Give the world the First Amendment. That is the typically provocative and stimulating argument made by Sam Harris, one of the world’s leading public intellectuals, in the pages of this newspaper today.
Ever since he broke into the world’s consciousness in 2007 as part of the New Atheists (or, as they were more excitingly known, the Four Horsemen) alongside Richard Dawkins, the philosopher Daniel Dennett and the late Christopher Hitchens, Harris has been on the front lines of the battle of ideas.
He has now turned his talents to one of the great issues of our age — freedom of speech. In a powerful interview with our proprietor Evgeny Lebedev, Harris’s analysis is insightful, both on the importance of free speech, on the necessary limits on freedom and on the often corrosive effect of social media.
Harris has always been clear-eyed and uncompromising on what he sees as the greatest threats to the intellectual traditions and hard-won freedoms of the West. He is intellectually vigorous and has little time for progressive dogmas. That makes him just the kind of public figure we need right now in the battle to sustain that vital cornerstone of democratic societies — freedom of speech.
At a time when antisemitic attacks in Britain have reached unprecedented levels and people are afraid to walk the streets looking visibly Jewish, Havering’s decision not to light its traditional Hanukkah candles is deeply chilling.
The east London borough said it would be “unwise” to light the traditional candles outside its Town Hall for the eight days of the holiday, claiming it would “risk further inflaming tensions within our communities”. This is cowardly nonsense. The message it sends to London’s small, proud but fearful Jewish community is that, in the face of an avalanche of hatred, they’re on their own.
Fear of antisemitism is not a reason to hide the existence of Jewish life. Anyone who attacks Jewish people, their property or their festivals is not a supporter of Palestinian rights, but a run-of-the-mill racist. The council must reverse its decision and to make it clear it will not allow darkness to triumph over the light.
A pawsome victory
A week ago in these pages our new columnist, Fat Tony, despaired at how London had become an anti-dog city. Indeed, he had not stepped foot inside Selfridges because of its confusing policy on pets.
But now, success! The department store has reversed its position on cavapoos (and presumably other breeds), which will be permitted to enter the store on an equal footing. Just in time for Christmas shopping.