JK Rowling, Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie are just a few of the well known signatories to a controversial open letter warning against the spread of “censoriousness” which they say is leading to “an intolerance of opposing views” and “a vogue for public shaming and ostracism”.
Rowling, whose article detailing her personal beliefs on transgender rights has recently seen large numbers of Harry Potter fans distance themselves from her, said she was “proud to sign this letter in defence of a foundational principle of a liberal society: open debate and freedom of thought and speech”.
The letter is signed by more than 150 writers, academics and artists, including other such notable figures as Gloria Steinem, Steven Pinker and Malcolm Gladwell.
The letter acknowledges that “powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society”, before it goes on to attack what it describes as “a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favour of ideological conformity”.
The writer Thomas Chatterton Williams is the hand behind the letter and has used it to hit out at how a “panicked damage control” is able to lead to the delivery of “hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms.”
He also critiques how “editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged in-authenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organisations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes”.
“Donald Trump is the Canceler in Chief,” Williams told the NYT. “But the correction of Trump’s abuses cannot become an over-correction that stifles the principles we believe in.”
The letter concludes with all signatories asserting that “the way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away”.
Of course the letter has faced its fair share of criticism online. “As is usually the case for people who manifest in favor of free and open debate and against repression, several of the people on this @Harpers Open Letter have behavior in their past that reflects the censorious mentality they’re condemning here,” tweeted the author Glenn Greenwald.