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Fascism, Free Speech, And Why You Haven't Seen The Last Of Milo Yiannopoulos

24/02/2017 15:05 GMT | Updated 24/02/2017 15:06 GMT
TIMOTHY A. CLARY via Getty Images

In so far as Milo Yiannopoulos is concerned, the common media consensus on February the 22nd is one of a fall from grace."Yesterday marked the moment when Milo Yiannopoulos ceased being an asset to the mainstream right, and became a liability"declares Helen Lewis in the New Statesman. The rise and fall of Milo Yiannopoulos" agrees Dorian Lynskey in The Guardian. My classmate, and the school's resident Yiannopoulos supporter, does not seem so sure, believing that Yiannopoulos will rise "Like a phoenix from the flames, with probably even more magnificent hair." Regarding the former part of that statement, I fear he may well be proved right.

Like most on the right, Yiannopoulos and his kind feed off agitation and fear, twisting reality in order to create delusional scapegoats on which to blame the problems of society. Milo Yiannopoulos stating that relationships between 'boys' and older men are beneficial will derail him no more than Donald Trump saying he can'grab women by the pussy' disrupted his presidential campaign. The fact that Yiannopoulos was slightly more offensive than usual will not cause this climate of imagined fears to dissipate. Indeed, it could have the opposite effect, furthering the paranoia of white men on both sides of the Atlantic who believe, falsely, that their rights to free speech are being corrupted by evil feminists and Black Lives Matter activists.

Yet even if Milo Yiannopoulos fades into oblivion to join Nick Griffin and Tommy Robinson in the graveyard of the far right, the damage has already have been done.

In November of 2016, Milo Yiannopoulos was invited to give a talk to students at my school. The talk was eventually called off due to advice given by the Department of Education's Counter Extremism Unit. The title of my article discussing the events sums up my view of free speech at the time - 'Denying Milo Yiannopoulos an Audience with My Denies Us the Chance to Challenge Him'. My views have since changed. The rallying cry of Free Speech is that words are words. They do not equal action. Nobody should be denied the right to verbally express their views, because verbally expressed these views are largely meaningless.

But words are not as unimportant and empty as we may be led to believe. Through his flamboyant style, crude put downs and controversial metaphors Yiannopolous relegates the seriousness of the issues he is discussing. Take transphobia as an example. "Never feel bad for mocking a transgender person" he announced to students at the University of Delware, to thunderous applause, after having described Trans people as 'gay men dressing up for attention,' trivializing issues affecting a group that, partly due to public venom, suffer disproportionally from mental stress, self-harm, and suicide. Despite our opposition to Yiannopolous's ideas, the mere fact that they are expressed in the public sphere effects our perception of serious issues, distorts truths, and creates confusion and fear instead of understanding and compassion.

The seriousness of allowing an open platform to people like Yiannopolous was brought to the fore by a talk given by one of my fellow students. 'Fascism' he said 'has been defined by its racism, its nationalism and its sexism. A culture that is anti-immigrant, anti-black, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, and anti-women engenders the rise of fascist politics.' Whilst Yiannopolous's words may not directly harm anyone, they create the above culture. And the existence of such a culture inevitably leads to violence and, as has recently been seen in the United States, fascism.

Because the truth of the matter is that we do live in a society that is anti - immigrant, seen in shocking black and white this week when Mrs May closed the borders of the sixth biggest economy in the world to two thousand refugee children. Statistics show that, despite not being involved in crime more so than any other ethnic group, black people represent ten percent of the prison population despite making up just 2.8% of the general population, indicative of a society where racial discrimination has not gone away. The number of Anti - Semitic attacks increased by 36% last year, and, perhaps most prominent of all, is the way that the Muslim community has been treated by both the media, political establishment and the electorate with suspicion, fear, and hatred. As for women, we live in a society that describes feminism as 'cancer'. And whilst Yiannopoulos's rhetoric may belong to the fringe, the generalizations and gross inaccuracies that define his style are not.

For when acts of terror are committed in the name of radical Islam, it's "Radical Muslim Extremists". When acts of terror are committed in the name of the far right, it's "Lone Wolves", allowing the public and government to devolve itself of responsibility in the second case and point the finger of accusation at a large and peaceful community in the first. Likewise, we are swayed to condone British 'Airstrikes' but condemn Russian 'Bombing', to ignore 'Collateral Damage' but to lament 'Innocent Civilians', the true differences being essentially non-existent. By this use of language we are swayed to support Western Imperialism without understanding the truths of the matter, swayed to believe that right wing lie that it is Muslims and Immigrants who create social misery, as oppose to the greed of the corporate elite and the mass inequality that is an unavoidable by product of economic capitalism.

For too long activists have called for an end to very public hateful and bigoted views of Milo Yiannopoulos. For too long we have seen absolute freedom of expression as the only defender of individuals against tyranny, a vital red line not too be crossed. And as a result we have created for ourselves a climate of hate and fear from which fascism has begun to breed in a manner of the like unseen since the 1930's. Far from being exposed and defeated, it has worked its way into both the way we view the world and express these views. It has infiltrated our homes, workplaces, and communities. When we stay silent in the face of hatred, we are as guilty as the one who hates. When Milo Yiannopoulos recovers from the weeks events, as I am sure he will, we must be ready and willing to confront him.