I think the Danish cartoons episode has made everyone a little too jumpy over freedom of speech, and a little unclear as to what really counts as repression. Take the latest furore over Inigo Wilson. For those who haven’t heard, Wilson is a contributor to the Conservative Home blog (not an official Conservative publication but it has close ties); in a post made a couple of weeks ago, he wrote a “lefty lexicon” rant which was about as funny as root canal surgery. The shining highlight of it was his indiscriminate labelling of all Palestinians as:
“Archetype ‘victims’ no matter how many teenagers they murder in bars and fast food outlets. Never responsible for anything they do – or done in their name – because of ‘root causes’ or ‘legitimate grievances’.”
At the top of the post he mentions quite proudly that “manages community affairs for a large telecoms company”; it didn’t take more than the most cursory of Googling to find the company in question is Orange, and after complaints by some British Muslims he has now been duly suspended pending an investigation. Cue blogosphere furore.
Given the way his defenders are carrying on, you’d think that his opponents were bombing his house, or burning cardboard effigies of mobile telephones in the streets, instead of quietly writing emails of complaint (perhaps they’re just pissed off that British Muslims failed to live up to stereotypes this time round). The fact is that Wilson was either brave, or stupid, depending how you look at it, to use his real name and associate himself with his employers in a post in which he deliberately set out to be crass and offend; he didn’t mention Orange’s name directly but with his name on so many Orange press releases, he must have known it was a trivially easy thing to find out. By doing so, he managed to not just muddy Orange’s reputation, but more importantly cast serious aspersions about his ability to conduct his job; if you’re employing a community relations officer then you must be confident that he is going to treat all members of the community equally and fairly, without prejudice.
If Wilson had worked for Orange as a network engineer or systems analyst or call-centre operative or cleaner then his job would have been far more secure, and would have probably attracted far fewer complaints. But he’s in one where you have to be far more responsible about what you say and how you treat people, if you want to stay in it. Ironic really, given how much he and many others on the right so easily condemn others on their alleged lack of responsibility.
The whole affair really is a miserable storm in a teacup – as far as I know, Wilson hasn’t had his site taken down, nor has he been arrested, thrown in jail and/or had his testicles electrocuted for what he has said; nor has he been forced to go into hiding, or flee the country altogether, as those who truly have been persecuted for their words have. A distinction has to be made between genuine repression of free thought and speech by states, and companies worrying about an employee’s ability to perform his job relating to customers. And remember – he hasn’t even lost his job; his suspension (on full pay, one presumes) pending an inquiry is pretty much standard procedure in these affairs.
So don’t cry for Inigo Wilson; he has merely had to learn about blogging and what you disclose about yourself the hard way. He’s certainly no John Band or Girl With a One Track Mind, both of whom made a clear effort to keep their blogging and real-world personae apart, and had it breached by someone else against their wishes. If you really care, then quietly switch to Vodafone or O2 and save your words of support for those who really are being fucked over for what they write, such as these guys.