‘Real names’ chill free speech….

The Huffington Post has recently announced that it is going to bring in a policy of only allowing commenters on its posts who use their real names. The idea, as I understand it, is to cut down on abusive comments and trolling – but from my perspective the policy is not only highly unlikely to be effective but it is short sighted and ultimately counter-productive. Indeed, ‘real names’ policies like this are likely to be deeply detrimental to free speech in any really meaningful form. Real names policies work, to a great extent, to help the powerful against the vulnerable, to exacerbate existing power imbalances and to further marginalise and alienate those who are already on the fringes. It is a huge subject, far bigger than I can do full justice to here, but these are some of the reasons that I think the Huffington Post – and anyone else who instigates a real names policy – are fundamentally wrong in their approach.

Making links to the real world

Real names can help to make a link from the online world to the ‘real’ world – indeed, that’s really the point, if you want to make people ‘accountable’ for their comments. If you have any kind of vulnerability in the ‘real’ world that can be very bad news. Anything you do online can emphasise that vulnerability – and put you at real risk. The risks are different for different people, but they’re real. For many of those people, the risks may well be sufficient to silence them completely – and it’s not just the ‘obvious’ people who might be silenced. There are many different groups who might need some degree of anonymity – these are just a few of the possibilities.

1) Whistleblowers

The role of the whistleblower has come under huge scrutiny recently – Obama’s apparent ‘war on whistleblowers’ has been hugely criticised. Whistleblowers in most forms would be crushed by the need to provide real names. The organisations about which they are blowing the whistle will find it much easier to find them and silence them – or worse. It is already very risky to be a whistleblower: requiring real names makes it far more dangerous

2) People in positions of responsibility

In some ways related to whistleblowers are those whose positions of responsibility would be compromised if their real names came out. Doctors, police officers, soldiers, teachers, social workers and so forth are just some of these – and they are people who can often give invaluable insight to important things in our society. Perhaps the best known online example was the Nightjack blogger – a police insider who provided a brilliant blog, winning the Orwell Prize for blogging in 2009. NIghtjack gave a warts-and-all portrayal of the life of a policeman, something he could not possibly have done if he had been forced to use his real name. Indeed, when, via illegal email hacking by a Times Journalist as it turned out (see David Allen Green’s piece here), his name was revealed, his blog was silenced. There are many others – yesterday one of the people I know on twitter reminded me that when they were operating as a prison chaplain they could not possibly have blogged or tweeted under their real name.

3) People with problematic pasts.

It’s not immediately obvious, but some people like to – and need to – operate online to escape a problematic past. Something they have done, or something that has happened to them, whether it be merely embarrassing or far more serious, could ‘catch up with them’ if they operate using their real name. This isn’t about rewriting history – it’s about being a able to make a fresh start. By enforcing a real names policy you deny them this opportunity.

4) People with enemies

This doesn’t just mean the kind of person you read about in thrillers or see on TV detective stories – it means people who have been stalked, it means people who have had arguments with former colleagues, it means people who have caused ‘trouble’ at work, or against whom someone has just taken a dislike. It might just be people with problematic neighbours. Forcing any of them to reveal their real names helps their enemies find them.

5) People with complex or delicate issues

The most obvious of these is sexuality – if we lived in a world where people did not get abused for their sexuality it would be great, but we don’t. For some people exploring whether or not they might be gay is a huge and delicate issue – and they wouldn’t even dare ask the questions they really need to ask if they were forced to reveal their real names. Sexuality is far from the only area where this kind of issue can raise its head – religion, politics, even such things as vegetarianism or liking particular kinds of music can be things that make people sensitive. Force real names and you stop them being explored.

6) People living under ‘oppressive’ regimes.

This much should be obvious – and it’s far from surprising that the Chinese government is a staunch supporter of real names policies, and has gone so far as to legislate in that direction. Express a dissenting opinion and you will be hunted down. However, as recent events have suggested, it’s not just the obvious regimes that might be seen as oppressive – and regimes change, and not just for the better. Put a real names policy in place under a relatively benign government, and a subsequent, more dictatorial regime will be able to use it.

7) People who might be involved in protest or civil disobedience

With protests in the UK about the badger cull looming, this issue will no doubt come to the fore. Already an injunction has been brought in to try to block most of the protests, and the government has announced that it is going to scan social media to try to ‘head off’ protests – and if people involved in protest have to use their real names in their online activities it will be far easier for the authorities to find them and crack down. For me, protest is a fundamental part of democracy. Already it is much more limited than it should be – and real names policies can curtail it still further.

8) Young people

The position for young people is complex. One of the characteristics of the life of young people is that there are other people in positions of power over them, whether they be parents, teachers or others. That makes you more vulnerable – if your teachers or parents find out that you’re saying things or asking things that they don’t approve of, you can be in trouble, or worse. It also makes it easier for people to disregard or override your views – you’re only a kid, your views aren’t worth listening to. The internet allows a degree of this prejudice to be overcome – people can be judged by what they say, not by how old they are. Real names policies suppress young voices.

9) Women

It would be great if women were not likely to be targeted for abuse, but as recent events have shown this is far from the case. It would also be great if all women were ‘strong’ enough not to worry about the risk of being abused, but some aren’t, and none should need to be. For some women, a way out of this – temporary, many might hope – is to use pseudonyms that don’t necessarily reveal their sex. This kind of a tactic can really help in some situations – and preventing it can silence some crucial voices.

10) Victims of spousal abuse

A special and particularly nasty case of this is that of victims of spousal abuse – people whose partners or ex-partners are violent or abusive often want to track down their victims. If people are forced to reveal their real names, they can be tracked down far more easily – with devastating consequences.

11) People with religious or ethnic names

Forcing people to reveal their names can force them to reveal much more about themselves than might be immediately obvious – it can reveal or at least suggest your ethnicity or religion amongst other things.  That can make you a target – and it can also mean that what you say is viewed with prejudice, ignored or abused. Real names policies make it much harder for people in that kind of position to be heard.

12) People with a reputation

Sometimes you don’t want to be judged by who you are, but by what you say – and this can work in many different directions. ‘Give a dog a bad name’ is one part of it – but it can work the other way too. JK Rowling was recently justifiably angry when it was revealed that she was the author of a detective story under a pseudonym – she wanted the novel to be judged for what it was, not because she was the author. That’s a dramatic example, but the point is much deeper – when you want to test out your views it can really help to write them anonymously.

13) People needing an escape from difficult or stressful lives.

