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JK Rowling, Noam Chomsky, and Salman Rushdie
JK Rowling, Noam Chomsky, and Salman RushdieVia Wikimedia Commons

Cancelled celebs sign an open letter against cancelling celebs

Including JK Rowling, Noam Chomsky, Margaret Atwood, and more

In the hopes of acquiring the freedom of speech to verbally assault trans women at every turn, JK Rowling has joined 150 writers, academics, and activists in signing an open letter against cancel culture.

The “letter on justice and open debate” was published in Harper’s Magazine yesterday (July 7), and denounces “a vogue for public shaming and ostracism”. As well as the Harry Potter author, the letter is signed by Noam Chomsky, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, and Gloria Steinem.

New York Times opinion columnists David Brooks and Bari Weiss have also added their names. The newspaper’s opinion editor, James Bennet, recently resigned after publishing a widely criticised op-ed by US senator Tom Cotton, which called for a military response to the BLM protests.

The letter reads: “Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. 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, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts. But this needed reckoning has also intensified 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 letter criticises “disproportionate punishments”, referencing editors being fired “for running controversial pieces” – ignoring the harm these pieces can do – books being withdrawn “for alleged inauthenticity”, journalists being barred “from writing on certain topics”, and heads of organisations being “ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes”.

“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted,” the letter continues. “Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal.”

Atwood’s appearance on the list of signatories appears to stand in conflict with Rowling’s, as The Handmaid’s Tale writer recently expressed her support for trans rights, while Rowling has been vocal about her TERF position on sex vs. gender for some time. Many people have pointed out the hypocrisy of Rowling’s desire for ‘free speech’ – it appears the author would like to have the freedom of speech to criticise trans women, but doesn’t want to endure the consequences of being called transphobic.

Hate speech has long been conflated with free speech, with far-right figures (and their mainstream enablers) asserting – against all evidence – that there’s no link between political words and political violence. While cancel culture may not be the perfect solution, those who spout dangerous rhetoric deserve to be challenged.

Read the full letter here.