2019 began with an astonishing Free Speech crisis which was curiously and unforgivably overlooked by commentators whom make a living contriving Free Speech crises.
Congress freshwoman Ilhan Omar had the audacity to suggest that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – which spends some $70 million lobbying Washington each year, producing a clean drum of support across the two major parties for Israel in spite of frequent and flagrant human rights violations – might actually have some sort of influence over American politics. She was immediately silenced by her own party and subjected to the predictable hand of Fox News smears as a Muslim and a woman of colour.
She was subjected to internet-age pillory: forced to apologise and pledge to understand the ‘pain’ she caused the Israeli military (and Chelsea Clinton, for some reason).
The bastion of honest, challenging debate, the self-titled Intellectual Dark Web, met the scandal with a mixture of silence or passively condemning Omar. Jordan Peterson has not weighed in, even though his decision to quit the website Patreon because they banned the Youtuber Sargon of Akkad for broadcasting the N Word on a Twitch stream suggests that the topic of political censorship would be right up his street. Ben ‘facts don’t care about your feelings’ Shapiro was quick to broadcast his feelings without backing them up with facts as he declared Omar an anti-semite for touching upon some abstract trope completely divorced from the actual discussion. Dave Rubin took a moment away from disparaging rampant identity politics to assert that Omar had insulted his identity and his political outlook derived from it.
Note how the Intellectual Dark Web – which typically mocks claims someone has said something offensive or bigoted – are nowhere to be found during things like the Ilhan Omar controversy, except to egg it on & cry “bigotry!”, almost as if they’re self-serving, tribalistic frauds. pic.twitter.com/hyKQnug8Yn
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) February 15, 2019
It was a laughably weak response all round, and demonstrated the flaws of an ‘Intellectual Movement’ designed to garner Youtube hits for ‘EPIC’ debate owns rather than establish a coherent critique of society. The first Muslim Congresswoman’s inability to convey the policies she was elected to represent is a more pertinent illustration of the limits of free speech in the 21st century, but it’s unable to seize attention in the same way as the political crack-cocaine of obnoxious campus identity debates that have dragged on since the 80s.
The Intellectual Dark Web’s ideological roots are no doubt built on something undeniably true: Western society is indeed reliant on media self-censorship that stifles legitimate criticism of its contradictions. These contradictions aren’t transgender bathrooms or gamers not being to call their friends the N word, they are the military hegemon that was constructed in order to assert American corporate interests, of which Israel is central, and the financial interests that dance behind the illusion of democracy.
However glib it may be, Omar’s ‘all about the Benjamins’ tweet was braver and more incisive than anything Peterson et al. have delivered. These self-described ‘free thinkers’ are reduced to silence compared to her courage and sincerity.
Genuinely subversive intellectual movements arise out of punching upwards rather than taking aim at gender studies graduates. For all its talk of fearlessness, members of Intellectual Dark Web enjoy huge platforms to intellectually massage the most powerful global actors: from the Israeli Defense Force to carbon fuel industry climate change deniers. The group includes a former Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Maajid Nawaz, the chair of several British neoliberal think tanks Douglas Murray and the managing director of billionaire Peter Thiel’s investment firm Eric Weinstein.
They are a group of extremely generously-funded academics broadcasting opinions that conveniently happen to coincide with the climate skeptic, pro-war and anti-regulation forces that bankroll them. Bullying and rebellion should not be confused: their opinions don’t deviate from the New York Times Opinion section consensus in any way apart from utilising slightly less constraint in talking about women who wear burkhas or men who wear dresses – like Vogue for racist nerds.
Free speech is as important as these blowhards have highlighted, but those deprived of it are the critics of military occupation, global capital and imperialism like Omar rather than Twitch streamers. Forget about Jordan Peterson’s lobsters.
Cut through the patronising liberal apologia and profoundly racist conservative backlash to the first Hijabi Congressional representative in US history and listen to her excellent interview with Mehdi Hasan on the podcast Deconstructed.