In the current climate, this means a great many of us – we want to separate our online lives, at least to an extent, from our real lives. It is a liberating feeling, and can help provide relief from stress, and a chance to do something different. Again, this is crucial to real free speech.

14) Vulnerable people generally

There are so many kinds of vulnerability that it’s hard to even scratch the surface – and any kind of vulnerability can make you feel at risk of being ‘exposed’. That chills speech. It doesn’t have to be ‘serious’ to have the effect – even without an obvious vulnerability many people just feel more comfortable speaking out without fear of ‘showing’ themselves.

The risks and rewards of anonymity

Of course there are risks with allowing anonymity and pseudonymity – and there are some hideous anonymous trolls and abusers online – but there have to be other ways to deal with them. Better ways, with less of a chilling effect on free speech.

It’s easy from a position of power or privilege to think real names policies will work. I use my own real name online – but I’m in a position to do so. I’m safe, secure, privileged and lucky enough to have a job and an employer that supports me in this way. I have a feeling that many of those advocating real names policies are in similar positions – they lose nothing and risk nothing by revealing their real names. Not all people are in such fortunate positions. Indeed, many of those whose voices we most need to hear are not in that kind of a position – the categories I’ve outlined above are just some of the possibilities. Going for a ‘real names’ policy will silence those key voices.

On top of all of this, from my perspective, we have a right to create, assert and protect the identities we use online – and that, amongst other things, means we have a right to pseudonymity. The Internet offers us the opportunity to bring that right to bear. It’s what makes Twitter a livelier place to debate than Facebook – well, one of the things. If you want real debate, and real free speech, you need that liveliness. You need to let those who need pseudonymity find voices for themselves. Real names policies deny them this opportunity.

I hope the Huffington Post reconsider their position – and, more importantly, I hope that other groups don’t follow their lead.

40 thoughts on “‘Real names’ chill free speech….

  1. I’m a great fan of the anonymity card – as may be obvious by my avatar and I wonder that ‘real names’ is such a test of honesty. If my ‘real name’ were John Smith, it would be no more protective than calling myself Snufflegut but whereas a real name of Englebert Wilymouth would be much ‘riskier’.
    I started blogging using a pseudonym because I’m a social worker and while I didn’t write about people I worked with, I didn’t feel comfortable writing under my own name when working with people in vulnerable situations – and I have also faced some bullying/targeting/endless abusive emails (nothing particularly worrying to be honest but not something I found particularly pleasant) merely because I identified as a social worker (mostly a riff on the ‘child snatcher’ theme).
    But, I’ve also had a direct threat to me made. I doubt it was serious but yeah, I don’t really feel that comfortable with ‘real names’.
    What companies like Huffington Post don’t seem to ‘get’ is that not everyone with a pseudonym is malificient. A name is no more ‘protection’ but it seems to be something of people that exist in ‘tech’ worlds and don’t really have an idea of life beyond them.
    I never commented on Huffington Post anyway, to be honest, but I think it’s a really narrow-minded policy to take. I wonder the simple thought process that thinks it’s either necessary or useful. It excludes people who would have valid opinions to share.

    • Absolutely, couldn’t agree more. I was careful not to link my real name to my account here for similar reasons. I am a lecturer and wanted to be free to talk about issues of teaching and learning. Actually, I have not used my blog in that way. During term time I am too busy, and out of term time there are other pressing issues to discuss. However, the option is there for me. As for the Huff post … I have never commented over there, but the ability and right to be able to do so is part and parcel of free speach

  2. Hi. I disagree. I have a degree of profile because I am an edicationalist.I also blog and write comments on newspaper websites. I always use my real name. I think this is fundamental to having a libertarian approach to free speech. I think if you post something anonymously it has no value because you are not willing to defend your position. Free speech means saying what you feel passionately about and then being reponsible for it. If I misuse my free speech and say something libellous ( as George Monbiot did recently) then I have to face the music for that. If someone in the future discriminates against me in the future ( eg by not giving me a job) because they don’t like what I have to say then that is a sacrifice which I pay for standing by my views and my principles. I probably would not want to work with people who are intolerant of other opinions anyway.
    In relation to whistleblowers most organisations have whistle blowing policies which set out a mechanism for doing this. The problem with people making unattributed comments in the Internet is that there is nothing you can do with them. If they are false then a person or an organisation has been unfairly libelled. If they are true then you cannot pursue the issues which they raise because people will deny wrongdoing in the absence of a credible witness statement.
    I have often in my job as a social worker and as a lecturer found people who want to make unattributable complaints about other people. They feel that they are salving the consciences by telling me things but they then leave me powerless to do anything about it because I can to provide a witness or any evidence. Speaking up is not easy and if you can’t do it openly and with conviction then it is just so much hot air.

    • I do understand all of that – but for people in all the positions I’ve outlined it really isn’t as simple as that. In general, where possible, I use my real name – but not all people can….

    • “If someone in the future discriminates against me in the future ( eg by not giving me a job) because they don’t like what I have to say then that is a sacrifice which I pay for standing by my views and my principles.”

      That’s a cute theory, but there happens to be a depression on and some of us have to make rent.

      When there are sufficient well-paid jobs that the sack is not a threat and employers cannot afford to toss aside qualified applicants over ideological disagreements (and we have a sufficiently stable political assurance that this state of affairs will persist for the foreseeable future), then we can talk frivolously of being passed over for employment on the basis of professionally irrelevant associations or opinions. But so long as my boss can afford to not pay me longer than I can afford to not eat, I have every right to take such measures as seem prudent and reasonable to prevent him from sticking his nose into how I spend my time while I’m not on the clock.

      If HuffPo doesn’t like that, then I guess it’s no great loss.

      – Jake

    • “I always use my real name. I think this is fundamental to having a libertarian approach to free speech”

      Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a bit like saying “I know I am right but it is ok that you throw me in jail or murder me for pointing out this truth out because what matters is transparency”.

      Yeah right.

      Meanwhile out in the real world, people have a great many really good reasons for needing to be anonymous even if to your typical comfortable First Worlder, these reasons seem arcane or suspect.

  3. I’ve never done anything online anonymously or under a pseudonym, but I can understand why some people would want or need to. But if people are going to use that anonymity to make threats of rape or death then there has to be a method in place that can stop this.

  4. The most debonair actor – Archie McLeash – not the panache of -Cary Grant- or the wonderful lyrics of – Gordon Sumner – would we have had -Sting? If someone’s moral compass is skewed – a pseudonym won’t make it point ‘true North’! Thank you for excellent blog.

