This Royal Throne of Feels: Popehat on Bahar Mustafa

Bahar MustafaI am seeing some schadenfreude from some of the more libertarian-minded people in my social media feeds over the news that Goldsmith’s College Student Welfare and Diversity Officer Bahar Mustafa has been charged with malicious online communication and is to appear in court.

But while it may amuse some to see a “Social Justice Warrior” (I still hate that term) hoist on their own petard, there are much more important principles at stake, and anyone who considers themselves any form of liberal ought to understand.

The best words on the subject come from a lawyer from the land of the First Amendment, Ken White of Popehat:

The hashtag “#killallwhitemen” is an in-joke, an example of somewhat belabored signalling and irony with a dash of trolling. It’s meant in part to ridicule overblown rhetoric directed at people like Mustafa. It’s not a true threat (no men are specified, no time or place is specified, no means are specified, and it’s obviously not meant to be taken literally) nor a genuine exhortation to violence (ditto). In a sensible legal system it shouldn’t generate anything more than an eye-roll. But in a feels-based legal system, it’s actionable.

And it teaches a few lessons.

First, you censorious Guardians of Feels on the Left: if you thought that the norms you created wouldn’t be used against your “own side,” you’re fools. It is apparently your theory that the law is sexist, racist, and every other -ist, driven by privilege and wealth, and that free speech norms serve to protect rich white guys — yet somehow exceptions to free speech norm will be imposed in an egalitarian, progressive way. That is almost indescribably moronic. Go sit in the corner and think about what you have done.

I have very little time for the speech-policing identity politics driven by postmodernist critical theory that’s taken root in parts of academia and the media; it’s profoundly illiberal. But if freedom of speech is to mean anything at all, it means the right to speak ill-informed complete cobblers that others may find offensive. And the right to ridicule that ill-informed complete cobblers without mercy.

Sustained targetted harassement and direct threats of violence are another issue entirely, but I have yet to see any suggestions that Bahar Mustafa has engaged in anything beyond playground-level name-calling. The law is a very blunt instrument for dealing with such things. Prosecution sets a dangerous precedent.

Even if Bahar Mustafa takes advantage of freedoms she would seek to take away from others, that’s still not the point. If they come after her, who will be next? Will you risk jail time for calling George Osborne a bellend?

Update: There are suggestions on Twitter that the court summons isn’t in connection with any of those controversial tweets from months ago, but much more recent tweets that could be interpreted as a direct incitement to violence in connection to the Tory conference in Manchester.

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3 Responses to This Royal Throne of Feels: Popehat on Bahar Mustafa

  1. Colum Paget says:

    # I am seeing some schadenfreude from some of the more liberarian-minded people
    # in my social media feeds

    What’s a liberarian? I’m guessing you were going for libertarian, but it could be librarian (In some ways the latter seems likely, librarians are known for their vicious deployment of german verbs).

  2. Colum Paget says:

    # Update: There are suggestions on Twitter that the court summons isn’t in
    # connection with any of those controversial tweets from months ago, but
    # much more recent tweets that could be interpreted as a direct incitement to
    # violence in connection to the Tory conference in Manchester.

    Hmm, could just be twitter rumours, but if not then it would illustrate the ‘give a mouse a cookie’ nature of this stuff. Ms Mustafa and others have effectively been given the green light by UCL/society to do this kind of stuff, so they’re going to go further with it.

    I hope Ms Mustafa just gets a warning, a slap on the wrist. I do think she should lose her job, (as should whomever kept her on at UCL) but she shouldn’t have anything more serious hanging over her head like a criminal record.

    Still, I feel we’re at the point where a message needs to be sent, and the longer society leaves it, the worse the situation will be when we finally do draw the line.

  3. Colum Paget says:

    # librarians are known for their vicious deployment of german verbs

    Ooops, I slipped up there. Schadenfreude’s not a verb, is it? It’s a feel.