Caught on the net

What, if anything, should a moral, liberal-minded person think about the hacking of the infidelity website Ashley Madison? And by ‘liberal-minded’, please note, I do not mean ‘Liberal Democrat-minded’, for such a person would perhaps merely think ‘Can I still join?’ and ‘I wonder if my wife is already a member, though?’ and ‘But will I find anybody prepared to do that thing I like with the pillow and the chicken?’ Rather, I mean somebody who believes in the sometimes jarring moral precepts that ‘People should be free’ and ‘People should not be a bit of a scumbag’. Ashley Madison, you see, is a website claiming 37 million users worldwide

Censoring Jews

You might think that Jews, faced with a relentless campaign to ban their culture, would think once, twice, a hundred times, about instituting bans themselves. After they had thought about it, they would decide that, no, absolutely not, prudence as much as principle directs that they of all people must insist that art should be open to all. A good liberal idea, you might think. So good and so obvious there’s no need to say more. If you still require an explanation, allow me to help. You don’t try to silence others if you believe in artistic and intellectual freedom. You keep your mind open and the conversation going. Every

Feminism becomes more like Islamism every day

Here’s a tip for political activists: if your rabble-rousing echoes the behaviour and ideas of Islamists, then you’re doing something wrong. Consider the Protein World advert which — clutch my pearls! — features a photo of a beautiful, svelte woman in a bikini next to the question: ‘Are you beach body ready?’ Angry women, and probably some men, have been writing outraged slogans on these posters, scribbling on the poor model’s face and body, seemingly blissfully unaware that they’re following in the footsteps of intolerant Islamic agitators. In 2011, Muslims in Birmingham used black spraypaint to deface an ad for H&M featuring a woman in a yellow bikini. They were reportedly ‘offended

She’s wrong, but Katie Hopkins has a right to call migrants ‘cockroaches’

I know we’re all supposed to be spitting blood over Katie Hopkins’ Sun column about African migrants. In fact, anyone who isn’t currently testing the durability of their computer keyboard by bashing out Hopkins-mauling tweets risks having their moral decency called into question. Hating Katie has become the speediest shortcut to the moral highground in this slacktivist age, when people prefer to make a virtual advert of their moral correctness than to do anything so tough as try to change the world outside their bedroom door. And if you aren’t hating Katie, if you aren’t partaking in this orgy of competitive benevolence, what is wrong with you? And yet, I find myself

The Spectator at war: Censorship and mystification

From The Policy of Mystification, The Spectator, 5 December 1914: Let us say that we have not ourselves suffered from the Censorship at all. We have never submitted, and have never been asked to submit, any article to the Press Bureau. Such censorship as has been exercised in our columns has been the purely voluntary censorship which is exercised at all times, whether in war or in peace, by every editor who has any sense of public duty, and that remark, we believe, applies to the whole British Press, daily and weekly. We have, of course, constantly asked ourselves whether it would be wise on general grounds to make this

Podcast: Terror’s comeback kids and Steve Coogan, foe of press censorship?

Why do Iraq’s jihadists keep on coming back? On this week’s View from 22 podcast, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Freddy Gray (1 min, 29 sec) examine why groups such as ISIS have a habit of disappearing, losing their territorial gains and reappearing more deadly than ever. What can the West do, if anything, to combat the ISIS threat in Iraq? Are we going to see instability in the region for years? James Forsyth and Isabel Hardman (10 min, 29 sec) also look at the disappearance of hawks in Westminster and why Parliament is so reluctant to intervene in foreign lands. Does the ghost of Tony Blair and Iraq scare off MPs from voicing

Nick Cohen

Since when has Steve Coogan stood against censorship?