  5. Anonymity works – as I noted in a recent post, in science PubPeer.com is beginning to make and important contribution to self-righting becoming a reality, rather than hot air. Without the anonymity afforded by Pubpeer, most would be too scared to comment.

  6. I want to take back my comment about anonymous comments having no value. I saw Ermintrude’s name higher up and I realised that I always value her opinion on things. I sincerely hope I did not offend her. I suppose I don’t think of her as an anonymous poster because I think of her as Ermintrude.

    • Ermintrude is great – and she and others are part of the reason I’ve come to the views on anonymity that I hold today. I can see the value through their positions and situations.

  7. Persuasive arguments here.
    I use my real name – @donnchup in all I write but I understand how people in transitional stages of lifes and others, might need anonymity.
    There is also Wilde’s quote to consider – “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
    Civil society has to do a balancing act. On one side of the argument is Lorraine Gallagher, who has lost at least one daughter to suicide, anonymous users of ask.fm are suspected as prompters. Lorraine’s horrific case cannot be sacrificed on a free speech altar.

  8. There is always a trade off. If your pseudonym is well known and associated with a particular perspective then that online personal can be persuasive and even be considered an expert. With random comments from pseudonyms the problem can be that the opinion is disregarded. The fact that people leave their name and address makes petitions more powerful and varifyably authentic than they would be if people did not leave their real name.

  9. “Of course there are risks with allowing anonymity and pseudonymity – and there are some hideous anonymous trolls and abusers online – but there have to be other ways to deal with them. Better ways, with less of a chilling effect on free speech.”

    I think you need to answer your own question, because for me that is the problem when people make reasoned arguments against a proposal whose intentions they do not disagree with. It is not enough to object, you need to come up with alternatives that address your objections otherwise those who do not share them will just shrug their shoulders (in exasperation) and act regardless.

    Clement Attlee remarked that, “Democracy means government by discussion, but it is only effective if you can stop people talking.” Ideally, one would like people to move their own guillotine motions by coming up with solutions to address their own objections otherwise democracy ends up getting a bad name and providing cover for abuse. May be we need to decide what constitutes free speech and proceed from there?

    A chap who lives a few miles away from me, a Muslim a little younger than me, was interviewed on BBC local news about his reaction to the Charlie Hebdo killings. He condemned them and was resigned to the cartoons attacking his faith. He accepted the argument for free speech, but he said a tad wearily, although you have the right to spit on my doorstep, do you have to insist on exercising it? I do not have an answer to his point, but then I have no desire to exercise my right to spit on his doorstep.

    It strikes me that to complicate matters both anonymity and pseudonymity are not just the preserve of the underdog. Mr Putin has an office block full of people using just those cloaks to peddle his propaganda online across the world. One suspects that he is not the only one with such a chilling set up.

    • “although you have the right to spit on my doorstep, do you have to insist on exercising it?”

      If some people have been killed for doing so, then yes, I really *do* insist.

      Your Muslim fellow may be a tad weary but then so I am. I really have better things to do than stick cartoons of Mohammed on my blog to make an extremely important point.

      But there really is ONLY one way to stop me feeling the need to keep exercising that right, over and over again… and that is for certain Muslims to stop violently trying to prevent said exercise of said right. It will not take anything more than that.

      And I post those pictures not as evilhippo but under my real name: Perry de Havilland.

      http://www.samizdata.net/2015/01/mohammed-makes-the-cover-of-charlie-hebdo-again/

      • You obviously do not have better things to do though, do you?

        In your efforts to act against a tiny minority, you insist on launching an indiscriminate broadside against the majority. In doing so you may well make members of the larger group think they might as well throw in their lot with the minority, because you do not discriminate. Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb?

        You are not seeking to build bridges with that chap to achieve progress on this issue, but seemingly to provoke a negative response. How does that make you any different to the extremists?

        I would have more time for Charlie Hebdo’s stance if it were directed against the Saudi Royal Family, but I guess that might require real guts on their behalf? So much easier to be the bully and pick on the weakest in our society who have little or no control over the extremists.

        I have always distinguished between the IRA and the vast majority of the Catholic population of Northern Ireland. It would have been so easy, given the murders committed in my city to do otherwise, but to do so would have handed a victory to those seeking to create divisions that they could have exploited to increase support for their cause. The sectarian violence of Northern Ireland could so easily have broken out on the streets of Birmingham and it nearly did.

        We learnt from that painful experience and when Mr Gove came calling we stood shoulder to shoulder across community, political and religious lines to see off his Trojan ‘Plot’ allegations. ‘Bravely’ sticking cartoons on your blog shows an complete lack of empathy for the vast majority of Muslims who just want to get on with their lives. You seem desirous of ramping up confrontation rather than seeking ways of reducing it.

        I do not know you and, given your pointless posturing, I have no desire to do so. I do know people like that chap and so I will happily make common cause with him against extremists, however they choose to display that extremism. Have not some of the latter not hidden behind fake names to stir up hatred? Ultimately, intolerance breeds intolerance and violence resulting in more intolerance and violence.

        Try displaying a bit of empathy and putting your self in that chap’s shoes rather than indulging in an emotional spasm? May be then you will find some common ground and tackle the extremists together. Not as thrilling a pleasure as spitting on his door step, but, given time, it should prove much more rewarding for you, him and wider society.

        An Agnostic, an Atheist and a Theist Go Into a Café … http://wp.me/p4nKAS-8w

      • Ok, let me fisk this:

        >>”In your efforts to act against a tiny minority…”

        Yes, the ones who are killing people for expressing views they do not like.

        >>”In doing so you may well make members of the larger group think they might as well throw in their lot with the minority, because you do not discriminate.”

        If me saying and posting things makes them join with the Salafists and start killing people, then they are not ‘moderate’ Muslims, but rather intolerant Muslims, which was actually pointed out to me by a Kurd in rather blunt terms. As he put it, the ‘vast majority’ of Muslims do not give a rat’s arse if I post Mohammed cartoons on my blog because they are just getting on with their lives. The ones who *do* care enough to get violent are by definition intolerant, because they are refusing to tolerate me.

        >>”How does that make you any different to the extremists?”

        I have yet to kill anyone for merely saying or drawing things that annoy me. I find it remarkable I need to point that out to you.

        >>”I would have more time for Charlie Hebdo’s stance if it were directed against the Saudi Royal Family, but I guess that might require real guts on their behalf?”

        Guts? That requires no guts at all. Journalists in the west have been saying nasty things about the Saudi Royal Family for decades and none of them have been murdered for it.

