Connect with us


A clash of rights: Part four



I begin this week by returning to the subject of the academy and to the question of how to manage scholars who deal in hate speech. In the UK until recently the most notorious case was that of the historian Norman Stone, who, after a career that spanned both Oxford and Cambridge and a stint of speech-writing for Margaret Thatcher, became Professor of International Relations at the University of Bilkent, Turkey, the country he had made his home. Stone then published work denying the genocide of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire (the centre of which was Turkey, so his writings may have had a wee bit of self-interest behind them). In addition to other sanctions, he was declared persona non-grata (forbidden to enter) Austria—birthplace of Hitler—where Holocaust denialism is a crime. More recently—just last year, in fact—Stone was joined in the hall of infamy by British historian David Starkey. In an interview with a right-wing commentator, Starkey came up with the abhorrent claim that “slavery was not genocide, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or Britain would there? You know, an awful lot of them survived.” Is there any reason why someone of position and influence should be allowed a platform to spew out that kind of garbage? Clearly Starkey’s publisher, Harper Collins, thought not and announced they would publish no further works of his. And Starkey resigned from or was dismissed from three honorary/visiting professorships. Yes, the right to freedom of speech was denied him, but the right of others to be protected from hate speech was upheld. By way of an update, the Queen’s speech at the opening of parliament this year promised/threatened a Higher Education Bill, which “seeks to enshrine in law the requirement for universities and student unions to promote free speech on campus.” Evidently for Boris Johnson’s government one freedom is more precious than another, and people can feel free to hate and to hurt others. I could go on and on exploring this issue. There has, for example, been a great deal of debate recently about the desirability of policing hate speech in the social media. But I am not qualified to write about this, since (i) I am not sufficiently tech-savvy to understand the procedures that policing would involve; and (ii) my ambition is to be the last person alive on earth who has still refused to use Facebook or Twitter. The dilemma I outlined when I began this piece remains unresolved and staring us in the face. To round off I can do no better than quote Article 10 of the code of the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission, with apologies for the rather off-putting legalese of its language. Article 10 states that the right to freedom of expression may, “since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society for the protection of the rights of others.” That seems to me as good as it gets. Having got as close as I think we can to addressing the clash of rights that forms the chief focus of this piece, I want to circle around the subject a little more by discussing a phrase and a word that have recently entered the English language and are pertinent to the issue. I’m doing this in the hope that my readers will avoid using these and will be aware of the risks they embody. Every year the on-line edition of the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) records neologisms, words or phrases that have just entered the language (I wrote about neologisms in this column some months ago, so of course do not really need to remind my top-class readership what they are). Two particularly nasty ones from the last year are “woke” and “cancel culture.” Until next week! To be concluded Chris Dunton

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Copyright © 2022. The Post Newspaper. All Rights Reserved