural racism and institutionalised white privilege are the ‘root cause’ of everything. Certainly, as far as UK arts and culture goes, she accepts its alleged ‘institutionalised racism’, a priori. As she puts it:

Surely it cannot be possible for the Barbican to stand by a work that purports to confront “colonial atrocities committed in Africa, European notions of racial supremacy and the plight of immigrants today” and not see that it is holding up a mirror to itself.

Index on Censorship does not speak for the victims of ‘structural racism’. There are other organisations which devote their time and resources to that. In her capacity as a writer for Index, Farrington ought to have shelved her reservations about such matters, and concentrated on the most immediate threat to free speech: the intimidation of artists and venue by a censorious campaign.

But she prefers to resolve her ideological dilemma with a rhetorical sleight of hand. She concludes her article:

I defend Brett Bailey’s right to present these horrendous atrocities from the past – anything else is censorship . . . But the more potent issue here, is the perpetuation of institutionalised mono-cultural bias preventing the Barbican, and the vast majority of British arts institutions, from fostering and delivering a truly relevant cultural programme. This untenable form of censorship must be addressed and continue to be addressed long after Exhibit B has been and gone.

So it turns out that Farrington has been anti-censorship all along. Not the common-or-garden type right in front of her eyes, of course, but something more profound and subtle; the censorship of minority voices by stealth.

In support of her accusation, Farrington relies on two rather dubious expert witnesses. She quotes Mark Sealy, artistic director at Autograph Black Photographers, who demands that public funding be withdrawn from those who don’t fall into line by employing the right people or producing the right kind of content. The basis for this draconian recommendation is a highly implausible (and unsubstantiated) claim that “since 1980s it is progress zero”. Part of what is needed, we may infer, is the involvement more people like Sara Myers who will arbitrate on what kind of material is and is not acceptable to their respective communities.

Then we meet Jenny Williams, described as an “independent arts consultant”. Williams appears to think what’s needed is a thoroughgoing policy of Multiculturalism in the arts and a stricter balkanisation of funding allocated to minority communities:

The Arts Council funding of arts infrastructure is not fairly representing the 14% black and minority communities. 14% of ACE’s overall three-year investment of £2.4bn would equate to £336m – that’s £112m per year. The black and minority ethnic community contribute around £62m per year into the overall arts budget. Yet, the current yearly figure currently invested in black and minority ethnic-led work is £4.8m.

The outrage of this apparently monstrous pie-dividing injustice, by the way, appears to rest on an assumption that black and minority ethnic audiences won’t look at or listen to anything not made by their own ethnic or racial group. But by enlightened roads such as these will we journey to a land where all art and culture is politically acceptable and socially responsible.

As Farrington must surely be aware, the fanatical pursuit of this conformist dystopia is not restricted to the arts. A recent article in Spiked by Frank Furedi entitled “Academic Freedom Is a Big Deal” looks at troubling examples of this kind of doctrinaire thinking on campus:

Intolerance towards the academic freedom of other colleagues is invariably represented as not what it really is – the silencing of unconventional or objectionable views – but rather as an enlightened defence of those who would be offended by unconventional or objectionable views. From this perspective, the advocacy of a genuinely open intellectual culture, where scholars are encouraged to take risks and question everything, is an abomination.

Academic freedom and artistic freedom – both of which, in different ways, are dedicated to the pursuit of truth – are extraordinarily precious components of open societies. And both are in danger of being compromised, not just by moral puritans of the right, but also by moral puritans of the left – those for whom the enforcement of their own idea of ‘social justice’ and the immediate redress of grievance trump all scholarly and aesthetic concerns.

It is fantastically unwise for an organisation like Index on Censorship to indulge such people. Anti-censorship advocates, whatever their views about related issues, owe it to themselves to defend art and scholarship from the manoeuvres of activists like Sara Myers, and to do so without equivocation. Farrington’s article subordinates that responsibility to ideological views concerning the nature of racism, social justice activism, and identity politics, which are wildly beyond her brief. In a confused attempt to position herself as the friend of the weak, Julia Farrington has misidentified both villain and victim and sided with censorious philistinism. The people power embodied by Myers and her fellow malcontents, of which Farrington writes with such admiration, was a sinister and coercive force from the start.

I take no pleasure in criticising Index on Censorship. They do valuable work and are, by some accounts, a rather embattled organisation at present. But in their handling of this controversy, they abdicated their responsibility to defend those in whose interests they speak. When their associate arts producer marvelled at the 22,500 signatures the petition to close Bailey’s work had by then accrued, she should have stopped to consider this: it is precisely at times like these that artists and performers engaged in challenging work most need the support of people like her.

This is a cross-post from the Jacobinism blog.