‘No platforming’ is a stupid trend
If you won’t have your views challenged you shouldn’t be at University
“No platforming” (that is, the banning of) supposed “fascist”, “transphobic” or other “offensive” speakers at public debates has become a new trend at student unions. Feminist writer and journalist Julie Bindel was banned from speaking at the University of Manchester, because of her views on transgender women and sex work.
More broadly, the National Union of Students recently tried to no-platform the founder of the anti-fascist website “Hope Not Hate”, Nick Lowles. This was in light of an accusation that he, himself was a racist and an Islamophobe.
If this didn’t shed enough light on how distorted the trend of no-platforming has become, many top UK universities were coded “red” last year, due to their curtailing of free speech. This included the University of Birmingham, after various activities by student union representatives, such as the banning of students wearing sombreros. This was due to concerns (whose concerns exactly, it was unspecified) that the wearing of such dress could be considered “racist”.
The NUS’s attempt to ban Nick Lowles demonstrates why no-platforming is dangerous. It allows a certain minority of individuals to enforce their agenda, by totalitarian means. Terms such as “fascist” are elastic, and vary with context. What may be considered “fascist” behaviour to one person, is likely to not be by another. When we allow the NUS to no-platform any person or organisation that they consider to be racist or fascist, we can only hope our views of these terms don’t contradict the NUS. !
While I am sure we can all agree that there are various individuals and organisations we could categorically apply these terms to (such as the BNP), they are at risk of being misused. In the Lowles case, the supposed reason for his being dubbed “islamaphobic” was his decision to condemn Islamic extremism.
To me, this isn’t an unreasonable, or in any way “fascist” opinion. Lowles’s sentiment is shared by the majority of Islamic people, notwithstanding the majority of the population as a whole. Would the NUS decide to ban everyone who condemns Islamic extremism from attending their events? Would they brand all of these people “fascists” for doing so? Where would they draw the line?
The seemingly narrow view on “racism” held by those who banned Lowles has allowed them to push a horribly misrepresented portrayal of his character. Certainly, their view on “racism” does not seem compatible with the majority of people, given that there was a rather large backlash against this decision. Therefore, why should their narrow interpretation be allowed to dictate the ideas that the rest of the student demographic is exposed to?
However, let’s say, hypothetically, that Lowles is indeed a “fascist” (in the broad sense of the term). Is the act of censoring his opinion, and refusing to share a platform with him in debate, really the correct course of action? If we refuse him a platform, we subscribe to some sort of illusion that his views do not exist. Surely, the better option would be to place Lowles on a public platform, and make him justify his opinions. This would not only demonstrate to a wide audience why his opinions are wrong, but would also allow us to strengthen and justify our own viewpoints.
This is what students come to university to do – to be exposed to a range of views. Many of these views will contradict their own, and some may even make them feel uncomfortable. This is how we mature and grow, in both a personal and an intellectual fashion. If we are not prepared to stand up and justify our opinions against those of our opponent, we really have to question how fragile and unfounded they must be in the first place.
While I personally do not agree with Julie Bindel’s views on transgender women, I do believe she has a right to voice her opinion. What is the “right”, and what is the “wrong” stance on this issue is completely relative. Those who protest against such individuals speaking on their campuses are in danger of conforming to a culture of dictatorship. Certain opinions are silenced, in accordance with what those in power believe. Does that not sound awfully familiar to various totalitarian regimes throughout history?
So by all means, have your own opinion, and disagree with Lowles and Bindel. However, the moment at which you refuse to acknowledge that other people have different viewpoints to you, your ability to function in an academic environment needs to be revised.