Last week I wrote in defence of Kevin Myers, a writer of great talent and courage who has been one of the few in Ireland who often reminded his readers of the horrors of the Holocaust and consistently defended Israel against its enemies. People who knew nothing about him (including JK Rowling and Chelsea Clinton) destroyed his reputation globally over a convoluted sentence intended as a compliment to Jewish women for having culturally a strong sense of self-worth and the courage to fight their corner.
This was grotesquely twisted to suggest that he was saying Jews were greedy.
His work was pillaged to find other misleading quotes.
As the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland pointed out, to brand Kevin as an anti-Semite or a Holocaust denier was “an absolute distortion of the facts”, but it was too late to save his job.
Distortion is easily accomplished on social media, where emotion trumps reason and people desperate to be offended rush to condemn those whose arguments they haven’t read.
I share Kevin’s deep affection and respect for Jews and for Israel, and in my time have had vicious abuse over it, so as a “Jew-lover” accused of supporting “Zionist brutality”, after my article was posted it was interesting to find myself duly denounced as anti-Semitic and a Holocaust denier.
What united many of our critics was a desire that — as one elegantly put it — we should be permanently shoved down the “journalistic effluent pipe”.
“Unfortunately, like genital herpes, they’ll continue to flare up again and again, even when they seem to have been eradicated,” this person added.
I certainly hope we do.
Silencing non-conformists is what these intolerant authoritarians aim to do.
This week the victim on the altar of the anti-free speech brigade was James Damore, a Google employee who wrote a lengthy internal memo suggesting an honest debate over the reasons for Silicon Valley’s gender imbalance in important technology jobs.
He was in favour of diversity, but felt it should include diversity of thought.
Mr Damore suggested that discouragement of opinions other than those of the Californian liberal mainstream “has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed” —among them the now heretical view that there might be biological differences between men and women.
Despite his constructive suggestions for encouraging the recruitment and promotion of women, he was promptly sacked by the outraged Google chief executive and the distortion began.
CNN, for instance, claimed he had argued that “women aren’t suited for tech jobs”, and one of its presenters explained “…he’s essentially saying: ‘Well I don’t really like women anywhere near a computer’”.
Allegedly some women were so upset they had to stay home from work.
You have to laugh.
Google’s mission statement is: “Organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
When it was at war with China over censorship, its chairman Eric Schmidt pronounced that one of its founding values was freedom of expression.
Its CEO has a funny way of demonstrating those principles.
On social media I’m often accused, even by friends, of being unduly preoccupied with the importance of free speech, which suggests they’ve learned nothing from their recent defeats by a public fed up with force-fed political correctness.
It was the closing down by the English liberal elite of any debate about immigration that swung the referendum in favour of Brexit.
Similarly, the American elite’s refusal to hear the views of the discontented handed Donald Trump the presidency.
Teachers, academics and opinion-formers who are the storm troopers of the secular religion that some call “the liberal tyranny” — about which there is little that is liberal — should be careful. They would be well advised to remember those famous words of the German pastor Martin Niemoller.
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out —
because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out —
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”