        >>” ‘Bravely’ sticking cartoons on your blog shows an complete lack of empathy for the vast majority of Muslims who just want to get on with their lives”

        As stated above, the ones getting on with their lives will not care or even notice as they are not seeking reasons to be offended… they will tolerate my antics by ignoring me, just as I tolerate them by ignoring their daft religion, as all religions are.

        I shop in Muslim owned shops on North End road without problem all the time. I am an advocate of completely open borders and tolerant cosmopolitanism. The only people who are willing to get violent because I post cartoons are the ones who are not tolerant and thus who in return cannot and must not be tolerated. Is this so hard to understand?

        >>”You seem desirous of ramping up confrontation rather than seeking ways of reducing it.”

        Finally you write something that I agree with. Yes indeed, I think intolerant and therefore intolerable radical Islam needs to be confronted in no uncertain terms. I have no wish whatsoever to back down in the face of murderous provocations on their part.

        >>”Try displaying a bit of empathy and putting your self in that chap’s shoes rather than indulging in an emotional spasm?”

        Sorry but you are the emotional one here, and rather incoherent too. As I wrote earlier, I would rather do other things than rail against a preposterous dark ages death cult like Islam, but as they are the ones killing journalists in the west, and I live in the west, I really have little choice. That is what leads me to make common cause with incoherent left-wingers at Charlie Hebdo, people whose socialist views demonstrate only the most tenuous grasp of reality. But if they can be prevented from expressing their views, then so can I. What matters is not ’empathy’ but principle.

        As Ayaan Hirsi Ali put it: The more we oblige, the more we self-censor, the more we appease, the bolder the enemy gets.

      • “they will tolerate my antics by ignoring me, just as I tolerate them by ignoring their daft religion, as all religions are.”

        “I would rather do other things than rail against a preposterous dark ages death cult like Islam”.

        Thank you for coming clean on where you stand. You are using the cover of free speech, as a fanatical atheist, to justify your seeming hatred for a religion practised by 100s of millions of people whose only crime is that they practise a faith with which you fundamentally disagree. Incidentally, you do not have to go around killing people to be branded an extremist nor to be deemed to be giving unacceptable offence. The right not to be discriminated on the grounds of one’s beliefs is enshrined in the Equality Act 2010. You as an atheist are also covered by that right. Moreover, UK law now makes little differentiation between physical violence and verbal abuse either written or spoken.

        I am as opposed to your world view as I am opposed to any group of fanatics whatever their beliefs (and I include fanatical atheists like yourself in that number). I do not sign up to the idea that we in the West are an homogeneous (superior?) group facing out against the other, whomever they may be this week. We stirred up a lot of the hatred being directed against us. Only someone lacking in empathy would dispute that and take arms against such a sea of troubles without at least trying to find a peaceful form of engagement.

        We have been fighting against Islam since its founding and look where it has got us. Are you seriously suggesting that we continue with that conflict? If you are, I will happily pay for you and your supporters and the extremists on the other side of the argument to be dropped on an island to work things out between yourselves.

        Let me put it bluntly for you. I have no desire or intention to die for your beliefs and principles in a war to which I have not signed up. In addition, if you exercising your rights threatens my safety and that of others then I will, regretfully, accede to your rights being curbed. Such an approach was adopted towards Oswald Mosley during World War Two. The appeal of interring the extremists on both sides of the argument is growing in appeal!

        One’s rights as an individual are sacrosanct until the exercising of those rights interferes with the rights of others. At that point, society has to arbitrate as to whose rights on such occasions take precedence.

        You will not persuade people of the value of your principles, unless you at least try to look at the world through the eyes of the man or woman on the other side of the table. To do otherwise puts you in the camp of the likes of the British Nationalist Party, the National Front, the United Kingdom Independence Party, the English Defence League, Britain First, Class War, the Socialist Workers Party and the Revolutionary Communist Party.

        “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” – Mahatma Gandhi.

        To return to the point of Paul’s thoughtful piece, I agree wholeheartedly with his concerns about the groups that need protecting, but as they are being increasingly threatened now and sometimes subject to a level of verbal abuse unacceptable off line (and which is forcing them off line) then we do need systems in place that protect those people whilst allowing them and others to practise their right of free speech. My response to Paul was that it is not enough to say that is what we want, as wishy washy liberals, but to come up with proposals to achieve that aim.

      • >>”Thank you for coming clean on where you stand.”

        Yes, I stand for tolerating people who will tolerate me, and not tolerating the ones who want to kill me or use the force of law to shut me up. Far from being a ‘fanatical’ atheist, I am a tolerant atheist, willing to tolerate the ludicrous beliefs of others as long as they tolerate me.

        I will not stop you praying to your invisible imaginary friend, because I could not care less. To me it is no more or less weird than willingly watching an Adam Sandler movie … but then kindly do not try and stop me drawing pictures of your invisible imaginary friend or his worldly ‘prophet’. You speak of empathy and tolerance, but your ideas suggest you lack both yourself.

        I do not hate muslims, I just hate their ‘mother lode of ideas’ religion. The only *people* I hate those who want to kill or use force against me.

        >>”We have been fighting against Islam since its founding and look where it has got us.”

        Yes, we do not live under Sharia law in the west, that is where it has got us.

        >>”Are you seriously suggesting that we continue with that conflict?”

        Yes, and fortunately a lot more people agree with me than you.

        >>”Let me put it bluntly for you. I have no desire or intention to die for your beliefs and principles in a war to which I have not signed up.”

        Oh but you have indeed signed up for that war, you are just not on the same side as me or indeed anyone who values liberal tolerant cosmopolitan modernity. You make that clear when you write the following…

        >>”In addition, if you exercising your rights threatens my safety and that of others then I will, regretfully, accede to your rights being curbed.”

        So clearly you *have* taken sides in the war and wish to use force to impose views that are actively hostile to tolerance (so how are *you* any different to the salafists in that respect?). If there is an extremists here, it is you.

        It is like saying if women wearing short skirts attract rapists into your neighbourhood and thereby put you and others at risk, then regretfully you will accede to women’s rights to wear short skirts being curbed. Simply put, you advocate legal Dhimmitude.

        You wish to see force used to stop me expressing my views because others choose to be offended by them. Clearly you are no pacifist and neither am I, so spare me the oh so reasonable protestations of how empathic you are. You are as empathic as a boot to the face of whoever inconveniently dissents, even if they do not dissent violently. I wish to publish pictures, you wish to use force to not allow me to do that. You would lock me up because of cartoons. Which of us is the extremist again?

