Earlier this week, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable appeared on a GB News segment with Nigel Farage. In relation to China’s treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjang, he said this:
“The use of the word genocide is not right here. There is terrible human rights abuse in many countries of minorities and China is one of them and they have abused those minorities for sure but calling it genocide is hyping the language.”
Cue certain party members loudly calling for his expulsion from the party. Cue those same party members criticising anybody who dared to try and defend Cable’s right to articulate an opinion.
Cable’s view – which is not one I entirely agree with, nor do I think it’s one he is making very well – is essentially that whilst China is committing human rights abuses, he doesn’t think the threshold for ‘genocide’ has been met (it isn’t a fringe viewpoint, regardless of what the UN definition is), and that from an international relations perspective China still needs to be engaged with so ‘shouting at China’, as he put it in an article for The Independent a few months ago, might be counterproductive.
The independent Uyghur Tribunal is currently investigating China’s alleged genocide and crimes against humanity (it’s own words). I suspect it will conclude that a genocide is being committed. And though the word genocide does not feature (which some of Cable’s critics might want to bear in mind), Amnesty recently published a 160-page report which describes China’s treatment of the Uyghurs as ‘crimes against humanity’ – it should be read to see the scale of just what is happening there: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/06/china-draconian-repression-of-muslims-in-xinjiang-amounts-to-crimes-against-humanity/
Some would argue that semantics really doesn’t matter when it comes to human rights abuses. I’d argue the same point right back. Because the thing is; attacking Vince Cable isn’t actually going to do anything to help the Uyghur people or to change China’s behaviour. It won’t improve the situation in Hong Kong either. Or the situation with Taiwan for that matter.
Silencing people we think are wrong instead of arguing against the substance of what they’ve actually said (and not misrepresenting them entirely as a few have done in this instance) just means that nobody actually learns anything.
Though it can make you feel very self-righteous.
And many critics of Labour MP Rosie Duffield would know a lot about that (indeed there’s some overlap with those denouncing Vince Cable). Hounded for much of the past year for once daring to make the outrageous claim that women have cervixes, the sense of glee was apparent – the level of vitriol even more so – at the thought that they might have finally got her.
Earlier this week she liked a tweet by American rapper and gender critical gay rights activist Kurtis Tripp which said this:
Cue calls to throw her out of the Labour party. Cue much abuse directed at both her and anybody who tried to defend her (I think the technical term for that is ‘ironic’…).
Now I can see why the second part of that tweet might seem deeply hurtful to some people. I get that the objection wasn’t merely his comment about the word ‘queer’.
Though if the content of the tweet itself really is so beyond the pale, then it could be stated as such without slandering the person who posted it (Kurtis is not and has never been ‘on parole for terrorism’ and he didn’t once tell trans people to go and kill themselves – it’s not like you have to like him, but at least be factual: seriously that takes less than 5 minutes to verify).
From Kurtis’ perspective, he is a gay man who was subjected to conversion therapy as a teenager and for part of his life identified as non-binary and under the trans umbrella. He’s said that he had felt enormous pressure to do so and it’s more than evident that his change of mind hasn’t exactly been greeted with a huge amount of tolerance and acceptance from some parts of the community he used to identify with. He does therefore have some skin in the game here.
If that seems like a defence of the tweet, well it’s at least one based on an observation – which is that aggressively refusing to engage in any sort of discussion whatsoever on an issue does tend to make the other side less likely to take you seriously or treat you with respect.
The reality is that the debate Rosie Duffield has found herself caught up in is one of conflicting rights. It’s ultimately a philosophical one too (and does also have something to do with science), but we’ll stick to the tangible. It really doesn’t matter in the slightest if some people don’t like that. They can scream and shout about it as much as they like, but it won’t do anybody any good.
When even those who simply have a more nuanced take on any of the various aspects of the ‘trans debate’ than any faith based mantra would allow are branded bigots, abused and shut down by a vocal minority of activists, don’t be surprised when some people choose to push back.
Bear in mind that all Rosie Duffield has ever actually done is like some tweets.
It’s a great irony (ye, there’s that word again) that for the most vocal of Rosie Duffield’s critics, the debate is a binary one – accept everything we say or you are a transphobe.
She doesn’t hate trans people. Just as JK Rowling doesn’t hate trans people. Or Joanna Cherry. Or Helen Mary Jones. Or Shahrar Ali. Or Maya Forstater. Or the LGB Alliance. They just don’t respond well to bullies. And why should they?
And the mob
There exists a deeply intolerant and authoritarian streak in parts of the supposed liberal left today. A moral absolutism mixed with a large amount of cognitive dissonance that justifies pretty much anything for the perceived greater good. It allows people to misrepresent, to catastrophise, to emotionally blackmail, to judge, to censor and to abuse and still somehow think they’re the good guys.
When you say something is ‘not up for debate’, what it sounds like is that you actually can’t debate. In a social media world that requires neither knowledge nor restraint to participate in, ideological purity and critical thought make not good bed fellows.
When people and arguments are seen only through the lens of any perceived transgression and not as the complex and nuanced things that they typically are, then liberalism is lost. When people like Vince Cable and Rosie Duffield are perceived to be the enemy, then liberalism is lost.
Whilst the left is busy eating itself, the right is currently pissing itself with laughter.
It’s perfectly possible to disagree without denouncing people. It’s perfectly possible to consider any issue, no matter how emotive, in a reasoned way and with a sense of proportionality.
More thinking, less judging. That’s liberalism. For god’s sake, let’s find it again.