British universities are becoming a breeding ground for the authoritarian, bigoted, anti-free speech movement which is sweeping across the country under the guise of ‘progressivism’. More and more of the best and most prestigious Universities in the country are churning out brainwashed graduates who believe that anyone that disagrees with them are not only wrong, but dangerous and evil. Well, I put it to them that what is more evil is preventing students at an institution of higher education from exploring a plurality of outlooks. The whole point of university is that one should be allowed to explore a range of alternative ideologies, arguments and viewpoints in the quest for enlightenment. How is one really supposed to understand anything without being presented all sides of a dispute? If one is does not have access to sources that can both confirm and refute their ideas, then one cannot become anything other than a brainwashed ignoramus. No student at university wants that. It’s why they’re there.
How patronising that student bodies believe exposure to a controversial character might indoctrinate their peers into that line of thinking. How patronising that student bodies don’t believe their peers can think for themselves. How patronising that student bodies believe that their peers would rather live in ignorance than be challenged. Or perhaps it is the student bodies that do not want to be challenged. Let’s explore this worrying trend within Universities to curtail free speech with a few recent examples.
Let’s start with arguably our most prestigious university, Oxford (note the word ‘arguably’, Cambridge students). In an act of outrageous censorship, they banned the student magazine dedicated to free speech from the Fresher’s Fair for fear it might offend new students. They literally banned a free speech magazine; it’s so ironic it hurts. ‘No Offence’ was banned under regulation 13 of the Student Stallholders regulations which states “OUSU reserves the right to remove any materials, or prevent any activity, that may cause offense.” A spokesperson for the Union explained their actions thus:
“We at OUSU do not wish to have an event which is intended to welcome new students to Oxford associated with a publication making light of racism, sexual violence, and homophobia in an attempt at satire.
“The Freshers’ Fair is one of OUSU’s most widely attended events and while Open Oxford are entitled to book a stall and distribute their publication elsewhere, we chose to withdraw their permission to distribute the publication.
“OUSU exists to represent and enhance the lives of all Oxford students and given that Freshers’ Fair is for new students, we do not wish to subject them to the offensive views of a minority which are present in this publication. Such views are in no way representative of Oxford students as whole.”
Clearly, they don’t quite understand the point of satire. The fact that the Oxford Union understands this is a magazine that, if you pardon the expression, takes the piss, and that it doesn’t actually endorse these vile sentiments makes the SU’s decision an even stranger one. They could have at least feigned ignorance and claimed that they didn’t realise it was satirical. It’s a free speech magazine; of course it’s going to push the boundaries of what’s acceptable – but what is and isn’t acceptable shouldn’t factor into the conversation at all. So what if it offends people? Universities shouldn’t be in the business of preventing offence.
In regards to the comment that the magazine express the views of a minority, that can’t be right. I would have thought most people would be pro-free speech. The more controversial sentiments within the publication are, as they pointed out, satirical. But again I say, even if it was a magazine that represented a minority it’s still no reason to ban it from the Fresher’s Fair. If that’s a genuine reason then most of the stalls at the Fair would have had to be banned. If there was a Marxist Society, or an LGBT society etc, none of these would represent the University as a whole, yet they would no doubt still be allowed at the Fair.
It’s worrying because Oxford is supposed to be home to the brightest and the best in the country; yet even they are falling foul to this new tide sweeping across the country of censorship, political correctness and abhorrence of offence.
Another example of the prevention of free speech within universities comes from Warwick. Maryam Namazie is a human rights campaigner and a member of the Council of Ex-Muslims. Uh oh, Islam has entered the discussion, quickly ban her! Indeed, her invitation to speak at the University from the Atheists, Secularists and Humanists group (WASH) was quickly overturned and withdrawn by the student union. The SU claimed she was “highly inflammatory” and “could incite hatred on campus”. Now, anyone who has ever read or listened to Ms Namazie will know that she is not an inciter of hatred, she is calm and reasoned. In fact, she actively campaigns against hatred and racism. No, the reason she was banned is because she used to be a Muslim, and is now critical of not only her former religion, but of religions in general. And we all know that if anyone expresses any concerns about Islamism in the age of ISIS, they automatically become racist, hateful and bigoted. Namazie puts it more eloquently than I ever could:
“They’re basically labelling me a racist and an extremist for speaking out against Islam and Islamism,”
“If people like me who fled an Islamist regime can’t speak out about my opposition to the far-right Islamic movement, if I can’t criticise Islam… that leaves very [few] options for me as a dissenter because the only thing I have is my freedom of expression.
