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Watch: an idiot’s guide to free speech

This emerged from a Twitter spat on the subject of the Stop the War Coalition conference, from which Owen Jones announced he would withdraw if Syrian nun Mother Agnes remained on the platform. But it is essential viewing also for anyone who contends that fascists should be given a platform on grounds of ‘free speech’. Follow Steve Doran, who presents an understandable and compelling case, on Twitter here


  1. StevieB says:

    Steve Doran takes no position on Mother Agnes, and so manages to answer the third rate question of “free speech or not” very effectively.

    Anxious to defend Owen Jones, she doesn’t even consider defending Mother Agnes. Mother Agnes is being subjected to a virulent campaign to prevent her speaking in the US and UK.

    Behind the campaign in the US are people who believe the US should bomb Syria, Her crime is to oppose that intervention, and seek a reconciliation process in Syria. A stance which places her life in danger by some of the most sectarian forces in the armed opposition.

    Anxious not to be tainted by the accusation of being soft on Assad, some left-wingers endorse this campaign. Owen Jones has been duped by this witch-hunt.

  2. Chris says:

    Free speech can only mean no restrictions on speech at all and I for one all for it.

  3. swatantra says:

    There should be zero tolerance for those that would impose restrictions on our freedoms if they got into power, like the fascists the EDL and the islamofacists. And there should be censorship of the internet and the media on people who are engaged in and trading in filth and amoral behaviour. Free speech, yes, but only so far, within the bounds of respectability and reasonableness.
    As for bombing, depends who they are bombing; its right to take out the Taliban and Al Quida, but its wrong to impose misery on a civilian population. Once again the Americans have got their wires crossed and would be bombing the wrong guys.

  4. Rod says:

    Swatantra: “its right to take out the Taliban and Al Quida”

    What do you feel about Cameron and many within the LP wanting to go in on the side of Al Qaeda in Syria?

  5. Robert says:

    As for bombing, depends who they are bombing; its right to take out the Taliban and Al Quida, but its wrong to impose misery on a civilian population. Once again the Americans have got their wires crossed and would be bombing the wrong guys.

    Of course they would counter that by saying if you bomb me I have a right to blow you up.

    What the fuck any of this has to do with free speech I have no idea.

    It’s funny how a speech on the internet about free speech will end up with the Tali ban.

    never mind

  6. Dave Roberts says:


  7. Dave Roberts says:

    Sorry, pressed the send button too soon. Living in a country which within living memory had no freedom of speech at all I find, as do my Spanish friends, the whole discussion pretty remarkable.

    It is a discussion which has gone on for years but until recently was always confined to whether or not people should get onto platforms with the far right in whatever guise it was appearing.

    I remember about six or seven years ago Lembit Opic, he of Cheeky Girls fame as well as being a Lib-Dem MP, coming under fire for initially agreeing to appear in a debate at the Oxford Union with Nick Griffin.

    There was quite rightly indignation from the anti fascist movement and he was ordered to step down by his party hierarchy. Opic of course wasn’t the sharpest knife in the Lib-Dem drawer and was basically after publicity but there are people who really can’t think things through as the young woman in the video clip which is the best exposition of the position to be taken that I have ever seen.

    By refusing to get on a platform with whoever does not mean you are taking away anyone’s free speech. I am sure that this nun will have been used by the Assad regime and she is free to speak on a platform of her own or the Syrian Embassy’s choosing with whoever is prepared to get up with her. Owen Jones is simply exercising his democratic right not to be on that platform.

    As usual the hysterics posting above are taking positions not on the rights and wrongs of the free speech debate but on their own particular take on what is happening in Syria in particular and the middle east generally. Separate the two.

    Personally I find Owen Jones an obnoxious little prat who patronises the working class when advancing his career with a very largely plagiarised book alleging that they have in some way been demonised by an unidentified group of people for unspecified reasons.

    I also recall very clearly the left demanding no platform for fascists if they were white but protesting against the fact that the leader of the Nation of Islam Louis Farrakhan was, and is, denied entry to the UK for spouting exactly the same racial hatred against the Jews because he was black.

    It would be quite good if there was a measured response to the situation as opposed to the silly comments we have had so far. When I translate some of the bilge that comes from the far left for friends, some of whom have spent time on the run and in Franco’s prisons they despair.

  8. Dave Roberts says:

    Just too add, I will engage in discussions either here or through my company website

  9. Rod says:

    Dave Roberts: “the hysterics posting above are taking positions not on the rights and wrongs of the free speech debate”

    Come, come now; there’s no need to get your knickers in a knot.

    For me, the free speech issue is not central to the debate. Indeed I see it as a red herring. And I’m not sure why Steve in the video has accorded attention to a peripheral and weak objection.