        I am neither inclined to capitulate to intolerant Islam, who will not brook criticism or even disdain, nor to intolerant collectivists such as yourself either. And I know a lot of lefties who I regard as utterly benighted on most issues who, on this, completely agree with me, and not you.

      • I am an agnostic so I say a pox on both your houses. I too am intolerant of the intolerant, but not just of one side in this clash of ‘civilisations’. I do not buy into the you are either with us or against us line.

        No one has the right to shout fire in a packed theatre wherein there is no fire. You want to make a difficult situation violent and bloody by your actions. I am entitled to ask you to be charged with inciting violence. You may then have your day in court to justify your actions.

        The reference to rape is insightful, given that it is a solution peddled by our right wing media (and not one I advocate). I find those aspects of sharia law applying to charitable giving to be highly commendable. If only Christianity had not turned its back upon similar injunctions perhaps it might not have declined as much as it has in the United Kingdom.

        Most people do not share our views, because they feel that these matters, rightly or wrongly, do not impinge upon their lives. They will, for example, probably only discover the relevance of the Human Rights Act to their lives when it is no longer there for them.

        I have no doubts that you would take away my civil liberties from me, without a qualm, to more effectively prosecute your war as, of course, would the other side. I will take up arms, but against both of you. My country right or wrong, or whatever you see it as in 2015, is so 19th Century and a symptom of another divisive disease, blind, unthinking nationalism.

        I find your foaming at the mouth ranting diverting, your very personal definition of “liberal tolerant cosmopolitan modernity” as a goldmine for any half way decent analyst and this line, “Far from being a ‘fanatical’ atheist, I am a tolerant atheist, willing to tolerate the ludicrous beliefs of others as long as they tolerate me.” beyond parody.

        Are you, by any chance, Frederick Forsyth?

      • Others might conclude that your invective laden ad hominem replies indicate a paucity of substantive argument. Might I suggest you try to be less indignant and more focused on what is actually being written.

        >>”The reference to rape is insightful, given that it is a solution peddled by our right wing media (and not one I advocate).”

        I explained why it *is* no different to what you advocate. If some action triggers other people to misbehave, you advocate banning the triggering behaviour. Cartoon of Mohammed or short skirts, that is the principal underpinning what you support. Throw a wobbly and it puts you in control.

        The charity thing is an utterly irrelevant digression and yet somehow I am the one accused of ‘diverting’.

        >>”No one has the right to shout fire in a packed theatre wherein there is no fire.”

        Charlie Hebdo and Jyllands-Posten prove there is a clear and present danger to freedom of expression. You are actually arguing that no one has the right to shout fire when there actually *is* a fire.

        >>”I have no doubts that you would take away my civil liberties from me”

        Really? In what way? I could not care less what you say, what you draw, who you have sex with, who you do business with, who you marry, or who you associate with. You can ride naked down Oxford Street on a moose singing Danny Boy or chanting Hare Krishna for all I care. So what civil liberty is it that you think I wish to take away from you? As long as I do not have to pay for it, I am really not bothered what antics you get up to.

        >>”a symptom of another divisive disease, blind, unthinking nationalism”

        You really do need to read what you are replying to, rather than replying to what you would like to imagine was written. I will pray to the Flying Spaghetti Monster on your behalf that whatever you do for a living it does not involve contracts.

        Perhaps you missed the bit where I said I favour open borders and cosmopolitanism? I must be the worst nationalist ever. I just oppose murdering people who draw things, and think appeasing the murderers by stopping people drawing things (what in less mealy mouthed days was called ‘surrender’) is a very counter-productive way to deal with such problems. If you cannot exercise a right, if someone else has a veto over it because they find it ‘icky’ and it makes them homicidal, then you do not have that right. Moreover it demonstrates that killing people works.

        And if you are capable, please explain how my wish to publish cartoons vs. your wish to use the force of the state to prevent expression of opinion, indicates a lack of empathy and tolerance on *my* part, as opposed to your part? After all, I am willing to tolerate your expressions of whatever but you would like the law to not tolerate mine. And please, no need to waste pixels with indignant harrumphs about how non-empathic or beyond parody (without actually saying why) I am… if it makes you happy I will stipulate to that as a given if it will get you to focus and stop spluttering.

        Perhaps you are confused what ‘tolerance’ means. Hint: it is not the same as ‘acceptance’ or ‘respect’, for it requires neither. I accept things I agree with, I tolerate things I disagree with. And by tolerate, it means I do not try to use force to prevent. It does NOT mean I will not ridicule or criticise or mock. And if that causes someone to try and kill me or lock me up, then they, not me, are the intolerant ones who must not be tolerated. And I also detect a remarkable lack of empathy towards how being stifled by the state might make assorted non-Muslims feel.

        Breath deeply before replying and read beyond your trigger words.

        >>”Are you, by any chance, Frederick Forsyth?”

        I am very flattered you think so, if you had a less florid personality it would be enough to get you laid.

      • My work here is done, given Frederick Forsyth makes Genghis Khan look liberal!

        Which state is stifling you and elevating the rights of Muslims over your own? Where is the fire in the United Kingdom? Does your deity, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, require unswerving devotion? Are you, as most truly religious people are, subject to moments of doubt? Why is it that some of the most intolerant, offensive people on the internet are those most convinced that they are right? Do you believe in original sin? Did you need me to explain what an agnostic is?

        Were there a fire of the type you describe and if I objected to your proposals to tackle it, as I will with regards to the new measures being proposed by the Government, what would your reaction be? Would I, in your war, be allowed the status of a conscientious objector? Or would I find my liberties circumscribed? Would I be regarded as a fellow traveller and/or Fifth Columnist by a McCarthy style tribunal?

        Incidentally, only the Government backing off over the Trojan ‘Plot’ did not see me on a public platform with Muslims and non Muslims opposing the efforts of people, sharing your views, to make the lives of children from some of the poorest areas of England even more difficult than they already were. A sign, by the way, of how truly cosmopolitan Birmingham is that such an alliance was formed so quickly under the leadership of the former leader of Respect.

        Criticism of hypocrisy is one thing, but ridiculing and mocking quite another. You are a white male and, therefore, won the lottery of life at the moment of your birth. Forgive me for thinking that others, Muslim women for example, are entitled not to be mocked or ridiculed by people like you. You are, sir, seeking to make out that your bullying is in some way a sign of virtue.

        Those who mock and ridicule people in the street, as is the case with an ever increasing number of people with disabilities, take the line that whilst sticks and stones may break bones their language hurts no one. The law and wider society disagree. There is a point beyond which your exercising of your freedom of expression becomes anti-social behaviour and thus degrades the rights of others.

