Last week we posted videos of two rebuttals from an Oxford Union debate on the question of whether Islam is a peaceful religion. The second video recorded the rebuttal by Daniel Johnson, who eloquently expressed the case against associating the words “peace” and “Islam”. In his speech he mentioned Standpoint, which he described as the “not very right-wing magazine” that he edits.
Unfortunately, Mr. Johnson seems not to be as pleased as I was to discover the convergence of his liberal perspective with the conservative one that is generally expressed in this space. This morning we received an email from [name removed at the Web Editor’s request], the Web Editor of Standpoint:
I’m contacting you on behalf of my editor, Daniel Johnson. You posted a video of his speech at the Oxford Union on your site and he feels uncomfortable being associated with your site. Please could you take the video down?
[name removed at the Web Editor’s request]
[mailing address redacted]
Needless to say, I was unwilling to remove Mr. Johnson’s inspirational video from our site. I sent [the Web editor] the following reply:
Mr. [name removed at the Web Editor’s request],
Thank you for getting in touch.
I regret that I am unable to comply with your request. Mr. Johnson’s contribution to the Oxford Union debate was very inspiring, and has been quite popular at Gates of Vienna, since it agrees exactly with our own positions. I would be doing a severe disservice to our readers if I removed it.
Given that the video was made available via YouTube for embedding by the general public, I see no reason to take it down. I’m frankly mystified that your magazine would want me to do so, since our embedding of it increased the video’s number of views, and our link to Standpoint helped boost your magazine’s search engine rankings.
I’m also perplexed that your boss feels “uncomfortable being associated with [our] site”, given that his views so closely align with our own. Surely he meant what he said in the debate…? If so, there is no meaningful distinction between his opinions about Islam and those of Gates of Vienna. From the standpoint, as it were, of the Counterjihad, he is “one of us”.
Perhaps he was made uncomfortable by being associated with a website that has been called “one of Breivik’s mentors”. If so, his response inadvertently provides fodder for those who use traditional guilt-by-association tactics to slander their ideological opponents. A man of his stature and experience must be well aware that caving in to such heinous behavior only serves to damage the cause of free speech, open political discourse, civil society, and the rule of law.
The policy of Gates of Vienna has always been that civilly conducted, vigorous, open debate is the most effective way to preserve our freedoms and our democracy. Therefore I will post your request at our blog (after removing identifiers such as your email address, physical address, and phone number), along with my reply to you and any response you care to send to me later today.
I appreciate your writing to us. It’s always good to hear from our colleagues in Britain.
Since it is now bedtime in Britain, and no reply from Standpoint has appeared in our inbox, I have published the exchange as it exists thus far. If any additional response arrives from either of the editors, I’ll put up a separate post about it.
If I had heard back from Mr. [[name removed at the Web Editor’s request], and if he had confirmed my intuition that Mr. Johnson feared to have his name associated with Breivik, “neo-Nazis”, “fascists”, “racists”, etc. (which fear is a symptom of a disease I call the “Screaming Nazi Heeber-Jeebers”), then when I wrote him back, I might have said something like this:
It’s quite understandable that your magazine would be loath to find itself associated with any person or group that is identified as “racist” or “bigoted”. We have been through the same process ourselves, being smeared as “xenophobes”, “hate-mongers”, and the like. We have been falsely identified as associates or admirers of people and organizations that we want nothing whatsoever to do with, ideologically or otherwise.
I know from experience how unpleasant it is to be “shunned and shamed” by one’s former peers. Ostracism is very hard to bear up under — that’s what makes it such an effective means of social and political control.
Yet from time to time, in the thick of all these travails, it’s instructive to back off a bit and take the long view of the situation. Sub specie aeternitatis, your magazine and our website are all but indistinguishable from one another in our respective philosophies. Both treasure free expression, vigorous debate, open dialogue, and the traditions of Western culture. Both promote humane understanding, a tolerance for a diversity of opinions, and respect towards reasonable people with whom one disagrees.
To paraphrase Daniel Johnson’s words from his own speech: I do not want our public forums to become a place where academics are intimidated. I do not want free speech to die.
Gates of Vienna was cast into the Outer Darkness of public discourse some years ago. It was not a fate we would have chosen for ourselves. Still, it has its own pleasant surprises — such as the discovery of how many good and learned people have been relegated to the same darkness with us. We realized that we were in good company.
If, God forbid, Standpoint should ever be put beyond that particular pale, keep an eye out for our little fire in the midst of the general gloom. Stop on by; we’ll fix you a cup of tea.