Lost Battle: The Left’s Old Guard Defends Free Speech


Big names like Noam Chomsky, Salman Rushdie and J.K. Rowling claim the “intolerant climate” is averse to freedom of expression, but they are in the wrong age bracket.

The newest signatory of an open letter published in Harper’s Magazine – and the richest – is the creator of Harry Potter, Joanne Rowling, who publishes her works under the initials J.K.

At 54, she is also one of the main reasons for the recent manifesto signed by writers, academics and artists.

Noam Chomsky, 91, Salman Rushdie, 73, Margaret Atwood, 80, Gloria Steinem, 86, and Martin Amis, 70, are intellectuals from generations used to defending the right of freedom of speech to the death.

And everyone knows that the letter is something extremely opposite to the convictions of each signatory.

Rushdie has paid a high price for the kind of liberty that only exists in Western culture. He hid for years to survive the death sentence imposed on him by Ayatollah Khomeini for “blasphemy” against the Prophet Mohammed.

In the culture of intolerance and the “cancel culture” thriving on undergraduate and graduate campuses, especially in the Anglo-Saxon nations of the United States and England, the name of the game is to remove one’s ideological adversaries from the conversation and label them as “fascists” – a designation which has already lost its power and is being substituted plainly and simply by “Nazi.”

Not to mention “racist,” the insult du jour, which may or may not be combined with allegations of hate speech.

“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted,” write the authors of the open letter on justice and open debate.

Over the last decade, the left has drifted away from the front line of defending the freedom of speech.

The protests and boycotts which have pulled in the academic elite, have turned the political right into a persecuted and silent minority. As such, the left has ironically passed the torch of protecting free speech to the political right.

With the frightening complicity of leaders who have failed to support their institutions, “editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study.”

There are real and recent stories behind each of these grievances. The most frightening is perhaps the resignation of New York Times opinion editor, James Bennet.

As befit his job, Bennet published a column written by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton that defended the use of the National Guard and other military forces to control the vandalism, looting and arson associated with recent violent protests.

It should come as no surprise that The New York Times takes an opposing position to the Republican senator. But op-ed columns exist precisely to harbor points of views that are controversial or contrary to those of the editorial board.

With Bennet’s resignation, the op-ed column’s standing as a place for differing opinions has become an idea of the past – a sad concession from a newspaper with the history and the importance of The New York Times.

Rowling knew that she was stepping into a minefield when she referred to women as “people who menstruate,” an expression she created so as not to offend the radicalized transsexual movement.

She also dared to challenge the appropriateness of opening shelters for battered women to “people who do not menstruate” but who identify as women.*

She further objected to the use of hormones to alter the effects of the biological sex of adolescents, a decision that is made at a time in life when individuals are still discovering who they are, but carries lifelong consequences.

The use of masculinizing hormones is a striking social phenomenon in Great Britain, where two-thirds of youths who identify as the opposite sex, and who have access to medical procedures, are girls.

Despite her personal story as a woman assaulted by her first husband and her support of leftist causes, because of her controversial statements, Rowling was virtually lynched, including by the actors of the Harry Potter series.

Not to mention death and rape threats, a common occurrence in cases involving women.

“Identity politics are the biggest threat to culture of our age,” writes journalist Ben Lawrence in Telegraph with respect to the letter.

Identity politics is the nest where the snake’s eggs are hatched. In the name of social justice, it actively promotes the mass censorship, victimization, and blaming of those who do not identify as victims.

Lawrence brings up the example of the play “Fairview,” in London, where Black actors “ask the ‘white people’ in the audience to ascend the stage, so that they can experience the ‘bright lights’ of imprisonment in a more powerful Other’s story.”

And that all happened last year before the wave of insanities committed by protesters in the name of anti-racism, acts which pressured people to kneel or confess complicity with a racist system.

A study completed last year in England among university students found that 44% of respondents supported absurd decisions including banning feminist Germaine Greer from giving a lecture at Cardiff University (over the same issues affecting Rowling), and the University of Cambridge rescinding the fellowship of iconoclastic psychologist Jorden Petersen.

35% disagreed in the first case, 33% in the second.

The old guard of leftist intellectuals who signed the open letter, 150 names in total, waited a long time to wake up to the obvious reality: in the fight against sexism, racism and homophobia, an intolerant, ignorant and authoritarian practice has been established which has destroyed reputations and statues.

The approach taken was careful as well. Besides the inevitable jabs at Donald Trump, the writer who took the initiative in the open letter, Thomas Chatterton Williams, conditioned, “We didn’t want to be seen as reacting to the protests we believe are in response to egregious abuses by the police.”

Williams was interviewed for an article in The New York Times; but not until deep in the article does it reveal that Williams is Black.

And, therefore, a threat.

Anyone who deviates from the expected behavior of a victimized group will become the enemy of those claiming to defend the group.

*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, the quoted remark could not be independently sourced.

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About Keith Atchison 1 Article
NYC local. Work in biotech with passions for language, international and cultural relations, and cooking.

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