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#EdBookFest, Freedom and young people

This year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival (which I’m speaking at on Aug 23rd – details later) has the overarching theme of Freedom. Some of the events have been chosen and planned by young co-programmers aged 8-14.

In one of their events, Freedom to be Heard, a drop-in session on August 14th, the young programmers want to find out what freedom means to different people all around the world, with the results forming an exhibition at the event.

I’ve been asked to help spread the word, to any individuals or groups, of any age, who would be willing to share their thoughts on what freedom means to them and be featured in the special Edinburgh International Book Festival event. I was asked to take part but very sadly I can’t be in Edinburgh that week.

How to get involved

The details are all here  but basically you’re asked to finish the following statement:

‘Freedom is…’

You can either send the Book Festival a photo of yourself (or a group photo) holding up a sheet of A4 paper with your finished statement written on it. Or you can send a short video (max. 30 seconds) telling us what freedom means to you. You need to email your submission to by Friday 13 July.

To help me help the young people share this info, here are some suggested posts for social media:

Twitter: The @edbookfest young programmers need you! Let them know what Freedom means to you & see your thoughts displayed as part of their special Freedom to be Heard event on 14 Aug. Part of @YOYP2018. Find out more here:

Facebook: The @edbookfest young programmers – Codename F – need you! Let them know what Freedom means to you and see your thoughts displayed as part of their special Freedom to be Heard event on 14 Aug. Part of the Year of Young People 2018. Find out how you can get involved here:

Ebulletin: What does freedom mean to you? The Edinburgh International Book Festival’s young programmers, Codename F, have been exploring different aspects of Freedom and now they want to hear from you! Send them your thoughts and see them displayed in their specially curated Freedom to be Heard event at the Book Festival on 14 August. Find out how you can get involved here:

What does freedom mean to me?

Many things, of course, and I’m very aware of (though often take for granted, as most of us do) the tremendously privileged position of freedom we have in this country. However, this is how I responded to the email from the Book Festival:

Freedom is such a hot topic. We think we’re free to speak in our country and countries like it, but we’re not. Actually, the first time I thought about this properly was when I spoke about censorship for the Edinburgh World Writers Conference, in my case in Malaysia, but I’ve thought about it a lot recently because the censorship by orthodoxy nowadays is colossal, especially for those of us who can’t face being pilloried on Twitter etc. And the problem with that is that important dissent happens only in secret enclaves where people feel safe and then the orthodoxy strengthens because the proponents think no one disagrees with them. And then someone does speak out and is shot down by the orthodoxy (most vocal on Twitter), and everyone else stays quiet in their rooms because it’s just too much trouble to speak out. Worst is the apparent idea that if someone says something you disagree with that person must be odious, appalling, stupid, wrong, because of course “you” must be right because your group says you are.

So, now I’m going to give examples of what I was thinking of when I said that. Look at how Lionel Shriver and Germaine Greer have been vilified for their arguments about diversity and feminism/#MeToo. You can disagree with what they say and take them to task with powerful arguments; you can debate and persuade and explain and unpick and tackle the nuances of each side; but to call them “traitors” to women, or to hurl personal insults or comments along the lines of “She’s a disgrace and I always hated her writing anyway” or (and this is particularly common) “She’s lost the plot – something’s happened to her brain” and “Why can’t she just shut up?” and “Why doesn’t someone do something about her?”- those things are dangerous because they close down dissent and prevent the real freedom of speech. (Not that they have stopped those two strong individuals, of course, but they stop others from feeling able to speak out. ) Nor do those things actually tackle the argument or change anything for the better.


In our country, we are generally not arrested for what we say but our freedom of speech is by no means complete.


It was the same during the Scottish referendum and the Brexit one – and you’ll have your views on which side in each was worse – the shutting down of argument by the hurling of vitriol and hatred instead of disagreement. Particularly on Twitter, which has become a nasty place where too much hurling and abusing and not enough listening happens. And one of the effects of this is that moderate people, people who want to discuss and persuade and understand and create meetings of minds (and change minds) just can’t face the strain and so stay quiet. The other effect is that everyone retreats to their safe spaces, where they can shout all they like about what they think and be secure in the knowledge that everyone there agrees with them. And the result of that is that too many people are going round thinking that theirs is the One True Way because that’s the loudest one and the only one they are hearing. They are not hearing the still small voices.

So, that’s what I think about freedom. I am censoring myself all the time. Even now, I’m thinking whether to even bother to say this, whether it’s worth it. It’s just my opinion and you can have yours. That’s freedom, isn’t it? And maybe instead of complaining about not having it, we just need to claim it.
ANYWAY, more importantly, please support these young people with their event about What Freedom Means to You! Use the suggested posts for social media or just make up your own – you’re free to choose.

Do comment but please remember that this site is for all ages.


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