High-Voltage Hate: Hypocrisy on Free Speech in Britain

Enlightenment Values

If you’ve ever handled a slug, you’ll know that you have to wipe  your hands afterwards. It would be wrong to compare the British anti-fascist Denis MacShane with a slug – he’s not a hermaphrodite or a mollusc, after all – but contact with Denis has similar effects. You’ll have things to clean up afterwards. I wrote about this former Labour Member of Parliament in the article “Rotten in Rotherham”, where I noted two important but apparently contradictory facts:

1) He oversaw a parliamentary report into antisemitism that suggested it be made a criminal offence to read hate-inciting material on the internet.

2) He wrote a comradely review of You Can’t Read This Book, Nick Cohen’s book on free speech and claimed to stand with Voltaire and other “giants of the Enlightenment” for free speech and against censorship.

I concluded that he was lying about his solidarity with Voltaire. But there’s more to be said. MacShane wasn’t only lying: he was revealing either his complete ignorance or his impudent chutzpah. Here again is the suggestion in the MacShane-helmed Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism (2006):

The former Home Office Minister Paul Goggins MP gave evidence of a model which could possibly be applied to racist material on the internet. In the case of child pornography it is now an offence to download images from the internet, and it may be possible to develop a similar law in regard to material which could incite racial or religious hatred. (Report, para. 186, pg. 37)

Here again is MacShane’s praise of Voltaire in his review of Nick Cohen’s You Can’t Read This Book (2012):

Surely there is no greater badge of honour than to stand with the giants of the 18th century, who insisted rationality should be given equal status to superstition. … The right of men (always men) dressed in long robes to censor words and thought is increasing, not diminishing. In the end, Cohen rightly argues, we have to assert the Enlightenment values of both Voltaire and Mill as they argued for free speech. (You Can’t Read This Book, The Observer, Sunday, 12th February, 2012)

Raging Fanatics

Now that we’ve reviewed MacShane’s literary activity, I’d like to perform a thought-experiment. Let’s imagine that the suggestion in the report overseen by Denis MacShane became British law. It would then be illegal to download “material which could incite racial or religious hatred” from the internet. Bearing that in mind, please examine these two quotations:

All of the other peoples have committed crimes, the Jews are the only ones who have boasted about committing them. They are, all of them, born with raging fanaticism in their hearts, just as the Bretons and the Germans are born with blond hair. I would not be in the least bit surprised if this nation some day became deadly to the human race…

It is commonly said that the abhorrence in which the Jews held other nations proceeded from their horror of idolatry; but it is much more likely that the manner in which they at the first exterminated some of the tribes of Canaan, and the hatred which the neighboring nations conceived for them, were the cause of this invincible aversion. As they knew no nations but their neighbors, they thought that in abhorring them they detested the whole earth, and thus accustomed themselves to be the enemies of all men…

Paradox to Ponder

Is that the kind of material Denis MacShane and his co-enquirers had in mind when they wrote their report on antisemitism? I would suggest that it certainly is: I have rarely seen more vicious and uncompromising expressions of antisemitism. Although it is currently legal in the UK to download and read material like the above, if you distributed it with “intent to stir up racial hatred,” you would be liable to imprisonment for up to seven years. The author of the material would, of course, accompany you to jail — assuming he could be identified and arrested by the British authorities. But could he? Who is the author? Well, you might expect the Francophone Denis MacShane, who served three years as Minister of State for Europe under Tony Blair, to answer those questions easily from his extensive knowledge of England’s closest continental neighbour.

The hate-filled author is in fact that “giant of the 18th century” who was born François-Marie Arouet, but who is best-known to posterity as Voltaire (1694–1778). The viciously antisemitic quotations above are taken from Voltaire’s Letters of Memmius to Cicero (1771) andPhilosophical Dictionary(1764), respectively. He wrote much more on the same topic in the same hateful tone, accusing Jews of everything from insolence, fraud and superstition to cannibalism, bestiality and child-sacrifice. So we have the apparent paradox of Denis MacShane heaping praise on a giant of the Enlightenment whom Denis MacShane would happily see arrested and jailed, were he alive and spreading such thoughts today.

The paradox is easy to resolve: MacShane is lying when he claims to support free speech and to stand with Voltaire, one of its greatest champions. Writing his review of Nick Cohen’s book – “there is no greater badge of honour” etc – MacShane was either ignorant of Voltaire’s hateful opinions or relying on his readers’ ignorance of the same.

