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No Platform: Is Free Speech Worse Than Murder With Machetes?

26/04/2016 16:16

Would someone please explain to me how "No Platform" and "Safe Spaces" are Progressive policies?

The BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme this Monday hosted a debate on "no platforming". In preparation, ComRes interviewed 1,001 UK university students online, with data weighted by course year, university type and gender. They found nearly two-thirds (63%) of university students supported the National Union of Students policy declaring that certain people or organisations can be excluded from platforms or premises, for holding racist or fascist views.

The NUS lists six organisations (three Islamist, three far-right) which it deems students should not hear speak. Student unions can "no platform" other people and organizations, and declare premises "Safe Spaces" where those with unwanted opinions may be banned from attending.

But who gets to decide who is racist or fascist? Why should other students be prevented from hearing dissenting voices? Don't these policies actually decrease the diversity of views among student activists?

Author Julie Bindel has long been banned from student premises because of a claims that her writing harms Trans people. She claims no evidence has ever been presented by anyone to back this claim, and that the some of the same student bodies which ban her, allow speakers who call for the stoning of women and other very not "Progressive" policies.

"It really annoys me when you've got middle-aged people on Twitter and all these things saying we're ridiculous, we're stupid, actually that's very insulting... We're not stupid. You're just saying this generation who have more progressive views than you suddenly, we don't think the same way."

Acquah goes on:

"It's ridiculous, we do live in the real world. We know there's not a safe space. We're trying to create what we want in our spaces."

I'm going to disagree with this. Does this mean that I too will be no platformed, or forbidden from entering student safe Spaces?

Cartoon by Chris Manno. Used with permission.

In the real world, people hold different opinions. You can't just pretend people who disagree with you don't exist. You can refuse to sit next to them on a bus, but would you refuse to serve them breakfast? You can avoid them in debates and block them from twitter, but they can still speak elsewhere, and they get a vote the same as you -- so what good does excluding them do you?

As long as people aren't calling for violence or harassment or otherwise breaking the law, they can, respectfully, say what they want. Is it this freedom of expression that student activists are targeting? Is it progressive to try to build a world where people are not allowed to disagree?

The Iraqi-born, US-based writer Faisal Saeed Al Mutar describes such a world that exists right now.

...I get messages and emails all the time from people from Pakistan, Saudi, Iran and many other countries telling me that they agree with me but [are] afraid to ... like or share [my posts in case ] someone in their family or friends list notice[s] that and that might get them persecuted or killed.

In the real world, almost 2,000 cases have been opened against people in Turkey for supposely insulting their President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

In the real world, in Bangladesh University lecturers, secular bloggers and gay people have been killed, some with machetes, for actions which Islamist fundamentalists found offensive.

In the real world, arguments over what does and does not constitute a true Muslim have led to leaflets in a London Mosque calling for the killing of Ahmadiyyas if they won't convert to mainstream Islam; and it seems, to the murder of Glasgow shopkeeper Asad Shah.

In the real world, the UK, the USA and the rest of the West are all substantially more tolerant places to hold minority options, express dissenting views and even to practice whatever religion one thinks fit, than anywhere else in the world. Of course the West is far from perfect. Of course we expect our student activists to work for a better world... But are they?

Does anyone really think that marking people for exclusion helps win arguments? Or increases tolerance? Or makes the world a better place? Or makes the world safer for those with minority views or opinions or customs?

I don't. If you disagree, please, do tell me where you think I'm going wrong.

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