One of the things that really rattles me about vitriolic, bullying groups like Christian Voice is the way in which otherwise sane and sensible people feel that they have to take a balanced position between the competing views. I can see where this comes from - it's a sound rule of thumb that we generally debate rationally across disparate views, but the idea that we should give equal weight to the views of those spreading hatred and using tactics of intimidation is madness and I'm not happy to have my views weighed equally with theirs.
Well, that's got that off my chest - on with the issues.
I spoke with Gerry Johnson this morning and it's really sad that we can't agree on all the issues over the cancellation of patrick jones's launch, but we did get some agreement. We both think censorship is wrong and this means that Waterstones will continue to sell the book.
Where we part company is on how to respond to the threats of bullying bigots. I do understand that Mr Johnson has to take the safety of his staff seriously and that he has a duty of care, but I don't think the cancellation was commensurate with the threat. We know now that Christian Voice were planning some leafleting and maybe a bit of shouting - the event could have withstood that. Mr Johnson rightly points out that things happened quickly and that he didn't know the scale of the threat, but he didn't just cancel with the rider that we could review later - he is adamant that the event will not be rescheduled. I may never persuade him otherwise, but I will continue to stand by my view that this is not necessary or reasonable. It gives far too much ground to those who use unscrupulous tactics, even threaten unlawful action. It may well be a matter for the police, but it is not a matter for capitulation.
Mr Johnson insists that Waterstones is not a public body but a private company and therefore there are no rights to the space - absolutely right, but his company made a commitment that involved Cinnamon Press in costs and then pulled out offering no recompense. And the idea that we should only defend public spaces from those threatening disruption or even violence simply doesn't convince me.
But even more deeply I'm disturbed by the fact that Waterstones still seem to be blaming patrick jones and that goes back to my original point about how mad it is to allow ourselves to believe that hateful views deserve equal weight and respect. I hope I'm wrong about this, but Gerry Johnson did say to me today that patrick had admitted sending faxes to Christian Voice and someone wrote to me earlier to say that Waterstones claimed that , "shortly before the event took place, the author deliberately took provocative action to create a furore around the publication of his book."
This is a terribly twisted version of the claims that Stephen Green is making. In fact patrick jones has a long history of political activism and campaigning for minority, civil and human rights. This has brought him into conflict with Christian Voice's 'down with that kind of thing' mentality several times over the years and as part of a recent and ongoing debate (patrick generously talks about trying to chat and debate with these closed minds) patrick had sent some of his poems, including one that protested against female genital mutilation. The correspondence did not allude to the launch at Waterstones.
To call this ongoing engagement 'provocation' is unacceptable. Anyone who disagrees with Stephen Green is provocative by their mere existence from his perspective, but that is not reasonable or sane. Even if Gerry Johnson cannot bring himself to reschedule the launch I would be deeply appreciative of some indication from Waterstones that they do not concur with Christian Voice's inflammatory blame of patrick jones.
I do want to stress that the issues that separate us from Waterstones are really not that huge - I'm glad the book is still on sale there and particularly grateful to the staff at the Cardiff branch for their support, but I don't want Christian Voice to get away with any chipping away at free speech and civil society. patrick jones should be promoting his work - it's brilliant and what else should he do with his book? Only Christian Voice are culpable here - not Cinnamon Press, not patrick jones and not Waterstones. But Waterstones do have it in their power to do even more...
- Cinnamon Press
- Wales, United Kingdom
- Cinnamon Press is a small, independent publisher based in Wales & publishing the best new poetry and fiction with occassional non fiction and cross-genre titles. Books come from Wales, the UK and the world. We run writing competitions twice a year to find new voices in poetry and fiction with three categories (novel/novella; poetry; short stories) - each category has a cash prize plus publication. You can find our excellent list of titles at www.cinnamonpress.com