    Owen Jones continues to enjoy free speech. Jeremy Scahill continues to enjoy free speech and Mother Agnes continues to enjoy free speech. No-one has been denied free speech. And all, it must be assumed, are pro-peace.

    Jones’ and Scahill’s objections to Mother Agnes suggests she is or has been implicated in activities which have placed her, in their view, beyond the pale. It would be useful to know the detail of what motivates their objections – particularly when one considers the political diversity* of those who hold office within Stop the War and that it describes itself as a coalition.


  10. Dave Roberts says:


    Thanks for that but you still haven’t got my point. I will go further and say that if Jones and Scahill have got it completely wrong about the nun and she hasn’t in fact said things like the pictures of the children being gassed were fakes then they still have the right to not appear on the platform, it’s up to them.

    I have always taken the view that not appearing on fascist platforms was correct. That didn’t in any way prevent Nick Griffin or anyone else getting publicity and putting their point of view across.

    What those, or most of them posting above are doing is equating Scahill and Jones with people who want to support the worst of the Islamists among the opposition to Assad in Syria, they aren’t, they have simply taken a position which they are perfectly entitles to do. The fact that some people are accusing them of censorship is to be deplored.

    Having been involved in debates like this for more than forty years may I say that the video clip is the best exposition of the argument that I have ever come across and the style with which it is done is brilliant. Totally straight-faced and tongue in cheek. Great stuff.

  11. Rod says:

    Thanks for your reply Dave.

    Firstly, I can’t see anything at all written above that substantiates your claim: “What those, or most of them posting above are doing is equating Scahill and Jones with people who want to support the worst of the Islamists among the opposition to Assad in Syria” This claim, if it were being made, would be ridiculous, but it is not being made here.

    Anyway, Mother Agnes is free to say what she wants about the situation in Syria. I haven’t seen any evidence she may have offered in support of her claims so won’t comment on them.

    I agree, Jones and Scahill’s attendance is a matter for them.

    However, if Stop the War (I’m not a member) is a coalition then it is bound to contain people with a wide variety of views and possibly only one point of agreement: prioritising peace.

    So, to me, it seems a bit pernickety to object to the views of another speaker once a invitation to participate in a coalitional event has been accepted.

    I’m reminded of when I was active in the CND during the late 70s/early 80s. I often found myself working alongside Pax Christi (the Catholic peace group). I’m not a Catholic and find that I’m in opposition to many of the positions taken by the Catholic church but big deal – there was a greater priority. Indeed, when I was once inadvertently blessed by priest while on the way to a demonstration I was amused, not outraged.

  12. Dave Roberts says:

    Stop the War was and is, as far as I can see, a pretty much moribund organisation that was always under the control of the SWP in the same way that CND was always controlled by the Communist Party or its fellow travelers. There will always be well intentioned people in these organisations but it those who control them that must be looked at.

    The first thing is the misnomer of the groups. It certainly hasn’t stopped any war as CND didn’t, thankfully, manage to achieve unilateral nuclear disarmament.

    What concerns me is that decent individuals find themselves manipulated by the likes of John Rees who is on record as saying that dictators should be supported if they are anti imperialist, code for anti west.

    The decent left and there are many of them get themselves tarred with the same brush as the Lindsey Germans who openly ditched gay and women’s rights to get the Muslim’s on board in StW and Respect, openly said so and have paid the price when the two collapsed.

    Coalitions and popular fronts have always been problematic because as the history shows from Spain to the present they were coalitions and fronts provided the were run by the NKVD or the SWP.

    The difference is that present day differences of opinion are, fortunately, limited to discussions like this and that there are no secret trials and executions. We still don’t seem to have solved the problem of whether Owen Jones is stifling free speech. I don’t think he is. What does everyone else think or have you all lost interest?

  13. Rod says:

    Dave Roberts: “CND was always controlled by the Communist Party or its fellow travelers”

    When I was a member of the CND Joan Rudduck (now Labour MP and ex-minister in Blair’s government) was CND Chairperson. Leading Catholic peace activist Monsignor Bruce Kent was General Secretary. Neither were members of the Communist Party nor have they ever been. And nor have I. Indeed, in my branch there were Tories and also a large contingent of Quakers.

    But of course, at that time – at the height of the cold war – many who challenged the military-industrial complex were smeared with accusations of supporting communism/Russia and of being a ‘fellow traveler.’ Even highly decorated WW2 veteran members of Ex-Services CND had this nonsense thrown that at them. It’s all water off a duck’s back though – axe grinders grind axes.

  14. Dave Roberts says:


    I said controlled. Joan Ruddock was a figurehead and the strings were really pulled by the CP notwithstanding the presence of people like Bruce Kent and of course the Quakers will join anything.

    Still all water under the bridge as the West was proven to be right and the Soviet Block wrong as history has shown.

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