Queen Mary: Free speech for holocaust deniers and homophobes, but not the “racist” tabloids

‘We shouldn’t be banning newspapers because we don’t agree with them – it’s no different to book burning’

On the 6th December, the Students’ Union succeeded in passing a motion to ban the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express. The Students’ Union, councillors and students attending were free to speak for or against the motion, however only the councillors were permitted to vote. The motion was passed with 13 for, three against and 10 abstaining.

The Students’ Union, who brought the motion to council, commented that the tabloids “clearly fuel Islamophobia” and “the boycott was a show of ‘solidarity’ with refugees and other marginalised groups, and it is the Union’s job to ‘protect and represent them’”.

What’s irrefutably odd about the boycott is that the Students’ Union has been a staunch advocate of giving a platform to holocaust deniers, advocates for killing homosexuals, advocates for the Islamic State, and radical fundamentalist speakers, who in turn, rouse an astronomical amount of stigma and Islamophobia towards the kind, good-hearted moderate Muslims on campus.

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It’s true that the tabloids can be bigoted, but censorship is not the way to manage differing opinions

Speakers permitted a platform include Abu Usama adh Dhahebee, who advocates holy war in an Islamic state and preaches hatred against non-Muslims and homosexuality, which he says is “punishable by death”. He also believes that women are inferior to men.

Another speaker allowed a platform at QMUL includes Khalid Yasin, who said “this whole delusion of the equality of women is a bunch of foolishness. There’s no such thing.

“Whoever changes his religion from Islam to anything else kill him in the name of the Islamic state. Do you practise homosexuality with men? Take that homosexual man and throw him off the mountain.

“It takes two witnesses of a woman to equal one witness of the man”

Finally, Shamiul Joarder was invited to speak –  an officer of Stop the War, Joarder represents Friends of al-Aqsa, another affiliated organisation which defends the Hamas terrorist group and campaigns for boycotts of Israel and holocaust denial.

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During the presentation of the motion, the audience were told to use “jazz hands” and a free speech activist was told to cease filming the event or else “the police would be called” regardless of the fact that filming was in perfect alignment with campus policy.

With the previous point in mind, I suspect that the SU’s actions were less concerned with “solidarity for students”, but suppressing conservative news sources. From having met the SU executives myself, there is absolutely no question that there is a fierce and virulent hatred for conservatives and free speech activists, with one executive member (who chose not to be named) referring to conservatives as “dicks” and free speech activists as “fucking wankers”.

He later went on to discuss his displeasure with the Conservative Society attracting higher membership, saying “we’ve managed to run them down in previous years”.

Laura Potter of the SU, who proposed the motion, wrote on Facebook: “It’s ironic because these free speech society members are probably Tories who definitely do not support democracy as the left know it.”

The sentiment of the SU towards conservatism leads us to beg the question: was this just a left-wing Students’ Union lobbying to ban conservative tabloids?

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Emily Dinsmore, writer for Spiked, and Joe Marshall, Editor-in-Chief at Politics Made Public, who both attended, felt seriously concerned by the panel of councillors “who appeared to have already made their minds up before the debate had even started”, Emily Dinsmore wrote on Facebook.

She continued: “The proposer of the motion claimed to have a mandate yet not a single student they claimed to be representing defended their motion (none of them even turned up).

“Only council members defended it. Many of them had already crossed their marking sheets before the debate had begun.

“That’s essentially sticking your fingers in your ears so you can’t hear the opposition. There were too many of us wanting to speak in opposition and not enough time to hear us all.

“There are 42 council members. Just over half turned up. Only 13 voted in favour, three against.”

After speaking with Laura Potter, who proposed the motion, I too question the legitimacy of the meeting as, she confessed to preparing only “20 minutes beforehand” then sending me her speaking notes which were virtually unintelligible at best.

If the SU never felt the need to even prepare, before standing to council to persuade them of the motion, and only one member of the SU chose to speak, was there really a serious debate? Or was this a farce to create an illusion of democracy to students?

With ideological differences aside, it’s disturbing that the meeting for the motion had no advertisement whatsoever, leading to a room comprised almost entirely of student media, the executive and the council, consequently students felt their opinions were not accurately represented. The QMUL Liberal Democrats have even produced a petition to overrule the decision.

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Lastly, I took to speaking with the staff at Infusion, who sell the tabloids but from the 12th of December will be banned from doing so.

The staff, all students themselves, self-proclaimed to be “liberal” and voiced a strong distain for the tabloids, however they were also adamant that the ban sets a “dangerous precedent”, with one staff member saying “I personally don’t like tabloids like the Sun, but banning them is ridiculous.

“At the end of the day, if you don’t like them, just don’t buy them.

“We shouldn’t be banning newspapers because we don’t agree with them – it’s no different to book burning.”

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