Foul Frenchman

But the paradoxes do not end there. Nick Cohen, the author of the book on free speech praised by MacShane, is on record thus: “Racism, sexism and homophobia are foul because you cannot choose your skin colour, gender or sexual orientation” (see “Muslim Is Not A Dirty Word”). But Cohen’s hero Voltaire was clearly the worst kind of biological racist, claiming (among much else) that Jews are “born with raging fanaticism in their hearts, just as the Bretons and the Germans are born with blond hair”. Does this not make Voltaire as “foul”, ideologically speaking, as biological racists like Adolf Hitler? Voltaire was not a mass-murderer like Hitler, of course, but he would have been equally liable to the death penalty in the early Soviet Union, where antisemitism was a capital offence. This is hardly surprising, given the central role played in communism by men like Nick Cohen’s grandfather, who was, he fondly notes, the “mentor” of the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm “in the British Communist party” (see Cohen’s review of Hobsbawm’s Fractured Times).

Censorship That Matters

If communism had triumphed in Britain, we would have had men like Nick Cohen’s grandfather to thank for the uplifting of the working-class that followed. But we would also have had much less of the free speech for which grandson Nick is now such an untiring champion. Denis MacShane was not the only Cohenic comrade to heap extravagant praise on Cohen’s “timely polemic” in favour of this vital freedom. Here is more fulsome praise from a  Cohen buddy-booster:

You Can’t Read this Book. You can, of course. And you should. Cohen is right about everything that matters. … Cohen assembles a miscellaneous group of relatively recent censorship events, and makes a compelling narrative out of them. He writes about, among other such cases, the Rushdie affair, the hounding of the Indian artist M.F. Husain, the suppression of Sherry Jones’s The Jewel of Medina, the Danish cartoon “crisis”, the South Park abstention from the use of Muhammad images, the reception of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s books, the sentencing to death for alleged blasphemy of the Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi, and the subsequent murder of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, the Amnesty whistleblower Gita Sahgal, Fred Goodwin’s privacy injunction, the Trafigura toxic dumping case, the Rachel Ehrenfeld Funding Evil case, the Simon Singh “trick or treatment” case, and some prosecutions under the anti-terror laws. … Cohen is right that the struggle for freedom of speech is a political struggle. He offers as an example the mobilisation in support of Simon Singh, “the most successful British free-speech movement since the campaign 50 years previously against the obscenity laws the state used to prosecute Penguin Books for publishing Lady Chatterley’s Lover”. … Cohen celebrates Milton’s Areopagitica (1644) and Mill’s On Liberty (1859). His own book stands alongside them. (“Prescribed Reading”, Standpoint magazine, March 2012)

So who compared Cohen with giants of liberty like Milton and Mill? It was the British lawyer Anthony Julius, who is, like Denis MacShane, a dedicated campaigner against antisemitism. It is noticeable that, among the “relatively recent censorship” “that matters”, Julius does not include the two trials for “hate-speech” of the British National Party leader Nick Griffin in 2006 or the international campaign in 2007 against the Nobel Laureate James Watson, who lost a prestigious job after making pessimistic comments about Black intelligence. In fact, for Julius, Cohen and MacShane, censorship “that matters” seems to centre on Islam and “Islamism.” I would suggest that this is because all three men are neo-conservatives, firmly committed both to accepting Muslim migration and to waging war in Muslim homelands.

Friends of Freedom

Unlike Voltaire and Mill, who believed in free speech especially for their enemies, Julius, Cohen and MacShane believe in free speech only for their friends. They are not calling for the American First Amendment to be copied in Britain, because that would give free speech to the “foul” racists and homophobes who are presently gagged by Britain’s laws against hate-speech. In short, Julius, Cohen and MacShane actually side with the censors, not with Voltaire and Mill. Their political opinions are a rich mixture of lies, deceit and hypocrisy. But I repeat myself: I have already pointed out that they are neo-conservatives. The UK has lost free speech because of men like Julius, Cohen and MacShane, not despite them. If they are friends of the Enlightenment, I do not want to see its enemies at work in the UK.

Unfortunately, I see its enemies at work here whether I want to or not, because the UK has many superstitious, pro-censorship migrants from the Third World. Their vibrant contributions to modern British life are again the responsibility of men like Julius, Cohen and MacShane, who have tirelessly supported mass immigration and condemned opposition to it as “racist.” In his review, Julius notes that Cohen “deplores the illegitimate extension of arguments against racism to suppress criticism of religions.” It did not require great foresight or intelligence to know that “legitimate” laws against racism would sooner or later be extended to cover religion. Julius, Cohen and MacShane are either fools or rogues or both. But again I repeat myself. With friends of the West like the neo-cons, who needs enemies like the Islamists? We have both, of course.

I prefer slugs, myself.

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