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Denying Milo Yiannopoulos An Audience With My School Denies Us The Chance To Challenge His Views

22/11/2016 13:51
Drew Angerer via Getty Images

The atmosphere at Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys is one of deflation and disappointment, underpinned by an anger that those in positions of authority seem to believe that generation snowflake cannot handle the supposed emotional toll exacted by a one hour long speech from Milo Yiannopoulos, professional provocateur and right-wing fanatic.

Let me be clear: The views aired by Yiannopoulos are distasteful at best and abhorrent at worst. He has insulted the transgender community, taken pleasure in unleashing waves of abuse upon figures such as Leslie Jones, and infamously described cancer as favourable to feminism. Furthermore, he is a torch-bearer of the so called 'Alt-Right', a poisonous political movement that counts both white supremacists and misogynists in its ranks and is, in my view, nothing more than a dangerous, re-badged fascism.

But to deny Milo a chance to share his views with an audience is not to deny his ideas their existence, but rather to deny us the chance to challenge them. Yes, the ideas advocated by Milo do nothing to further human welfare and prosperity, and yes, these ideas should be stamped out. But the way to stamp them out is not through forcefully banning them, but rather through confident and articulate debate, and I am confident that in a Q&A session in which Milo is faced not by young men who think he is a hero, or young women who think he is a monster, but by students who are willing to challenge the essence of his ideas; he would have been unpleasantly surprised.

I am sure that many of you will agree with the above point that ideas should not be banned but should be debated. On this basis, the real concern amongst those disconnected from the school is the fact that Milo would have been addressing school age students, as opposed to undergraduates or adult audiences. Too vividly, I can imagine the terror that must have been felt by middle-class parents when they heard that their little darlings were going to be addressed by Milo Yiannopoulos. Too well, I can imagine the relief felt by Whitehall officials as they grabbed an opportunity to show to the country that extremism is not only perpetrated by radical Islam, which, for the last decade, has borne the brunt of the assault on freedom of speech and privacy (Enter the 'Snoopers Charter'...)

But surely it is in education that we should exchange and discuss ideas. It is in education that we should have our own beliefs challenged, and practice the ability to defend them. It is in education, surrounded by peers and as of yet unaffected by some of the bias that infects our elders, that we should be able to work out, for ourselves, that the views of Milo Yiannopoulos and the Alt-Right are divisive, hurtful, and devoid of any kind of logical rationality. In any event, the fact that over 200 students signed up to hear Milo speak, in a talk supported by the vast majority of the teaching staff, is evidence of the fact that students want to be exposed to new ideas, however disgusting, and not sheltered from them. The new trend of 'no platforming', so prevalent in universities across the UK and the USA is very worrying; beacons of academia and free discussion being extinguished in the name of political correctness.

The one thing that has affected me the most throughout this episode, more than the rhetoric coming from the Yiannopoulos camp, and more than the suppression of free speech that we are now seeing, is the attention that we have lavished upon Milo, and the platform we have awarded not just him, but all those who see his ideas as in some way valid and worthy of such attention. For when we consider the huge issues facing the world, issues of global poverty, climate change, and the development of international uncertainty, the views of one flamboyant character who sees himself as the messiah of a populist movement are unimportant. When we consider the growing gap between rich and poor in this country, and huge moves towards the far right in Europe, the views of one individual who insults people as a means to gain wealth and fame are irrelevant. When we can feed all the peoples of the world, encourage cooperation amongst all and secure a better future for generations to come, then, and only then, should we give such airtime to a man who calls himself the 'Dangerous Faggot'.

Barnaby Papadopulos is a Year 13 student at Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys

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