Retailers quietly remove hate material from sites

Nick Lowles - 21 03 18

Last week, we launched a campaign calling on Waterstones, Foyles, WHSmith, and Amazon to remove from their websites some of the most extreme and dangerous nazi, racist and Holocaust denial literature ever published in the English language. This included books such as the infamous bomb making manual The Anarchist Cookbook and the race war fiction The Turner Diaries, which has inspired numerous terrorist attacks including the Oklahoma City bombing and the Copeland Nail Bomb attacks in London.

We informed the bookshops of our concerns and sent them our briefing (available here) but, after they took no action, we launched a campaign which in just a few days effected real change. In the past few days, 40 titles have disappeared from the Foyles website, while 44 no longer appear on the WHSmith site.

Among the titles removed are infamous Holocaust denial books, such as Did Six Million Really Die? and The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, vile antisemitic tracts by the British fascist Arnold Leese and books by the American alt-right white supremacist Greg Johnson.

This would not have been possible without the thousands of our supporters who signed our petition and tweeted the retailers to show their concern. Our campaign was also supported by both Labour and Conservative MPs, high profile authors and the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Press coverage in The Jewish Chronicle, The Guardian, and The New Statesman also played an important role.

This campaign success is another great example of how HOPE not hate is effecting real change in the fight against hate.

The principle of free speech is enormously important to us; it is one of the reasons we oppose fascism so vociferously. 

Banning Books?

While the campaign has been a real success, it has faced some opposition from people concerned that it amounted to calls for censorship and threatened free speech.

For those who support us and our mission but have concerns about this campaign, we appreciate you getting in touch. We know this issue is important and complex, and that we while won’t always agree on every topic, we will always listen to your feedback.

Please rest assured that we take these issues extremely seriously and the principle of free speech is enormously important to us; it is one of the reasons we oppose fascism so vociferously.

This is why we want to be absolutely clear: we have not called for the banning of any books. In fact, the briefing we published for this campaign explicitly says:

While we abhor these books HOPE not hate is not saying that people do not have the right to write and publish books we disagree with. We are arguing that major mainstream book sellers such as Waterstones, Foyles, Amazon or WHSmith should not profit from extreme hate content such as this.

Our further major concern is that these extreme books and authors gain respectability by virtue of their publications being available on the websites of trusted and mainstream sellers.

There is a world of difference between saying extremist books should not be sold by major high street brands and calling for these books should be banned. Free speech does not mean a requirement to provide a platform for that speech.

Where to draw the line is a complex debate. We get that, and we’re listening to supporters who are concerned about this as an issue. Sadly, other people, either through ignorance or malice, have smeared the campaign by falsely stating we were calling for the banning of books, or even drawing absurd false equivalency with nazi-era book burning. Some of these people came from the far right, which was no surprise, but unfortunately more mainstream individuals also repeated this falsehood.

The controversial former Islamist turned-radio show host Maajid Nawaz tweeted:

It’s said: “Those who start by burning books, finish by burning people”. How are you any different to those imbeciles demanding the Quran be banned in Europe? Get a grip! #CtrlLeftAltRightDelete

Journalist Nick Cohen joined in, tweeting “Hope not hate joins the book banners” while Telegraph writer Martin Daubney similarly tweeted about our plan to “ban books”.

There’s a debate about the extent to which online platforms – whether it is Facebook, Twitter, or a high street bookshop website – should take action over hate speech on their platforms. It’s a debate we want, but lazy accusations of “book banning” don’t advance the topic at all. In the meantime, we’re delighted our campaign fighting to get a bomb making manual removed from the website of major high street book sellers has made progress.


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