Monday, March 27, 2006

Did anyone challenge him?

The Harry's Place vacillations on free speech continued today, in characteristic form.

“Does anyone who attended Saturday's March for Free Expression in London have anything to say about it?” asks Gene, following up with a defensive remark about the “sneering” naysayers who didn't go. And, would you know it? Dave T stepped in with a report.

“OK. It might not have been the biggest rally I've ever been on,” admits Dave, although he understandably didn't want to produce a number, because a conservative estimate was perhaps five hundred. It would be unkind, in the light of this, to draw attention to the “Stopper Shortage” article on Harry's Place earlier this month, indulging in what might be termed “sneering” over only ten thousand anti-war protesters on the last march.

It would be wrong too to pick up on Dave's sudden belief that “free speech is a precondition for democracy”, and point out that he supported prosecuting BNP activists for exercising that right.

Perhaps more interesting, because it's new as far as I know, is Dave's defence of protesting with those whose beliefs you strongly disagree with. Any reader of HP will know that the hookup between socialists and fundamentalist Muslims is deeply frowned upon among the muscular left. And we know from Gene that going on a march with a man who has a possibly anti-semitic placard is also wrong, at least if the placard holder hasn't been “challenged”. “Did anyone challenge him?” cried Gene into the wilderness, back in June 2004, over a “chilling photo” depicting just this.

But when it comes to a free speech march endorsed by Harry's Place, well, that's different. “I will not let the dubious politics of some other participants dissuade me from supporting what are important, progressive humanitarian values," Dave endorsed Peter Tatchell saying, solemnly ignoring everything Harry's Place had said in the past about anti-war demonstrations.

As well he might, for the Freedom Association, who were invited to speak at the rally, have a long history of attacking the things that Harry's Place allegedly holds most dear. For instance, in the mid-1970s they acted as proto-Thatcherite strike breakers (she reportedly described their anti-postal union operations as the “best thing since Entebbe”). Of course, on the general rule that labour disputes are only of concern if they involve Iranian bus drivers, it's hard to say that Harry's Place would care. But if that's not enough, you have the campaign to break the boycott of apartheid South Africa, and similarly stringent views on Rhodesia and immigration.

So the obvious question about the Freedom Association speaker is: Did anyone challenge him? More generally, will Dave T and Harry's Place follow their usual path of flitting to whichever elevated principle most conveniently allows them to reach their predictable, preordained conclusion?

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