We all need a change, so today – rather than trying to analyse the latest Stormont dramas and the interventions from London, Dublin and Brussels that are making everything worse – I’m writing about the war against free speech.
Published: 22 June 2021
I was at a debate at the Oxford Union last week that was supposed to be about the writing of history, but morphed into a series of mostly impassioned denunciations of racism. Not for the first time, I got on the wrong side of an audience because I hate easy sentiment and platitudes and find it difficult to let them go unchallenged.
So I began by contradicting a speaker who in a moving speech about 1960s English racism had referred to the signs on boarding houses saying “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs”.
Now, I emigrated to England in 1965. In the Dublin in which I had grown up, it was a very rare person who publicly challenged its oppressive and puritanical version of Roman Catholicism and/or the ideological worship of dead revolutionaries and I loved England for its freedom of speech and – compared to the rest of the world – its tolerance of other races.
Although I have heard innumerable speakers refer to the blacks / Irish / dogs signs as a well-known fact, to my knowledge no researcher has yet come up with any evidence for them whatsoever. Yes, there were landladies who didn’t want dogs, which was fair enough. There were those who had no experience of immigrants of colour and initially excluded them for fear of the unknown, which was understandable. And there were others who knew Irishmen whose drinking habits they found disruptive and played safe.
Putting the three together, however, gave a chilling impression of heartless, dehumanising English landladies, and my guess is that it was the creation of a smart Irish grievance-monger who enjoyed embroidering the persuasive Anglophobic MOPE (Most Oppressed People Ever) narrative that Irish republicans have successfully spread worldwide. Explaining that won me no friends.
Instead of being pedantic, I could have described how my family and my childhood reading had made me an early hater of racism. As an 18-year-old in Baltimore in 1963, I walked out of my vacation job because I was refused an unpaid day off to join the march on Washington.
On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that day Martin Luther King made the “I Have a Dream” speech that resonated around the free world. I am still moved by the sentence: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Amen.
But today’s anti-racist campaigners have no time for that. They are no longer interested in being colour-blind and giving everyone a fair chance. It’s all about identity politics and competing victimhoods and ignoramuses are being accorded by weak teachers, academics, police and politicians a deference they do not deserve and encourages bullying.
The videoed, horrible murder of George Floyd gave an overindulged generation an easy cause. Another heresy I uttered last week that caused shock was that it wasn’t a racist murder – something that was pointed out by the Minnesota attorney general. Derek Chauvin was simply a brute.
I came across a peaceful Black Lives Matter March in June last year in Parliament Square, searched for Antifa (self-styled anti-fascist) trouble-makers and found a group of young whites with balaclavas. I asked about the headgear, and was told that it was because action might be required.
“Let me educate you,” offered one of them, which is a particularly annoying mantra from young people who consistently demonstrate not just extraordinary ignorance of almost everything but a hostility to hearing any opinions they don’t like.
It has just been neatly summed up in a brilliant essay by the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “People who ask you to ‘educate’ yourself while not having actually read any books themselves, while not being able to intelligently defend their own ideological positions, because by ‘educate,’ they actually mean ‘parrot what I say, flatten all nuance, wish away complexity’.”
I got nowhere either in Oxford with the statistics I suggested could make us proud in an EU report on discrimination that showed the UK as possibly the least racist society in the world: 88% of us would have no problem with someone of a different ethnicity being Prime Minister; 95% are happy to work with someone of another race; and 86% would be happy for one of their children to be in a loving relationship with someone of a different race.
The Woke movement, which claims to be about social justice, is quite simply racist and totalitarian.
One of its outlets, Stop Funding Hate, has been trying to close down the new free-speech, right-of-centre television station, GBNews, by bullying advertisers into withdrawing support. Academics have turned on free speech, for instance, refusing to teach in Oriel College unless it removes a statue of the imperialist and philanthropist Cecil Rhodes.
The Chinese are engaged in persecuting millions of Uighurs and brutally eradicating their culture. I’m still waiting for an explanation of why the Woke young would rather demonstrate against long-dead imperialists.