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An Open Letter to all Students of the University of Southampton and the NUS

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Authored by Samuel Gilonis (Opinion Editor at the Wessex Scene), Charlotte Harwood (Politics Editor at the Wessex Scene), and Luke Goodger (Publicity Officer at the Wessex Scene).

In the mood of the upcoming referendum on whether the University of Southampton will affiliate with the National Union of Students and the latest instalment in the campaign of several NUS officers against freedom of speech, and harassment of student societies and media outlets to this end, we propose that all students of our university that were planning to vote in favour of affiliation should abstain from voting until the farcical 'No Platform Policy' has ceased to be used to censor student media and debates.

This letter is written in response to the open letter written by Aaron Kiely (Black Students' Officer for the NUS) that demands the retraction of an interview with Nick Griffin, the chairman of the BNP and MEP for North West England, published by the Leeds Student. This demand is predicated upon the NUS's 'No Platform Policy' the NUS's 'No Platform Policy', which states that no platform may be given or discussion held with anybody deemed to be a fascist at any NUS function. This policy is extremely vague and has, unsurprisingly, been arbitrarily reinterpreted and abused since its inception and has been used to justify shutting down debates and censor student media in universities across the country.

In his adumbration of Nick Griffin's character, Mr. Kiely frequently refers to facts garnered from that interview such as his statement, "we find the sight of two men kissing creepy", and his assertion that civil partnerships will mean that, "children will die over the next few years". Using direct quotations from the interview to illustrate the bitter homophobia of Nick Griffin demonstrates that this interview has furthered undermining Britain's largest fascist movement and not, as put forward by Mr. Kiely, boosted "the BNP's attempts to join the political mainstream". That said, the truism that allowing these types their right to freedom of expression will only give them opportunity to disgrace themselves should not distract us from the more important point that a principle worth defending is still worth defending even if it comes at a price.

Implicit within the assertion that the interview acts as a 'boost' for the BNP's efforts is the accusation that Mr. Greehalgh and the editorial staff of the Leeds Student have acted in complicity with fascism, an accusation so stupid and so offensive that we believe that the students of the University of Southampton should not even consider affiliation with the NUS until the No Platform Policy is dropped and an apology to the Leeds Student is issued. It also implies that there is something persuasive about fascist rhetoric and that we need protecting from dangerous ideas, a concession that the signatories of Mr. Kiely's letter are welcome to make in their own name but not in ours.

Liam Burns's declaration in an interview with the Wessex Scene that universities ought to be 'safe havens' from opinions that could be offensive is unacceptable to us who believe that universities are institutions of intellectual freedom in which any thought can be expressed and debated.

There is no person in the world whose character is so unimpeachable that the undersigned would trust them to govern what ideas we are permitted to discuss or with whom and we consider it an outrage that certain NUS officers have declared them fit to assume this role. Mr. Kiely seems to be forgetting that Nick Griffin is a democratically elected MEP, and therefore represents the views of people within our democracy and the NUS has no right to declare that we are not allowed to debate these views. Unfortunate as this may seem, the way to counter unpleasant views is not to stop media outlets from interviewing them, but rather to allow their views to be debated and argued against. Censoring the voice of the BNP makes them appear to be freedom of speech martyrs, but also allows ambiguity over their views to flourish, garnering misguided support for their discriminatory beliefs.
Mr. Kiely brings his open letter to a halt in the fashion of a man, who running blindly down a road, inevitably connects with a lamppost. He declares that it was by exploiting the democratic system and freedom of expression that the Holocaust was precipitated and the right to freedom of speech was shut down. Mr. Kiely's historical view that the Nazi movement was born out of the right to freely discuss any idea, any time and with any company is one that we reject entirely.

While views expressed by individuals such as Nick Griffin may not be agreeable to those who signed Mr. Kiely's letter, there are those of us who want our Holocaust deniers, racists and homophobes in plain sight and not given the comfort of policies that allow them to keep their bigotries ambiguous. Censoring fascists is tantamount to censoring those who wish to struggle against fascism which is something that all of the signatories of this letter refuse to be affiliated with.

Relevant links:

The NUS open letter by Aaron Kiely

The original interview with Nick Griffin in The Leeds Student

Signed,

Samuel Gilonis
Opinion Editor at the Wessex Scene '11-'13

Charlotte Harwood
Politics Editor at the Wessex Scene '11-'13

Luke Goodger
Publicity Officer at the Wessex Scene '11-'13

Richard Windsor
Sports Editor at the Wessex Scene '11-'13

Sam Whitehall
Online Editor at the Wessex Scene '11-'13, Social Secretary for the Atheist Society

Sam Everard
Pause Editor at the Wessex Scene '12-'13

Bryony Wellburn
Image Editor at the Wessex Scene '12-'13

Michael Fisher
Editor of the Wessex Scene '11- '12

Southampton University Conservative Association

David Humphreys
President of the Debating Society and SUSU Rep for the Political, Social Awareness and Campaigns Society

Thomas Steadman
Opinion Editor at the Soton Tab '11-'12

Luke O'Brien
Editor in Chief at the Soton Tab

Alice North
Opinion Editor at the Soton Tab

Peter Shaw
Sports Editor at the Soton Tab

Chris Baker
Writer at the Soton Tab

Alastair Mogford
Assistant Station Manager at SUSUtv, Union Councillor '11- '13

Megan Sherman
Campaigns Officer, Southampton University Politics Association '12-'13

Tim Riminton
President, Southampton University Politics Association '12- '13

Marcus Burton
Union Councillor '12-'13

Andrea Sipka
Union Councillor '12-'13

David Gunns
Union Councillor '12-'13

Oli Coles
Union Councillor '12-'13

Giles Howard
ECS Course Rep '12-'13

Samuel Crabb
Postgraduate (Taught) Officer '12-'13

Dave Arnold
Geography Academic President '12-'13

Stephen Watkins
English Course Rep '11-'13

Caroline Hughes
RAG Officer '12- '13

Matthew Power
President for the Atheist Society

Thomas Granger
Webmaster for the Atheist Society

Jordan Milton
Secretary for the Atheist Society

James Silvester
Treasurer for the Atheist Society

Simon Boyce
Lewis Wedgwood
Anthony Lewis
Louisa Marie Smith
David Tully
Claire Joines
Jonathan Vaughan
Thomas DeWet Moore
Holly Baker
Jonathan Hamer
Alastair Tansley
Joe Tait
Anna Fry
Ellie Sellwood
Sera Berksoy