        If you want to fight Islam then there are planes leaving every day for the Middle East. Go and fight with people who can fight back rather than picking on people who have enough to do to keep their heads above water, quite often purely on the grounds of the colour of their skin. Hence my charge, that acting like a bully, indicates a lack of empathy.

        You brought up sharia law in your previous comment. I indicated that whilst their aspects of it to which I strongly object and would never accept being approved of in the UK or continued with elsewhere, there are aspects of it which I admire. I repeat, there are aspects of sharia law which I do not and will never respect. I do respect other points of view and the rights of others to hold them, partly because I lack the certainty of your faith. It is those with such certainty who are responsible for much that afflicts society.

        I know plenty about contracts and the uses and abuses of language. I can navigate a social security claim form with ease!

      • >>”Were there a fire of the type you describe and if I objected to your proposals to tackle it,”

        You have already objected to my proposal. My proposal is stark in its simplicity: stop hindering free speech and let civil society sort it out. That is it. That is all we need. Nothing else. No GCHQ, no Hate Speech laws, no MI5. And you do indeed object to my proposal for your views are very authoritarian.

        >>”as I will with regards to the new measures being proposed by the Government, what would your reaction be?”

        My reaction is what you see right now. To oppose your desire to see liberty repressed for fear of the violence of others. Unlike you, Je Suis Charlie. As for the government, they are already closer to your thuggish views on freedom of expression than mine.

        >>”Would I, in your war, be allowed the status of a conscientious objector?”

        But you are nothing of the sort. You are arguing for legal Dhimmitude, so far from being conscientious objector in this domestic battle of ideas, you have very much picked a side.

        >>”Or would I find my liberties circumscribed? Would I be regarded as a fellow traveller and/or Fifth Columnist by a McCarthy style tribunal?”

        Ah there you go again, reacting to things you imagine In wrote but never did. Where have I suggested the violence of law be used to limit what you do and say? You on the other hand have explicitly stated you wish the state to shut me up. A tad hypocritical for you to play the victim card methinks.

        >>”Criticism of hypocrisy is one thing, but ridiculing and mocking quite another.”

        No they are the same thing. I, unlike you (and Mr. Cameron), am a free speech absolutist. I support the right of Muslims to march down the street carrying signs saying “Behead all those who insult the Prophet”. But I also demand the right to ridicule the people doing so.

        >>”Forgive me for thinking that others, Muslim women for example, are entitled not to be mocked or ridiculed by people like you”

        Unlike you, I think it is a good thing to point out that Islam makes women subservient chattels whose witness is worth half a man, and to use ridicule against those who claim Islam ‘respects’ women: and if some muslim woman are offended. I really do not care, because some other muslim women are not so happy with their servitude may benefit from socially denormalising their subservient status. Those who object to my views are welcome to ignore me.

        >>”You are, sir, seeking to make out that your bullying is in some way a sign of virtue.”

        And you pretend that your silent acceptance in the servitude of Mulsim women is a virtue. I suspect, but it is only a conjecture of course, that your motivation is cowardice in the face of male muslim violence rather than respect for Islam (and we have already established you care nothing for tolerance).

        >>”I know plenty about contracts and the uses and abuses of language. I can navigate a social security claim form with ease!”

        Ah well then you do indeed win, not only are you willing to see the state silence me, you do so whilst living off my money.

      • I am, as it happens, of independent means. I do not think that people on social security are living off anyone, but then I spent most of 27 years working with people on social security so I have a great deal of respect and empathy for the conditions in which they live.

        I worked mostly with people on Jobseeker’s Allowance, 3% of the total of today’s social security budget (including pensions), and the vast majority of them were looking for work so I do not regard Beneftits Street as an accurate portrayal of people in that situation.

        Praying in aid Muslim women (and shedding crocodile tears) to support your stance may make you appealing to some lefties, but it does not help Muslim women, given my experience as an Inner City Officer. People, including Muslim women, seeking help need support and encouragement not attacks on their faith that give those seeking to hold them back another stick with which to beat them. In some cases, as Salma Yaqoob has pointed out, there is growing evidence of people from her background circling the wagons, because their efforts at integration (as opposed to evolving into coconuts) is bringing them no peace from vicious mockery. Unsurprisingly, such people face charges of acting like collaborators. Collaborators who receive no reward for their actions.

        If I think the first duty of the state is to protect, in particularly, the weakest of its citizens from harm then, yes, I am an authoritarian, Forgive me for thinking that social Darwinism has had its day. Forgive me for thinking that libertarianism and a devil (or even Dawkins) take the hindmost would enthrone the strong at the expense of the and make the weak even weaker than they are today. Forgive me for thinking that letting “civil society sort it out” would make a reality of Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood vision.

        I would rather GCHQ, MI5, MI6, our armed forces, equality legislation et all were not needed, but whilst there are enemies, foreign and domestic, and people who discriminate against others on the grounds of:

        age
        being or becoming a transsexual person
        being married or in a civil partnership
        being pregnant or having a child
        disability
        race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
        religion, belief or lack of religion/belief
        sex
        sexual orientation

        then alas they must remain, but with much greater oversight than now. Some activities are poorly undertaken and supervised and/or exceedingly overly intrusive whilst others, such as equal opportunities are not enforced enough. The Real IRA still exists and has exploded bombs recently. I do not want your ‘civil’ society sorting them out, because that way lynch law lies and we came close to that in Birmingham after the pub bombings.

        Rightly or wrongly, there are still people, many of them relatives of those who were murdered and maimed, who want the full powers of the state to be used to catch those who planted the bombs at the Tavern in the Town and the Mulberry Bush. Many of them, incidentally, are not lefties by any means. There are arguments for and against putting serious efforts into catching those murderers, but the greater good may be served by not going out of one’s way to do so lest such actions provoke serious, even violent reactions.

        The underlying argument you seem to be making is that, in your view, your unfettered right of free speech should walk hand in hand with a state that severely weakens its capacity to defend that right. In other words, you accept that the price of your unconstrained freedom may well be the loss of your own life and/or of others. It is certainly an interesting viewpoint.

        I have, with regards to the need for equal opportunity legislation, met people who discriminate. As much as was my duty and as much as the law allowed, I acted against them. I did so in the interests of those being disadvantaged wider society and, because I sincerely believe in equal opportunities for all, despite that right not necessarily being sanctioned by a totality of theists or atheists and in some cases being opposed by them. I warned a male employer about discriminating against men when recruiting pickers and packers and on another occasion a body helping out Muslim women that whilst being a woman was a Genuine Occupational Qualification, that having also to be Bangladeshi in descent was not, even taking into account the understandable language requirement for communicating with women with little or no English.

