by Jamie Bryson
In today’s Sunday Independent an article presents (unchallenged) the claims of Colin Harvey, a controversial nationalist activist and QUB Professor.
In the article there is a remarkable conflation between threats/abuse, and legitimate challenging political debate. I have been referenced in the article, with an appalling (and wholly false) allegation as to my background thrown in. I do not wish to further repeat that, but I have already raised my complaint through the appropriate channels.
I note that the same journalist or publication does not refer to Sinn Fein members, or even former convicted IRA terrorists, as having links to the IRA. Why the double standard?
Colin Harvey is a controversial figure. He has inserted himself into the public political arena, using his status as a QUB Professor to advance his political agenda (see for example, his signing of ‘Ireland’s Future’ letters under his professional status).
To read the article, one could easily be misled into believing Mr Harvey is a benign figure, quietly going about his business teaching Human Rights law, and who simply has a private political view and out of nowhere he has been subjected to criticism for this.
There is no acknowledgement as to Mr Harvey’s political activism and campaigning, and his willing entrance into the public political arena. Of course, Mr Harvey is absolutely entitled to do this, and should not be threatened, intimidated, or harassed for doing so. He can however be challenged and criticised.
In regards Brexit, he has been a vocal opponent of unionism, and once spoke at highly controversial anti-Brexit protest, which was also attended by numerous IRA terrorists, and spoke from the platform threatening that any land border “would be removed..”. He did not specify how nationalism/republicanism would remove it. Perhaps he planned to dismantle it with an academic paper.
In today’s article, he was not asked about this.
He has also been pictured posing with convicted IRA bomber, Martina Anderson, who also attended the controversial protest in which Mr Harvey threatened to “remove” any land border. Again, in today’s article he was not asked how this sits with his role as a Human Rights professor, given the IRA’s murderous terrorist campaign.
Mr Harvey has also been a key champion of the campaign to have unionist/loyalist voices de-platformed from the mainstream media, particularly the Nolan Show. He has been quoted regularly in articles which called for me and Jim Allister to be kept off air (presumably to enable nationalism to control more completely public discourse).
On an almost daily basis, Mr Harvey puts out a stream of controversial and often inflammatory tweets, robustly pushing his political viewpoint in the public arena. He is, of course, absolutely entitled to do so.
There have been some rare occasions whereby persons in response have abused Mr Harvey. This is unacceptable, and if any such abuse or threats met the criminal standard, then they should be prosecuted. I condemn any such abuse, threats, harassment or intimidation and if anyone can not engage robustly without crossing the line, then they should simply desist from any engagement at all.
However, most of the engagement with Mr Harvey is robust criticism of his strongly held views. It isn’t abuse, threats, harassment, or intimidation.
Yet, the Sunday Independent article, and indeed the campaign around Mr Harvey which he has carefully cultivated to turn himself into a Ghandi-like figure, deliberately conflates robust political discourse challenging his controversial views, with threats and abuse.
To give one example, in the article it jumps from a plainly unacceptable tweet to Mr Harvey which spoke of ‘beheading’, and then without skipping a beat moves on to a tweet from me which read: “QUB making pretty clear they have moved beyond policy and research, and are now partisan activists”.
Is there any reasonable or sensible person that could honestly suggest that a tweet calling out the perceived bias within QUB amounts to abuse, a threat or intimidation?
However, the conflation isn’t accidental. Mr Harvey is not a fool, he knows full well that presenting any legitimate criticism as an “intimidation campaign”- by conflating criticism with abuse/threats- is a means of creating a chill factor within the public arena.
The desired consequence is that strongly pro-nationalist views will be allowed to exist unchallenged. At its core, it is about seizing control of the public arena.
I have written extensively about the ‘nationalist elite network’. It is a movement which uses the offices and status accrued in the professional/civic arena to advance a political objective.
The agenda behind it is inherent within ‘Ireland’s Future’, which is set up to use its proponent’s professional status to mainstream nationalist political arguments, and in parallel to delegitimise and discredit unionist/loyalist political arguments.
This wider network of nationalists work in unison on issues of common cause, always in advancement of their shared wider political agenda.