[audioplayer src=”http://traffic.libsyn.com/spectator/TheViewFrom22_19_June_2014.mp3″ title=”Paul Staines from Guido Fawkes and Evan Harris of Hacked Off debating Steve Coogan’s involvement with Index” startat=1508] Listen [/audioplayer]I have looked everywhere. I have Googled, and asked around. But I can find no evidence that Steve Coogan has ever taken the trouble to defend freedom of speech at home or abroad. I promised myself I would never again mock ‘luvvies’ in politics after I saw Tim Minchin, Dave Gorman, Robin Ince and Dara Ó Briain give up their time to help Index on Censorship’s campaign against Britain’s repressive libel laws. Steve Coogan did not stand alongside them. I have heard Sir Ian McKellen and Sienna Miller protest

Index on Censorship is thriving and defending free speech around the world

Index on Censorship defends free speech and debate for all – so we defend Nick Cohen’s right to write a blog highly critical of Index. The problem is, however, that what he wrote was wrong, both in broad outline and finer detail. As a consequence Nick threatens to undermine the very cause that he claims to hold most dear. Index is not ‘falling apart’ nor is it even ‘in crisis’. In common with many other organisations in the charity sector it found itself, last year, facing a shortfall in funding. There are complex reasons for this but one of them, ironically, may be due to the very opposite problem to

The Crisis at Index on Censorship

Index on Censorship, once home to the most important defenders of free speech in Britain, is falling apart. Seventeen full-time staff members in place when Kirsty Hughes, a former European Commission bureaucrat, took over as chief executive in 2012 have been fired or resigned. Among the recipients of redundancy notices are Padraig Reidy who was Index’s public face and its most thoughtful writer, and Michael Harris, who organised the lobbying to reform England’s repressive libel laws, the most successful free speech campaign since the fight to overturn the ban on Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the 1960s.  The board, headed by David Aaronovitch of the Times and filled with Matthew Parris

Queen Victoria with the naughty bits put back

Queen Victoria was the inventor of official royal biography. It was she who commissioned the monumental five-volume life of Prince Albert, a controversial and revealing work. She wrote most of the personal sections herself. She also published bestselling volumes, such as Leaves from a Journal of Our Life in the Highlands. She was a gifted and prolific writer, penning an estimated 2,500 words a day. When she died in 1901, however, there was no authorised biography. Instead, the decision was made to publish her letters. People tend to assume that letters are the truth but, as Yvonne Ward shows in this original and engaging book, selection is everything. The idea

Let’s call a ban on Katy Perry. Why I’m siding with the mad mullahs.

Call me a fruitcake, but I am all for Islamic censorship when it comes to Katy Perry. In the last few days, there’s been a terrible fuss about Perry’s latest song, ‘Dark Horse’, because the video for it features an Arabic man wearing an ‘Allah’ pendant, who is burned alive. A bunch of angry Muslims, led by someone called Shazad Iqbal from Bradford, have campaigned against the video on the grounds that it was blasphemous. They launched a petition calling for the video to be removed from  YouTube, and got more than 60,000 signatures. The video has now been edited to remove the offensive pendant, and Shazad has declared a victory

How the media has it both ways over the ‘Jesus and Mo’ cartoons

A reader sends me a card for sale in Scribblers in the King’s Road, Chelsea. It depicts two slices of cheese standing vertically on their thinner ends. On both, black beards and eyes are crudely superimposed, and above them two gold rings form haloes. The caption says ‘Cheeses of Nazareth’. The joke is pathetically bad, not least because, in order to achieve the cheese/Jesus pun, you have to have two cheeses, whereas there was only one Jesus. But my correspondent’s point is that the equivalent gag about Mohammed would provoke a storm, not only from some Muslims, but from much of the media. I recently watched an interesting example of

Look! Shakespeare! Wow! George Eliot! Criminy! Jane Austen!

Among the precursors to this breezy little book are, in form, the likes of The Story of Art, Our Island Story and A Brief History of Time and, in content, Drabble’s Oxford Companion to English Literature and Johnson’s Lives of the Poets. Other notable precursors are How to Read a Novel by John Sutherland, How to be Well Read by John Sutherland, 50 Literature Ideas You Need To Know by John Sutherland, Lives of the Novelists by John Sutherland and more in that vein. The tireless and compendious Dr Johnson — ‘the first great critic of English literature’ — deserves and receives a chapter to himself here, and it’s no

Can we trust the state to censor porn?

