“Oh Faustus, forget these frivolous demands which strike a terror to my fainting soul”.
Mephistopheles to Faustus in Marlowe’s Dr Faustus
Alphen, Netherlands. 5 April. Freedom of thought and speech is under attack in Europe. The attacks are being mounted from the hard political Left and Right. If not confronted and defeated they threaten the victory of reality-bending pretence that in extremis would ultimately result in dictatorship in one form or another. Therefore, it is time I spoke out in warning.
The attack from the hard Left is most obvious and egregious in British universities. Once famed for their academic freedom and independence of thought British universities are fast becoming centres of intolerance in which even the slightest divergence from hard Left dogma as decided by God who knows who is met with intimidation and bullying. Such intolerance hides behind the utterly misplaced title of ‘safe spaces’. In theory such ‘spaces’ are meant to be places where anyone can express any view however challenging. They were created so that very challenging views could be expressed on British campuses, such as those held by hard-line Islamists. Instead they have too often become platforms for hard Left witch-hunts from which intolerance and hatred are being projected, most notably anti-Semitism.
The latest act of freedom-denying idiocy came at Edinburgh University. Imogen Wilson, vice-president of academic affairs at the University of Edinburgh’s Students’ Association was threatened with expulsion from a student council meeting after she had raised her hand to challenge a speaker. Apparently at Edinburgh University the raising of one’s hand to ask a question could be seen by others as an act of intimidation. Throughout history the denial of basic rights inevitably masks a dark purpose; power and control.
Now, if such nonsense ended there one might conclude that it is simply youthful and immature student politics set in a political context that is not of this world. However, Ms Wilson’s experience is but the latest example of reality-bending nonsense that has appeared of late in many British universities, including my own Oxford University. Anything can indeed be discussed in such ‘safe spaces’ so long as such discussions conform to the potty prescriptions of the hard Left as defined by some self-obsessed activist. Worse, fellow academics working at such august institutions have told me how worried they are about the danger posed to their own work and indeed their own futures by the intolerance of the madly politically-correct. University leaderships in Britain must act to protect academic freedom from all threats.
However, the threat to freedom of thought and speech comes not just from the potty British hard Left. A more insidious threat comes from nationalist hard Right, most notably Russia and China. Last week in Estonia I was in conversation with a senior official about certain European thinkers and think-tanks that have been bought by Beijing and Moscow. Sadly, the evidence I was given is in line with other evidence that is emerging. Naturally, I will not name the individuals or institutions under suspicion but those suspicions go to the top of governments in Europe. Consequently, those under suspicion no longer have access even to the most innocuous of sensitive information.
Academics and think-tankers are constantly in search of money in Europe and the offer of a lucrative ‘relationship’ with China or Russia can be appealing. Certainly, both governments are engaged in extensive influence campaigns in Europe and are willing to spend money. However, by selling his or her soul an individual fast becomes like Marlowe’s Dr Faustus – short-term gratification at the expense of eternal damnation. Once hooked there is no way out.
Some may think I am naïve but believe me I am not. Indeed, I am well-versed in such matters. Last year an individual close to Beijing contacted me looking for a ‘relationship’ which would have involved some financial remuneration. Apparently, said individual and the group he represented liked my writings. That is until I wrote a piece critical of China. I never heard anymore.
In 2013 I was invited to speak at the Moscow European Security Conference. It was a great honour. Whatever dim view I may have of current Russian policy I have never lost the profound respect I have for Russia and its people. On the day of departure I was picked up at my home by a senior Russian official and taken to Schiphol Airport. Upon my return I was picked up at Schiphol Airport by another Russian official. On that return journey the official in question broached the subject of Russia having a ‘relationship’ with me.
A few days later I received an email from another senior Russian official exploring further the possibility of a ‘relationship’ with me. Of course, I replied. I would love to have a relationship with Moscow. However, I will have to clear it with London first. After that I never heard another word from my Russian friends. For the record, anyone who reads my writings knows I am no lackey of London either.
The most precious freedom we Europeans possess is our freedom of thought and speech. It is under attack from the hard Left and hard Right. No army however strong can defend such freedom if we voluntarily surrender it. That is why I go so often to the Baltic States because they know exactly what freedom means and what it takes to defend it.
To those thinkers and writers either already meshed in this web of deceit or thinking about becoming part of China and Russia’s influence campaign in Europe; don’t! For a thinker and writer the only ‘safe space’ is the space inside our own heads. It is a space that must be defended at all costs and against all threats.