        Libertarians oppose equal opportunity legislation, in part because they confuse it with equality of outcome and because they fear losing that which they have gained through means other than hard work. Libertarians see no need for laws to level a playing field that they do not think to be skewed in the first place.

        I am reminded of an excellent episode of Old Harry’s Game, which satirises all religions and none (so atheists get their smug sense of superiority laughed at too), wherein Satan consigns a Muslim fundamentalist and a Christian fundamentalist to the same cell. After a while, they discover they have a lot in common …, but then that goes for anyone with a closed mind, convinced of the rightness of their views.

        I am also reminded of someone like you with whom I used to work. An educated, white misogynist male, from an affluent background, he complained that Goodness, Gracious Me was racist, because he would not be allowed to make jokes like those in the programme. My colleague, a woman of Afro-Caribbean descent observed to his face that he was incapable of rising to the challenge of writing such comedy, lacking as he did any evidence of a sense of humour. Consequently, he was not going to ever be in a position to test out his hypothesis. Meanwhile, myself, a working class chap from the wrong side of the tracks (and still one of the most deprived wards in England), and the fourth member of our team, a female lone parent of Afro-Caribbean descent, fell about laughing. There is room for mockery when the oppressed masses get to speak truth unto power, in that case the deputy to our team leader.

        That chap’s innate sense of superiority and entitlement nearly got him a tongue lashing from my once and future boss, an up from the ranks no nonsense woman, who significantly outranked him. The last thing you ever did to her was to condescend. Alas, I had to dampen down her fires as at that moment in time we needed him on our side.

        Dogmatists do seem to find congenial company with those for whom they are a mirror image. The libertarians of the Hard Right wants a withering away of the state as do the anarchists of the Hard Left. Neither have much time for anyone who disagrees with their views, untroubled as they are by any measure of emotional intelligence and the fact that the world is cloaked in shades of grey. i like to think it is all the colours of the rainbow. The pessimist may lie on his death bed, convinced he has been right whilst the optimist may spend the last few precious minutes of her life gravely disappointed, but, as there is no after life, then ceteris paribus the optimist will have had a better life than the pessimist. And, if there is a heaven then the pessimist may have have a few questions to answer before getting in.

        Voltaire whilst on his deathbed, was asked to renounce the Devil. He remarked, it is said, “This is no time for making new enemies.” One does not have to be on one’s deathbed to follow such sage advice. One need not make enemies defending the weak from trolls, whether online or not, because, unless the trolls learn the error of their ways, voluntarily or otherwise, they already are one’s enemies and the enemies of liberty, equality and solidarity. I put the question again, how we may do what Huffington Post is seeking to do without going down the visible real names route?

      • No point in replying at length to that, so I will just say I think it is you who are the one shedding crocodile tears. Muslim woman live subservient lives *because* they are Muslim, so squeamishly refusing to “attack their faith” is refusing to attack the very basis of their oppression. You would deny braver people than you the right to challenge to fight the battle of ideas for fear of the violence of others.

        And to paraphrase Twain, I see a lot of feeling going, on with talk of empathy and emotional intelligence, but not much thinking about the consequences of letting sleeping dogs lie. But then unlike a Muslim women, I doubt you are chained to one.

        But being a self-described authoritarian, you have no tolerance to test

      • You would destroy the village (with many, if not most of its inhabitants still within it) in order to save it? You are not being brave by saying every Muslim man is a dog, because he is a Muslim and that every Muslim woman is subservient, because she is a Muslim. As neither is true, you are unlikely to attract much support for your campaign, in particular from liberal Muslims, men and women, seeking to accentuate the positive aspects of their faith and eliminate its negative aspects. You want to show how brave you are then head out to Syria then and pick on someone of your own size rather than ‘bravely’ fighting for the right of others to anonymously bully and troll online.

        “You would deny braver people than you the right to challenge to fight the battle of ideas for fear of the violence of others.”

        I do not see the publication of cartoons mocking Islam as forming any part of a battle of ideas to change hearts and minds unless you see yourself as a latter day Torquemeda, committed to forcing Muslims to convert to atheism (or face the consequences)? Given your negative views and lack of positive ideas and approaches with which to entice people away from Islam, one suspects your brand of atheism is very much a minority cult? One further suspects you think the British Humanist Association (are you a member?) to be a bunch of namby pamby, ineffectual liberals? They do espouse that humanists should:

        Think for themselves about what is right and wrong, based on reason and respect for others.

        Find meaning, beauty, and joy in the one life we have, without the need for an afterlife.

        Look to science instead of religion as the best way to discover and understand the world.

        Believe people can use empathy and compassion to make the world a better place for everyone.

        Plenty of trigger phrases to elicit a Pavlovian response, eh? I mean best way … What are they thinking, surely it is the only way? Except that would leave out most of the arts such as poetry from the quest, would it not? And, as science has yet to discover atoms of justice and mercy then a degree of belief in them is required for them to exist, is it not? I can sign up to the four points above without a qualm or caveat. However, being an agnostic, I just can’t be arsed, as we say in these parts.

        Were publishing cartoons and similar behaviour a way to change and win hearts and minds then surely Operation Rolling Thunder would have successfully changed hearts and minds of committed (and uncommitted) communists by love bombing them into re-unification with South Vietnam on terms agreeable to the US Government? As it was, 2.7 million Vietnamese died during the latter stages of the war of liberation from Western imperialism and only 60,000 US citizens suffered the same fate, not more than two years of deaths on the roads of the USA in the 1960s. Hollywood has managed to present the war as being fought by our brave boys against the wrong headed communists. Still, at least the latter were atheists, eh?

        Stalin had his kulaks; Hitler, the Jews; McCarthy and Hoover, domestic communists and today, you and Hollywood have the Muslims. Yesterday, the only good commie was a dead one. Today, the only good Muslim seems, in your opinion, to be one who either renounces his or her faith or dies? What is it about some of those who argue for the rights of individuals that they regard those whom they feel to be ranked against them not as individuals, but at best stereotypes? What bogeymen would you pick to rail against, if there were no Muslims? Lefties?

