Thursday, 10 May 2018



‘I don’t agree with what you are saying but I will defend to the death your right to say it’. Whoever uttered that pompous line, he might approve of the big demo in Whitehall last Sunday. Because it purported to uphold Free Speech. A noble aim. Verily, a freedom to bash Islam, it transpired. UKIP leader Gerald Batten, Breitbart Raheem Kassam, the peerless MILO, the absurd Tommy Robinson and other marginal reactionary luminaries addressed the crowd. A rum affair, methinks.

First, freedom of speech. A sacrosanct principle. Because intrinsically linked to freedom of thought. OK, that great diplomatic shitbag (so Napoleon opined), Frenchman Talleyrand, said the purpose of speech was to disguise thought but that’s rubbish. All human communication would break down and civilisation collapse. A society of universal liars is logically self-contradictory. Orwell’s 1984 imagines a deterministic dictatorship in which language and thought are so manipulated by Big Brother that inner freedom has become impossible. Hence, free speech and thought are essential to liberty, to being human and not a machine.

Freedom of thought, though, still differs from freedom of speech because the latter holds even when people are not able to think. Idiots and ignoramuses cannot think straight but they still a right to speak. For example, people clearly ignorant of what a religion teaches, should not be stopped from giving vent to their non-knowledge. Some pagans believed that Christians indulged in cannibalism. False but I would still have maintained their right to say so. Similarly, Robinson claimed that Islam teaches killing people. As that stands, a statement based on woeful ignorance. Intelligent Muslims won’t mind a critique of their religion based on knowledge but that rules out rabble-rousing yobs like Tommy. However, for that and related assertions, Twitter has banned the gentleman for life. For ‘hateful conduct’. Censorship?

Censorship is hideous, serious. It already exists. Through their Prevent Strategy, the British government intimidates and spies on Muslims and other groups, to stop them from expressing their thoughts. You cannot enter a London Uni. today without being checked out like a potential criminal. Years ago I gave talks to Muslim Societies at SOAS, LSE and King’s, probably impossible now. Speakers have to be ‘vetted’ in advance. Students too have become censorious, intolerant, moronic. UCL Student Union even forbade the forming of a Nietzsche Society. (Superman is definitely non PC!) Cardiff students tried to ban feminist icon Germaine Greer for stating  the obvious: no surgical operation can turn a man into a woman.

Are there limits to free speech? A corny example is that you cannot shout ‘fire!’ in a crowded place, because of the panic and hurt that would follow. That bypasses the real debate, which is not crowded theatres but, to be frank, Islam. A religion which sometimes seems to challenge the status quo. Christianity used to be like that but…no more. Anyway, violence is said to be the criterion. No freedom to incite people to kill or rape. But here again, should a distinction be drawn between public and private? Students from Warwick Uni are being suspended for exchanging emails with jokes about rape. Were the messages public or private? If public, it is a matter of incitement. If private…a different affair? And why should jokes, even in bad taste, be banned? I sometimes privately tell my Muslim friends a wonderful Islamophobic joke. They laugh their heads off. Should I be arrested?

Second, the far right. Bizarre how one of its trademark is hostility to Islam. Odd because of the most famous ideologues of the European extreme right was a man I knew and about whom I have written a book The Italian traditionalist Julius Evola. In his magnum opus, ‘Revolt Against the Modern World’, Evola shows his admiration and praise of the Islamic religion, its spirituality, even the idea of jihad. The present mania by far-righters to attack Islam would strike Evola as imbecilic. Besides, the Right supposedly stands for conservative values, such as faith and family. Muslims in the West are certainly not stopping Christians from going to church. And the family, the fundamental unity of society, is assaulted in the West not by Muslims but from secular, liberal and feminist quarters. As I once wrote to Geert Wilders, it would make sense for the Right to ally itself with Islam, not to denigrate it.

The Catholic Church in the past was no friend of unqualified ‘free speech’. There was no freedom to blaspheme, for instance. So, Pope Francis’ recent strictures on that should not be a surprise. But they are. Because he suggested that if you offend a religion you should expect a blow! When a journalist asked him whether there were limits to verbal freedom – not just concerning the faith of others but also your mamma – to demonstrate what he himself would do, the Pope swung his arm around in eloquent gesture. Nuts, for a Christian? Yes, considering Jesus’ ultra-famous words about turning the other cheek. Alas, the truth is that Francis is a not a very bright Pontiff. Too bad.

The Extreme Right is not rising. That's a distraction. Racism wins you no acclaim or votes in a consumerist, liberal-democratic society. Brexit is the Right’s greatest achievement but that is against white Eastern Europeans, not brown or black-skinned people. The real extremism comes from the Centre, the pseudo-virtuous middle way embodied by the Corporation of London, the Monarchy, the bankers, the Tory Party, the media and such agents of the Evil One. Voila’, ecrasez l’infame!

Revd Frank Julian Gelli

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