The How the Light Gets In festival invited Anjem Choudary to talk. That’s an odd choice – he’s a reactionary Islamist. Why invite him? The festival wouldn’t invite a Hitler, presumably, so why invite Choudary?
Festival director Hilary Lawson said pushing unpopular views underground is “irresponsible and dangerous”. She said: “Choudary will take part in two debates. The first, When Women Rule The World, asks what would a world where women were dominant be like, and what will happen to masculinity in a modern, matriarchal society? Choudary will be up against Oxford evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar and feminist journalist Julie Bindel. In States Of Emergency, he will consider whether terror is a new tool of war with revolutionary philosopher Ted Honderich, Sunday Times columnist Minette Marrin and former Taleban prisoner and Express reporter, Yvonne Ridley.
If Lawson said that, he said a silly thing. It’s not dangerous and irresponsible not to give a platform to reactionary Islamists. It’s not safe and responsible to give a platform to everyone. Giving someone a platform is not the only alternative to driving that someone underground. It’s perfectly possible just to ignore that someone. You don’t have to invite everyone. Publishers don’t have to publish everyone; editors don’t have to commission everyone; and festivals don’t have to invite everyone. Choudary is not an obvious candidate for inviting – he’s not intelligent or learned or eloquent.
I was invited to talk at the festival too, funnily enough. I couldn’t go because I live far away and I’m too poor to pay for a plane ticket, but I was invited. With all due modesty, I think I’d have been more interesting than Choudary.
They withdrew the invitation though, he tells us. He’s very annoyed about it. Well, if he were running a festival, would he have invited us? I think not.