        Incidentally, Hoover’s obsession with a tiny group of domestic communists blinded him to the growth of the Cosa Nostra which has been described as a state within a state. He allocated 100s, if not 1000s of agents in New York State to pursuing will of a wisps whilst having only four agents dedicated to organised crime. As I remarked before, I think the state is inept in determining which threats are serious and thus which to focus upon. You only have to look at the disproportionate resources committed to tackling a tiny amount of social security fraud as opposed to the meagre resources allotted to dealing with tax fraud and alegal tax avoidance to see that. Even the social security fraud priorities themselves are focused on minor cases as opposed to those involving employers and organised crime.

        I am not an authoritarian for thinking there are at least two sides to an argument and that the society in which you wish to live would not be better than the one in which we live, flawed and imperfect as I think it to be. As for tolerance, I think I am proving that I possess the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with. You, on the other hand, with your irrational hatred of Islam would seem to be falling short of that definition. My toleration does begin to be tested when people propose actions that put my life at risk. Actions like our establishing a permanent military base in Bahrain http://gu.com/p/44xvk/stw May be you could ask to be posted there?

        Here is a thought. Tomorrow I wake up and read in the Guardian of the trial of a man who has systematically bullied and abused his wife over many years then finally brutally murdered her. I note that he is an atheist, because he affirms and states why he has done so. Christians should think twice, according to Matthew 5:34, about swearing on the Bible. I affirm as an agnostic. His only distinguishing feature is that he is a committed atheist and, as I personally know precious few of those, am I entitled to think that his atheism was the root cause of the actions that have caused him to be put on trial? And, if so, would I be right to think all atheist men should not be left alone with a woman and that atheism should be rooted out of our society?

      • >>”As neither is true, you are unlikely to attract much support for your campaign, in particular from liberal Muslims, men and women, seeking to accentuate the positive aspects of their faith and eliminate its negative aspects.”

        Most of my views about Islam come from conversations with liberal Kurdish and Bosnian muslims. They have far less trouble tolerating an atheist like me than you do. They also have a rather more realistic view of Islam than you seem to.

        >>”You want to show how brave you are then head out to Syria then and pick on someone of your own size rather than ‘bravely’ fighting for the right of others to anonymously bully and troll online.”

        My war was in the 1990’s, so I’ve already done my bit shooting at socialists and assorted collectivist nationalists, but I do know quite a few people, not in Syria, but in what used to be Northern Iraq, now de facto Kurdistan. Peshmerga are not keen on foreigners who don’t speak Kurdish for purely practical reasons, and the YPG in Syria are Marxists who might like my politics even less than you.

        And for someone suggesting I pick on someone my own size, I am not the one who wants to shut you up via the bully state, remember? The only one advocating force here is you. But if you were planning on trying to do it yourself rather than via the Rozzers, well, I’m in the phone book. Good luck with that.

        >>” Today, the only good Muslim seems, in your opinion, to be one who either renounces his or her faith or dies? What is it about some of those who argue for the rights of individuals that they regard those whom they feel to be ranked against them not as individuals, but at best stereotypes?”

        You are doing it again, replying to what you would like me say, not what I actually said. I do not care if a muslim remains a muslim, although I naturally think it is a terrible idea to have invisible imaginary friends who are not made of pasta. All but one of the Peshmerga I know are muslims. And they and some truly redoubtable Bosnians, are the ones who disabused me of the notion that salafists can be ignored or appeased rather than confronted.

        The problem is people who take Islam literally (i.e. they accept the Koran as the literal word of God that must be followed literally and without ‘nuance’). Christianity went through that phase too, but it is easier to finesse the ‘unfortunate’ parts of the Bible that it is the Koran (things like apostasy are a real deal breaker). Mother lode of bad ideas indeed.

        Salafists, and the ideologically almost indistinguishable Wahhabis, are people who typically, to use your rather moist term, lack much emotional intelligence. *These* are the people who freak out when someone draws a cartoon, not liberal ‘Anglican style’ muslims that the tranzi left such as yourself want to pretend represent all muslims. I used to get drunk with Muslims in Sarajevo. I really don’t have a problem with *them* and they do not give a damn if I make Mohammed jokes. And I know some great ones, real howlers.

        The rest of your comment is a rambling collection of irrelevance. It has nothing to do with the right to express views in civil society, or the needs for anonymity that springs from there being people with political views like yours, i.e. demanding that written words and pictures be made illegal if they offend anyone.

        Fortunately it hardly matters what you want regarding the internet and anonymity, as anyone with a modicum of technical savvy can post their comments as Hillary Clinton, complete with a Washington DC IP address if they really want to, even if they live in Erbil or Tower Hamlets.

  10. I fear we may be straining Paul’s patience, given how off topic we have gone, except that you are providing evidence of the sort of rationale adopted by those whom Huffington Post wishes to address with its real names policy.

    I too have better things to do with my time than bandy words with someone who obviously has nothing better to do than rant about the proscription of rights that have not been proscribed. As Heller says in Catch 22, you do not have to be paranoid to believe there are people out to get you (personally), but I guess it helps.

    I leave you with the thoughts of three men whose work I admire:

    “The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”

    Thomas Paine, author of the Rights of Man.

    No man is an island,
    Entire of itself.
    Each is a piece of the continent,
    A part of the main.
    If a clod be washed away by the sea,
    Europe is the less.
    As well as if a promontory were.
    As well as if a manor of thine own
    Or of thine friend’s were.
    Each man’s death diminishes me,
    For I am involved in mankind.
    Therefore, send not to know
    For whom the bell tolls,
    It tolls for thee.

    Meditation 17, John Donne From Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1623).

    “Remember the rights of the savage, as we call him. Remember that the happiness of his humble home, remember that the sanctity of life in the hill villages of Afghanistan, among the winter snows, is as inviolable in the eye of Almighty God, as can be your own.”

    William Ewart Gladstone, four times Liberal Prime Minster.

    If we had listened to Gladstone and not gone down the road of arrogantly thinking, like the Romans before us, that in exporting our ‘superior’ way of life to the world we were doing everyone else a favour for which they would ultimately thank us then perhaps we would not find ourselves where we are today. The ‘savages’ begged to differ with our estimation of our way of life’s worth and now we pay the price of our overweening confidence and certainty.

    “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” I have no desire to repeat it. I lack your certainty that we are not in part the authors of the current situation. I do not condone those who commit atrocities on either side, but I do seek to understand the motivation behind them, in the hope that in doing so we may achieve a modus vivendi and get beyond the current state of confrontation.

    I seek to speak my “truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.” I think I have done enough listening to the dull and ignorant, loud and aggressive for one week for truly they are vexations to the spirit and test one’s tolerance.

    I am off to dip into the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám … I will leave you to your looking glass war (copyright John le Carré).

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