Yet again, universities confirm that they’re no longer institutions to broaden horizons and explore a diversity of different views. They have now become echochambers where some wannabe Stalinist appoints himself as the arbiter of what views are “acceptable” or not.
Just a few days after Tommy Robinson (the former leader of The English Defence League) spoke at a massive PEGIDA rally in Dresden, in which he warned of “Islamic invasions” by “fake refugees”. Robinson announced on Twitter that both Durham and Edinburgh universities dis-invited him from addressing students.
According to this Huffington Post article, Robinson claims the reason why his invitation to Durham was rescinded was because he gave a speech at a Pegida launch in Holland a week earlier. After hearing the news, Robinson “told the Huffington Post UK that he had pushed the university for a better explanation, but had not been given one”.
The article then states. “Robinson said he was due yesterday in Edinburgh to be part of a panel discussion on the use of social media “for recruitment to a cause”. He said the university cited “security risks” when they withdrew his invitation earlier this month”.
In addition, there may be a possibility that the university itself may have twisted the arm of the Durham Union Society to rescind Robinson’s accusation. However, the press officer refused to comment on the allegation when asked by Huffington Post UK.
Interesting, especially if one is to consider that, according to Breitbart, Durham invited Yusuf Chambers – an Islamist activist from IERA who is known to have advocated brutal sharia punishments such as death for Zina or adultery and pre-marital sex, as well as espousing homophobic views. So, there seems to be a bit of inconsistency in regards to how Durham applied its policy of disinviting “dangerous” speakers.
What I also find interesting is when Maryam Namazie (an activist I have immense respect for) had her invitation to Warwick University rescinded, the secular and humanist community on Twitter and elsewhere went ablaze with righteous anger (rightly so). There was pressure to re-invite her which succeeded and the students were allowed to hear what she has to say.
However, with news of Robinson being dis-invited to speak I don’t see as much outrage as with Namazie. Free speech is a fundamental right that is the bedrock of a free society, it is not some privilege that is handed down to certain individuals who fit a certain bill or criteria. Therefore it should not be seen through a political lens where you only defend it for views you like.
To make it absolutely clear, whether or not one agrees with Tommy Robinson is irrelevant. Personally I’m not a supporter of his because for every truth he says, he flirts even more with populism and Eurabia theories in regards to Muslims and Islam. His recent speech in Dresden was a perfect example of this. Still, it does not mean he sacrifices his right to speak publicly.
The issue is that in the United Kingdom we have gotten ourselves into a ridiculous precedent where speakers get dis-invited, no platformed and shut down from universities because of ludicrous accusations of “offence”, “hate speech”, “dangerous speech”. This is worrying because an institution of learning should be a place where even the most unpopular view can be heard and challenged by means of reasoned debate and discussion, not silenced for fear of upsetting the sensitivities of a few people.
So, by banning Robinson you’re not just denying him the right to air his views, but more importantly you are denying the students their right to listen to what Tommy has to say. The purpose of free speech is not just for you to say what you want but for the person you are listening to and the comments you hope to hear in return. I.e. for your own education and enlightenment.
What makes this so wrong is that these universities are making the students prisoners of their own opinions and forbidding them the means of possibly changing them.
We must stand with Tommy Robinson’s right to speak, agree or disagree with his views, and the right of the students to listen to a diversity of views in order for them to understand their own. Hopefully, pressure can be generated on Durham and Edinburgh university to reverse their ignorant actions.