Political censorship and suppression in the UK – the new norm

Look at this story. Look at the banner. It is making an intelligent point – that the regime in Saudi Arabia is pretty distasteful by Western standards – they do indeed carry out beheadings and persecute minority groups. They do not respect ‘civil rights’ in a Western sense. The claim that the regime is involved in terrorism may be arguable but there is no doubt at all that the regime ordered the bloody and revolting murder of a critic in their embassy in Istanbul. The statement from the fans is informed and intelligent political comment; they are simply pointing out the double-standards from the Premier League in supporting women’s football and gay rights in the UK while allowing a regime which has built in suppression of women’s rights and which suppresses homosexuals to take a big stake in English football. (PIF – which has taken ownership of Newcastle is the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia). There is nothing racist about the banner. Zero.

Yet – people are apparently being investigated by the police for displaying it.

This is really pretty alarming stuff; the police acting in support of corporate interests controlled by a rather nasty regime (by normal Western standards) to prevent informed public criticism of those interests. The Guardian simply reports the story giving plenty of space to Newcastle’s PR efforts. No comment. All normal for the Guardian.

This one is arguably even worse. No one is having to live in fear of prosecution by the state for commenting that one of the allied regimes of the state has a bad human rights record but in this case academic discussion is being shut down. A youth worker has complained that a history text book for schools about 19th century America asks students the question: “To what extent do you believe the treatment of Native Americans has been exaggerated?”. The youth worker has kicked up a fuss – on Twitter and the publisher has withdrawn the book.

Let’s be clear; this is a valid question. (Even if poorly worded – it should say “bad treatment”). Of course there will be those who might want to exaggerate the bad treatment of Native Americans by the colonisers – and it is the job of historians to see through any such attempts and establish an objective conclusion. The book is training students to think about history. It is asking a question. In academic circles many questions can be posed and entirely without implying that the answer will be Yes. It is perhaps telling that the complainant is described as a youth worker who “offers history mentoring lessons to students”. Does she understand how academia works? Apparently not; but it is a sign of the times that the publisher has bowed down before this ignorance. This is a sign that children are not allowed to think. They are simply to be fed the correct single-truth uncomplicated party line. (The treatment of Native Americans was terrible and we should all feel guilty and ashamed). The tradition of free enquiry and thought is being silenced before our eyes. It really is very worrying. For clarity; of course Native Americans had a terrible time at the hands of the colonisers and were to all intents and purposes wiped out as a civilisation – but asking whether in the present day or since then there might not be those who exaggerate this (just asking) is a very valid training in history studies for students. The complainant cannot even tolerate the exercise of considering alternative points of view.