A key tool, regularly deployed, is the partisan activism of Amnesty International (NI), who consistently take sides in divisive political disputes and who have become a key tool for the promotion of nationalist political viewpoints.
In the Sunday Independent article, Amnesty International are quoted as saying “Prof Harvey has been subjected to years-long intimidation by elected politicians, media commentators and online activists”.
As often is the approach of Amnesty NI, they throw out hyperbolic language, safe in the knowledge that because of their status, no one in the mainstream media is likely to challenge them.
It is disappointing that the Sunday Independent swallowed their propaganda, without any critical analysis.
Alleging that elected politicians and others have engaged in “intimidation” is a very serious allegation. They should, at the very least, be pressed on the basis of this claim.
What elected politicians, media commentators or online activists have engaged in “intimidation” of Mr Harvey?
It is time to drill down on this claim and explore its substance. This can’t keep being said, without it being challenged and probed. It isn’t true simply because Amnesty, Colin Harvey or the nationalist network says it is so.
Mr Harvey has complained publicly that unionist politicians raised his partisan activism with QUB, and that he was not selected for a panel on the Bill of Rights. Is raising a legitimate complaint or deciding on merit not to select someone for a public appointment “intimidation”?
Is my regular challenging of the controversial, anti-unionist propaganda published into the public domain by Mr Harvey “intimidation”?
Can Mr Harvey demonstrate a solitary occasion whereby I have “abused”, “threatened” or “harassed” him? No, he can’t.
You see, when subjected to even the most elementary level of scrutiny, the hyperbolic claims of Mr Harvey, Amnesty, and others crumble. This is unsurprising: it is propaganda, built on sand.
Are we really at the stage whereby nationalists – particularly those who are public figures- now demand that they be entitled to put their views into the public arena, and that they should not be subjected to challenge whatsoever?
Is all criticism to instantly be filed away under “abuse” or “intimidation”?
I know what it is like to be subjected to actual campaigns of abuse and threats. I receive hundreds of such tweets a day, every day. Anyone is free to scroll through my account and see for themselves. In the past number of years, ten people have been convicted for threats to kill me.
In addition, I know (as do many other unionists/loyalists) what it is like to be subjected to intense political lobbying campaigns to have me de-platformed or ‘cancelled’. As a cursory reading over some of the mainstreaming of these intensive campaigns will demonstrate, Mr Harvey has been an enthusiastic supporter of these politically motivated efforts.
Alongside this, I am also robustly challenged all day, every day. A number of people tweet me countless times a day, challenging my views. The majority of these persons are simply criticising and challenging me. They aren’t abusive, threatening or seeking to intimidate.
I have no issue with such persons. I have willingly entered the public arena and robustly express my views. I am fair game to be challenged and criticised, within reasonable boundaries. These boundaries have often been crossed, such as the alleged campaign of abuse waged against me by a solicitor now working for KRW Law.
As reported by the Newsletter this week, this civil case is due for hearing on 19th September. All media will be entitled to be present to observe the proceedings, and listen to the content of the tweets. I hope they will be widely reported, and Amnesty International, the UN and the nationalist network will be rallying to my side.
(For the avoidance of doubt, I am joking).
It is dangerous that elements of the media, and civic society (or those aspects of which nationalists have control of the levers), are willingly promoting the kind of propaganda narrative set out in today’s Sunday Independent.
Colin Harvey is entitled to express his strongly held views. He is entitled to be a nationalist/republican activist. He is entitled to campaign for his political agenda. It seems, according to QUB, he is also entitled to use his academic status as a vehicle for his partisan political agenda.
There is no one who would seek to deny Mr Harvey his rights to do all the above. However, he must learn to accept that his views are contested, they are divisive and they are open to challenge.
This challenge should not, and must not, take the form of abuse, threats of violence, harassment, or intimidation.
But Mr Harvey must come to accept criticism, and reconcile himself to the fact that neither he, nor nationalism generally, is entitled to dominate the public space and discourse, bullying all opponents into silence by claiming “intimidation” if anyone dares to challenge their political activism and campaigning.