The most sweeping censorship is always the most objectionable. In principle, however, there is nothing wrong with David Cameron’s sweeping proposal that the customers of internet service providers must prove that they are 18 or over before they can watch online pornography. The rule for liberal democracies is (or ought to be) that consenting adults are free to watch, read and listen to what they want. It stops child pornography – because by definition children are not consenting adults – and it could stop children accessing pornographic sites. Children are no more able to give informed consent to watching pornography than they are to appearing in it – if ‘appear’

How social media helps authoritarians

Have you heard? Do you know? Are you, as they say, ‘in the loop’? When the Mail on Sunday said a ‘sensational affair’ between ‘high profile figures’ close to Cameron had ‘rocked’ No. 10, did you have the faintest idea what it was talking about? I did, but then I’m a journalist. Friends in the lobby filled me in on a story which had been doing the rounds for months. I even know which law stopped the Mail on Sunday  following the basics of journalism and giving its readers the ‘whos’, ‘whats’, ‘whens’, ‘whys’ and ‘hows’. (Although with most affairs the ‘whys’ are self-evident. It is the ‘whos’ and, for

Chan Koon Chung – banned in China

Chan Koon Chung’s previous novel, The Fat Years, was set in a gently dystopian Beijing of 2013, when a whole month is missing from the Chinese public’s awareness, and everyone is inexplicably happy. Since it first appeared in 2009, the novel has enjoyed cult success in both Chinese and English translation, even becoming, as Julia Lovell notes in her preface, a chic take-home gift from society hostesses in mainland China. It has shades of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, although the setting of The Fat Years may not be as brutal as either of those. Certainly, to read it now is eerie, so much has

Why is there such guff in the online comments below my articles?

What’s to be done about the online comments sections in daily newspapers? These (for those estimable Spectator readers who have yet to succumb to tablets, iPhones and computer screens) are the spaces that the online versions of newspapers and magazines provide beneath the articles they publish, for readers to offer (or ‘post’) thoughts of their own. Typically there is no limit to the number of responses that can be made, and a generous limit to the length of each response. Contributors may make multiple incursions onto the site, and answer or comment on each other’s posts. Quite often a kind of conversation gets going. Contributors’ email addresses are available to

The Spectator’s Notes | 21 March 2013

There is supposed to be a Leveson Part II, although everyone has forgotten about it. As well as telling him to look into everything bad about newspapers (‘Please could you clean the Augean stables by Friday, Hercules’), David Cameron also asked Lord Justice Leveson to investigate who did what when over phone-hacking. This was postponed because of the forthcoming criminal trials, but I mention it because it is a reminder that things are back to front. Normally when you have an inquiry, you first work out what happened and then you work out what to do about it. Leveson is the opposite, hence the resulting chaos. The problem is particularly

‘Lord Horror: Reverbstorm’, by David Britton and John Coulthart – review

As the son of the last British artist to be successfully prosecuted for displaying obscene paintings, I have some empathy with David Britton, the last person successfully prosecuted in Britain for publishing obscene literature. Unlike my father, who accidentally strayed into the purview of the police, Britton’s prosecution in 1992 was almost inevitable. His publisher, Manchester-based Savoy Books, was raided by the police with vindictive regularity between 1976 and 1997. Ironically, Savoy has often been reviled as much by the left for its lack of political correctness as by the right for attacking the shibboleths of authority. It embodies a longstanding tradition of non-conformist and essentially anarchist thinking in Britain

The View from 22 — the fight for press freedom and an EU problem for Cameron

What effect would any form of statutory regulation have on the press in this country? In this week’s cover feature, Nick Cohen writes that if the Leveson Inquiry recommends strong measures to curtail the press, they will not be practical thanks to the constant evolution of the media industry. On this week’s View from 22 podcast, Nick explains the problems of defining who exactly is the press and who are journalists: ‘You can’t say what a newspaper is and you can’t say who a journalist is. When I started in journalism, people used to say it was a trade, not a profession…that was true in theory but false in practice — you