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A Heretic's Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable

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There are other ways censorship hurts us, and society, more than speech does. Censorship dulls our critical senses. It infantilises us by imploring us to trust others to decide on our behalf what we should think about the world. It implicitly instructs us to suspend thought and analysis and instead let the wisdom of the more learned, of today’s secular shepherds, wash over us. Censorship is an invitation to revert to a childlike state, which makes it unsurprising that modern zones of censorship – Safe Spaces – so often resemble kindergartens for adults. Those spaces are a real, physical manifestation of the childish nature censorship asks us all to embrace.

A Heretic’s Manifesto - spiked A Heretic’s Manifesto - spiked

Prior to the English Civil War, Lilburne, then young and not well-known, had shown himself as willing as Tyndale had been a century earlier to suffer for his beliefs. In the mid-1630s, William Prynne, the Puritan controversialist, wrote a pamphlet titled News From Ipswich, in which he slammed a particularly intolerant and regressive bishop and took aim at the Star Chamber, too – the institution of royal control over public printing. For this, he was himself dragged before the Star Chamber in 1637 and charged with seditious libel. He was fined, publicly whipped, put in the pillory, had the tops of his ears cut off, and his cheeks were branded with the letters ‘S’ and ‘L’ for seditious libel. Remi Adekoya – author of It’s Not About Whiteness, It’s About Wealth – is the latest guest on The Brendan O’Neill Show. Remi and Brendan discuss the truth about racial inequality, the dangers of racial identity politics and how Africa can realise its potential. The European Parliament has long been committed to cutting Hungary and its prime minister, Viktor Orbán, down to size. Last month, MEPs drew up a long resolution that calls into question Hungary’s ability to manage a successful presidency. It was passed by the parliament this week.Consider this: what if Justice Besanko had given the thumbs down to the three papers? What if he had decreed in his infinite, jury-less wisdom, by his moral judgement and his moral judgement alone, that the claims about Roberts-Smith were not true? Would we have had to accept that as fairly dispensed ‘justice’ too, despite the chilling impact it would have had not only on the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age and the Canberra Times, but across Australia’s media landscape? Many are saying Besanko made the right decision, and I agree. But his power to make such a decision still chills me. It is an offence against public life, against democracy itself, when truth is determined by bewigged elites rather than by open discussion among the people.

The EU plot to humiliate Hungary - spiked

Australia’s libel laws, like England’s, are deeply illiberal. They’ve been described by one legal expert as the ‘most media-hostile laws in the common-law world’. Between 2008 and 2017, media organisations in Australia were dragged to the courts 300 times. And the claimant normally wins – in just 29 per cent of those cases were the defendants successful. Then there are the unseen impacts of libel law, the stories that are never published because editors understandably fear being sued and potentially destroyed. This is ‘ the chilling effect’, where ‘fear of a prohibitively expensive loss’ stops a news story at the very start. The three newspapers deserve praise for refusing to be chilled by this ominous, always-present threat.Most entitled of all are the interviewees who demand to know why there even has to be a discussion about gender identity. ‘Why can’t we just be accepted for who we say we are?’, is their plea. They may smile sweetly while raising this question, but a group of Scottish women’s rights campaigners reminds us that they are really asking women to allow men into all the places where they are most vulnerable. And while they’re at it, they’re asking women to give up their claim to the word ‘woman’. No, the slaughter of 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo offices in January 2015 was not officially sanctioned, as was Tyndale’s strangulation and Lilburne’s public torture. But it can be viewed as a violent expression of an official idea – namely, that it is wrong to give offence, including to Islam.

Get your signed copy of Brendan O’Neill’s new book - spiked

So, yes, words can be painful. They can be used as weapons. You can feel ‘ambushed, terrorised and wounded’ by them. But that pain is incomparable to the pain of the physical ambush of the Charlie Hebdo offices, and the pain of the grief and sorrow those deaths will have caused. Charlie Hebdo is accused of ‘punching down’. That metaphor of violence – punching – should induce shame in everyone who uses it given the real, barbaric violence the Charlie Hebdo staff suffered for their blasphemies. The barbarism of censorship outweighs the pain of words, every time.Or consider another great heretic of old, John Lilburne (1614-57). Lilburne was a political agitator. He was a Leveller during, and after, the English Civil War – that portion of the rebels that believed in a greater expansion of democratic rights than Cromwell was willing to concede. Lilburne coined the term ‘freeborn rights’ to describe the fundamental liberties we all just have, or ought to have. The liberty to think and speak for ourselves and to choose who should govern us.

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