Thursday, 28 August 2008

HP sauce

Ooerr… I feel a bit disoriented by the mud-slinging that is going on over the attempt to ‘censor’ Eustonite blog Harry’s Place. You can read the background to the fight... errr... pretty much everywhere in the political blogosphere. But so far I haven’t found a view expressed that I really agree with, and much of commentary seems driven by political point-scoring in respect of bigger issues.

Here’s my random collection of thoughts:

• It’s extremely crap to threaten a blog with legal action because they say things you don’t like. Why not just ask them to remove the article/picture in question?
• It’s also crap to caption a photo naming an individual in a way that implies they have links to the far-right (rather than that they have posted a link to a far-right website), even if that wasn’t your intention. A newspaper could easily get sued over this.

• It is unbelievably stupid to post a link to David Duke’s website, and even a quick glance at said website should alert anyone intelligent to its perspective.

• If the link had been posted by, say, a Tory councillor who also claimed it was a mistake and also subsequently threatened legal action what would our response be?

• I have a problem with the whole strategy of ‘outing’ people for doing stupid things. For a site with a strapline that quotes Orwell, this reminds me too much of ‘orthodoxy sniffing’.

In general if there is one thing I hate it is the form of political discussion that seeks to focus on mistakes or trivial inconsistencies in others’ arguments in a way that (deliberately or otherwise) undermines proper discussion of larger issues. This only makes it less likely that people will say what they really think, and hampers out ability to talk to each other (which I consider to be a pretty fundamental requirement to sorting difficult issues out).

So bizarrely, despite my distaste for his politics and even though he clearly has his own agenda, I have a bit of sympathy for the arguments made by verbose Swuppie blogger Lenin, although he doesn’t rise above getting a ‘you’re just as bad as the Nazis’ jab in himself:

They have behaved unconscionably, thuggishly, in a manner that befits far right websites such as Redwatch (to my knowledge, one of the few other websites that posts photographs, personal information and inflammatory material about private individuals).

The pro-boycott mob in the UCU will (rightly) have been stung by this mistake, and maybe they ought to consider how it is that one of their number can read something written by a far-right nutter and not find anything wrong in it. I’m not at all suggesting that this implies that they are anti-semitic. Though I disagree with them I genuinely don’t believe that this is the case. But I do think it demonstrates that their arguments often degenerate to a cartoony level which really aren’t any more sophisticated than those propagated by the far right.

But equally let’s not pretend that publicly (and imprecisely) naming and shaming an individual for a foolish mistake in a way that may cause them all kindsof problems is some kind of noble expression of free speech. I bet the UCU member who is at the centre of this is getting all kinds of abuse since her name is plastered all over the interweb. Yet it’s Harry’s Place that gets the emotional expressions of solidarity for the terrible injustice it has suffered.

And what was the extent of this attack on free speech? The HP site was down for what, a day or so, whilst mirror sites sprang up immediately and the issue was plastered all over numerous other blogs. Somehow I don’t think Pastor Niemöller would beat himself up too much over this one.


Richard Seymour said...

despite my distaste for his politics and even though he clearly has his own agenda...

I'm very glad to hear it. Frankly, this position shouldn't be unique a Trotskyist blogger.

Tom Powdrill said...

Yep, this time I think you're broadly right. I think it's a trivial, if inexplicably stupid, mistake combined with a ham-fisted attempt to stop people making mischief with it. Move along, nothing to see here.

Charlie Marks said...

So, Tom. You don't support the boycott of Israel. Neither do I, it wouldn't help working people in Israel or the Palestine territories.

But may I ask, as you have an icon expressing solidarity Zimbabwean trade unionists - do you support the UK govt's blockade against the country?

Tom Powdrill said...

Hi Charlie

No, I don't think it's a great idea in respect of Zimbabwe, and (more importantly) I don't think that's what the labour movement there wants either.