This is the first post on my blog. A very similar article first appeared on AVFM. The original article was submitted on October 07, 2015 and published on December 1st, making some statements outdated at publication time. With the benefit of hindsight and commentary from AVFM readers, this is the updated article.
So, the lovely lady that miraculously still serves[i] as welfare, and diversity officer at Goldsmiths, University of London was charged for her alleged hate speech in #killallwhitemen hashtag. To be more specific, charges of sending a threatening letter or communication or sending by public communication network an offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing message. Some news sources also incorrectly reported that she was arrested, when, in fact, she was issued a summons. Someone who is familiar with the domestic violence meat grinder could be forgiven for not knowing that charges don’t always equal arrest.
The public erupted mostly in support of Bahar Mustafa, falling into two camps. There are those who supported her freedom of speech because they support her. And then there are those who understand S. G. Tallentyre’s maxim (often misattributed to Voltaire) “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” For the former camp many of their victories ring hollow. I think Brendan O’Niell ofSpiked said it best:
“They aren’t defending freedom of speech; they’re defending friends’ speech. And today’s various, distinct, disconnected calls to ‘let my friend speak!’ could actually damage rather that boost that most pressing cause of the 21st century: the fight for the right of everyone – literally everyone – to say, sing, write, depict and think whatever they like.”
There is no shortage of bigots who believe that Bahar Mustafa should not have been charged, because hate speech laws don’t work both ways. They exist only to punish the white heterosexual cis-gendered male, not to protect their manfeelz. Suzanna Moore of The Guardian didn’t hesitate to rally behind Bahar Mustafa and in defence of free speech.
“The issue is of free speech and how this is being undermined by this safe-space policy adopted by student unions. Superficially it is about being welcoming, inclusive and stopping far right, explicitly racist, speakers.”
Evidently, far left, explicitly racist speakers are ok with her. And yes, let’s get this out of the way: Bahar Mustafa absolutely is a racist.
She first became a news item after a BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) event she organized explicitly banned “white and/or male” attendees. Now, there is an argument to be made that minorities can have their own groups without being explicitly racist. But it is not the argument she made. Instead she responded that the very accusation of racism or sexism conceptually cannot be applied to her, because she is a woman of (very little) color.
“I, an ethnic minority woman, cannot be racist or sexist towards white men, because racism and sexism describe structures of privilege based on race and gender. Therefore, woman of colour and minority genders cannot be racist or sexist, since we do not stand to benefit from such a system.”
Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt. If Bahar intended to lay to rest the question whether she is racist and sexist, this statement achieved that goal splendidly.
But now, onto the second camp of Bahar’s supporters. Some, like Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos and aforementioned Brendan O’Niell, had shown that they understand what freedom of speech is. To believe in freedom of speech means precisely to believe in freedom of speech for the views you despise. They will get no argument from me on that point. However, they neglected to ask another, a far more uncomfortable question. Should we also defend freedom of speech of those who do not believe in freedom of speech? Should we defend freedom of speech of those who will not reciprocate and stab you in the back at the first opportunity?
Bahar Mustafa herself recently appeared in London Thinks event – a panel discussion on safe spaces and free speech. Needless to say, she wasn’t there to represent supporters of free speech.
What makes the timing of the charges against her so interesting is that it comes within weeks of two prominent feminist forays into censorship. First, Google Ideas invites a biggest bunch of online bullies and harassers they can find for suggestions on combatting online bullying and harassment. Then, two of those bullies, Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn have their voices heard at the United Nations to tell everyone how they are voiceless, and also, how women need protection from the evil words that lurk on the internet. Either the timing of the charges is a cosmic coincidence, or someone at Scotland Yard is a closet MRA with a great sense of humour.
This bring me to my main point. I’m not even completely sold on the idea that real hate speech should be criminalized. And to make things worse, the tern ‘hate speech’ is tossed around way too frivolously by the fainting couch brigades. Sending by public communication network an offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing[ii] message shouldn’t be a crime. Yet, under current British laws it is. I am against this law being used against Bahar Mustafa, because I am against it being used against anyone. This woman should not be charged, because Malicious Communications Act, 1988 should not exist, or at least heavily rewritten to remove criminal penalties for hurting people’s feelings. Those who rally for Bahar Mustafa, but not against this law are hypocrites of the highest order. By supporting them, we risk combining the worst of two worlds: hate speech for harassing a feminist and a free pass for unapologetic misandrist. The regressive, censorious pearl clutchers had missed yet another chance to recoil in horror at the monster they created. While #ISupportBaharMustafa, do not think for a second that I stand side by side with people who have selective appreciation for freedom of speech.
Bahar Mustafa has a degree in gender studies and media. In other words, she was defrauded of her tuition fees and did not receive an education. London’s finest is about to pick up the slack and teach her an important lesson on the value of free speech.
[i] Bahar resigned from her position on November 20th, over allegations of her bullying fellow student union officers. While the resignation is unrelated to these specific charges, the allegation of bullying is consistent with her overall behaviour.
[ii] Anyone who believes in freedom of speech, believes that offensive, indecent and obscene speech is protected. Some astute readers pointed out that menacing speech does not necessarily belong on the same list with the other three. While I am inclined to agree that outright threats are not protected speech, the word menacing is far too ambiguous to be a good legal standard there.