I wrote an article about freedom of speech and it didn’t end well

Some of my friends wanted me silenced

free speech no platforming the tab the tab birmingham the tab brum

A week ago I published an article on The Tab Birmingham, in which I illustrated why the banning of certain speakers at student unions is wrong. You may have read it; if not there’s a link to it here: https://thetab.com/uk/birmingham/2016/04/06/because-you-dont-agree-with-it-28934

In the article I specifically referred to the University of Manchester’s decision to ban “transphobic” Julie Bindel (from speaking at a talk that was, ironically, on the topic of free speech). I also talked about the NUS’s attempt to no platform (that is, not give him a platform to speak) the founder of the anti-fascist website “Hope Not Hate”, Nick Lowles, due to an implication that he was “islamophobic”.

I  was pleased with how it turned out, so I shared it on Facebook. Unsurprisingly, it attracted a lot of objection and controversy.

Weve become a generation of students that refuse to acknowledge opinions we disagree with

We’ve become a generation of students that refuse to acknowledge opinions we disagree with

I didn’t mind this at all. I’d be a hypocrite if I got upset at people objecting my views. I was calling for more debate, and speaking against the censorship of opinion. However, a lot of the arguments made by those opposing my article misunderstood what I was trying to say.

And its fine to no-platform on an individual basis- not to do it on an institutional level

And it’s fine to no-platform on an individual basis, just not on an institutional level

It is perfectly reasonable for you to not attend an event where a certain person is speaking, as a form of protest against that individual and their views. This is exercising your democratic right to “no-platform” on an individual basis.

But this was not what the University of Manchester Student Union did when they placed an overarching ban on Bindel’s attendance at the event. Instead, they acted upon the opinions and feelings of those on only one side of the debate. This completely undermined anyone with the same views as Bindel, or anyone who just wanted to hear what she had to say.

It’s unfair to deny someone the right to speak at your university just because you disagree with their opinion. There is a difference between being offended by something and being oppressed. I understand some transgender students will have been rightly offended at things Bindel has said in the past about them – I am not trying to undermine their experience with this (another accusation I was hit with).

You do have a right not to attend the event yourself, but you can’t stop other people from doing so. You can’t have dictator-like control over people’s autonomy of thought – that’s not in line with what a democratic society is.

Where? When? How?

Where? When? How?

If people disagree with Bindel, I just wouldn’t say that no-platforming is the best way to protest her views.

Instead, you should go to the event she is speaking at and hold her to account for what she believes. This would allow you to put forward your own views and say why you disagree with her. It would expose to a wider audience why her views are damaging.

If we are not prepared to do this, it allows Bindel to claim that she was silenced, meaning that more people might become sympathetic to her and her beliefs. Realistically, this probably would not have happened if they were shut down in an intelligent debate in the first place.

Another misconception that was made (unsurprisingly, I will add) is that I am in support of transphobia and homophobia. Of course I’m not, I want to challenge these to the ends of the world.

But this is the point; I want to CHALLENGE them. I am prepared to go to debates where “transphobic” and “homophobic” people are speaking, and hold them to account for those beliefs. If I wasn’t prepared to do this, I wouldn’t be a good, critically thinking student.

Free speech= just an excuse for bigotry. Mmm ok...

Free speech = just an excuse for bigotry. Mmm ok…

We can’t just assume that our side of the debate is inherently right. There is an argument that there is no universal standard of what is right and wrong. Consequently, we must be prepared to defend why we believe our view is so right. What better place to do this in, I challenge you, than the academic arena of university?

This is the next issue my article stirred up. We cannot always conclusively say what it means to be “transphobic”, “homophobic” or “racist”, because these terms depend on context. There is a whole movement of feminism that is trans-exclusionary. Is this down to pure hatred? Or is it just that these women have a different perspective on the feminist debate?

We cannot just cut off their viewpoint and claim that it is inherently and morally wrong. We must be prepared to learn from our opponents through debate, as we expect them to learn from us. This is what happens if we are to treat everyone’s view as equal in a democracy.

It's just not that simple :/

So you’re saying one thing isn’t an opinion, by contradicting it with you’re own opinion? Hmm…

As I said before, branding people with these terms can be horribly misleading. Was it fair to make a claim Nick Lowles of Hope Not Hate was islamophobic, because he condemned Islamic extremism?

The debate fizzled into people making childish attacks against anyone who tried to make these kind of arguments. They presumed that their side of the debate was right and that anyone opposing them was nothing but a closed-minded bigot. Complex issues such as these are not black and white.

But you claim to be on the side that is against bullying?

But you claim to be on the side that is against bullying?

Friendly trans rep, who says that people have the misfortune of knowing a person

Friendly trans rep, who says that people have the misfortune of knowing a person

The irony is that I was not taking any sides on issues such as “transphobia”. I simply put forward the case that we must be prepared to critically evaluate both sides. In a world of 6 billion people, we cannot expect everyone to believe the same as we do. If people want to no platform me for pointing out this fact they are more than welcome to. They are more than welcome to be upset, because I have a difference of opinion on the subject.

Ok bye

Ok bye

However, that will just serve to prove my point on the sad state of student politics. It’s an arena of people who presume that they can never be wrong, and that everyone who disagrees with them must be some sort of inconsiderate monster, and to be honest, that’s just not democracy.