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

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.

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:


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


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