DSK: The Great Divider

Everyone has something to say about DSK’s visit to Cambridge. But why do we insist on being so offensive towards each other?

Cambridge Union dominique strauss kahn dsk free speech insult leo parker-rees protest protester rape The Cambridge Union

First, I want to thank the feminazi protesters who attempted to illegally enter the Union last night, but settled for spoiling the evening with hours of mindless, shouty chanting.  Next, I want to thank the brave souls who shredded the placard of the one protester who had the nerve to see things differently. And finally, a massive thank you to the rape-apologist misogynists who, ignoring the feelings of the many victims of sexual assault, chose to invite, listen to, and legitimise a man who walks free purely on the basis of legal technicality. Thank you for playing your part in a culture where women’s voices are silenced by powerful men like DSK.

The strangest thing about the ongoing DSK debate is that both sides actually have very reasonable positions, but seem determined to see each other as scum. Students on both sides have described their opponents with almost wilful misunderstanding. They’ve labelled each other as rape apologists, wanktivists, Marxists, sexists, bleeding hearts, heartless bastards… the list goes on.

Nobody’s sitting on the fence in the DSK debate

Claiming that the people who invited DSK to speak are rape apologists is unbelievably offensive, but it is no worse than suggesting that protesters (some of whom have experienced sexual abuse) should stop getting their knickers in a twist. The subject of this debate may be offensive, but this doesn’t mean that we should feel the need to argue in an offensive manner. It would be naive to argue that the issues surrounding DSK’s visit to the Union are black and white, and yet everyone seems to have opted for simple-minded ‘pick a side’ mentality.

Whatever happened to respectful disagreement and polite debate?

However much you love free speech, you should make an effort to protect those who may find it deeply offensive and upsetting. However much you hate the patriarchy, you should hesitate before accusing individuals of complicity in rape culture, or of courting controversy at the victims’ expense. Instead of painting ourselves into opposing ideological corners, we should have used DSK’s visit as an opportunity to engage in meaningful debate.

Everyone has been so busy doing their jobs – some people very well – that they have forgotten to communicate with each other. The Union booked a speaker who many people were interested in seeing. The CUSU Women’s Officer (along with many like-minded supporters) objected, and helped to raise awareness about the wider problems of rape within our society. The Union maintained moral neutrality, and the protesters spoke out against injustice.

All of these reactions have done some good. If it wasn’t for the combined actions of the Union and the protesters, how many students would be familiar with the details of the Nafissatou Diallo case? How many would be aware of the shockingly low rates of rape conviction?

I only hope that the next time something like this happens, we can achieve as much without villifying those who see things differently to us.