“If anyone is inciting hatred, it’s the Islamists who are threatening people like me just for deciding we want to be atheist, just because we don’t want to toe the line.”
“To try to censor me, does a double disservice to those people who are dissenting by denying people like me the only opportunity we have to speak.”
(N.B., due to the uproar across the country and popular opposition, the decision to bar Namazie was eventually reversed by the Warwick Student Union).
Tommy Robinson is a more controversial character. So, unsurprisingly he has also seen invitations to speak at universities withdrawn recently. Last month, both Durham and Edinburgh Universities cancelled his event after he was seen speaking at a PEGIDA rally in Holland. Again I stress that whatever views one holds about Tommy, PEGIDA or the EDL should not factor into this conversation at all. Were there students who wanted to hear him speak? Yes. So what right does the university have in preventing him? As Namazie said, all they’re doing is preventing the students from exploring an alternative worldview that they would rarely be subjected to at university. Indeed, my fellow contributor Ralph Leonard wrote an article focused on this entire debacle called “Tommy Robinson has a Right to Speak”, in which puts together a very convincing case against these universities.
Besides, Tommy has spoken at universities before. This speech at the Oxford Union was very enlightening. And if this is the kind of thing we are to expect from him in his speeches, then it is important to listen to him.
Indeed, when we interviewed him for our youtube channel, it was a very thought-provoking discussion. We had pre-conceptions; of course we did. We came out of the interview with a few of them confirmed, but many more dismissed. This is because we have always been presented with one side of him by the media. This is why it is vitally important that universities should not ban ‘controversial’ speakers, otherwise they keep students in their bubble of ignorance. That is the opposite of what universities should stand for.
The most recent blocks have come from Manchester University. It blocked not one, but two speakers from attending from an event on feminism and free speech. The feminist Julie Bindel and the anti-feminist Milo Yiannopolous were barred from the event titled “From liberation to censorship: does modern feminism have a problem with free speech?” Can none of these universities recognize the irony in their actions? It’s almost laughable if I wasn’t so disturbed by the trend. Bindel had previously been accused of transphobia. The Student Union’s women officer believes it was the right thing to bar Bindel as her views are “dangerous for transpeople and they’re dangerous for feminist and liberation movements in general”. Well, I’d argue that censorship of free speech along with the prioritization of certain groups, while granting them immunity to all views differing from the acceptable norm is a dangerous development for society.
Milo Yiannopolous was also scheduled to speak at the event. However, not long after he said the decision to disinvite Bindel was “profoundly anti-intellectual and runs counter to the entire purpose of a university . . . As [Bindel] rightly notes, I am ‘an anti-feminist, deeply offensive bellend.’ Yet the Union has allowed me to speak, albeit with heavy restrictions”, he was also, rather amusingly, barred from the event. A spokesperson for the student union said this:
“We have been made aware of various comments lambasting rape survivors and transpeople, and as such we are concerned for the safety of our students on the topic of this event. He is a rape apologist and has repeatedly used derogatory and debasing ablest language when describing members of the trans community.
“As such, this undermines the principles of liberation enshrined in the Students’ Union, as outlined in the Safe Space policy. We believe these views could incite hatred against both transpeople and women who have experienced sexual violence. As we believe it is probable these views would be aired in this discussion should he be allowed to speak on campus, we have no choice but to ban him.
“As we made clear to the society, this means that this event with the proposed speakers will not be going ahead under the banner of the Students’ Union, with our support or using our resources.”
This was supposed to be a debate for goodness sake. I mean, really, just don’t go if you’re that worried about being offended. “Does modern feminism have a problem with Free Speech?” The actions of Manchester University have answered this question without the need for a debate at all. You see, these Student Unions can’t even bring themselves to debate such things; they prevent the other side from turning up at all!
It is a slippery slope towards totalitarianism and many British Universities, and by extension, much of society, has set foot onto it. Universities are supposed to be institutions where intellectual integrity reigns supreme. The political fancies and events of the day should not infiltrate the learning process. Students should be left to explore what they will without external influences. Political correctness, the principle of what it is and is not acceptable to say, and by extension think, has no place in university. As such, we should speak out against this evil before it spreads to those parts of society of which it does not already rule.