You are all wrong about No Platform
Why a voice isn’t just for people on that shitty talent show
Before I begin, may I just say loud and clear: I think almost everyone is wrong on this debate.
And I think it is obvious why. Perhaps that makes me part of the ‘silent majority’ that I always wish would be a little less silent.
Cambridge University Palestinian Society have decided that the Union’s invitation to the Israeli Ambassador is ‘a tacit endorsement of war crimes’.
The protest scheduled against Nigel Farage’s visit thinks that it forced Farage to cancel. CUSU Women’s Campaign think ProLife should not be given a stall at the fresher’s fair.
Let me now state very simply: I think Farage is a spurious prevaricator, that women’s bodily autonomy is inviolable and that Israel should withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
So what is my problem?
Well I don’t know if you’ve spotted it, but there is a pattern here.
ProIsrael, ProFarage and ProLife are all movements or opinions generally held by the right, in different ways.
Conversely, if you despise all those movements you are probably somewhere on the left. (You may now insert all the qualifications of which I am well aware about how obsolete that divide may be).
So what we have is lots of individuals who represent controversial opinions of the right have been invited to Cambridge.
What do the left do? Ban them, or at least insist that they be denied a platform.
Now there is one final qualification I would like to add, to snatch away as much of Tab commenters’ firepower as possible.
I think the Union and other organisations across Cambridge invite too many righty ranters like Le Pen or Farage – perhaps because they know the shitstorm it will create – and not enough similarly thought-provoking figures of the left (although the Palestinian Ambassador was here last year).
Even more importantly, and this is my biggest criticism of the Union, the format of such events is often constrained and geared towards the speaker, they are given an opportunity to offer their propaganda, then piss off in a blacked-out car.
That format denies the whole point of this place which is that it’s full of people with bright ideas, which they ought to be able to put to whoever ventures into the den.
I am sure Mr Squirrell will fix this. But that is what Farage, ProLife activists, and the Israeli Ambassador ought to be afraid of: thousands of thirsty minds, eager to lob intellectual fireballs at ideas that don’t make sense or don’t fit the facts.
But now lets get back to the point. None of these individuals ought to be denied a platform.
Let me take a minute explain and get all philosophical on ‘ur ass’, by taking the Palestinian Society’s claim I mentioned earlier. It goes like this: ‘If institution X gives a platform to person P with Y views, then X is endorsing Y (the views).’
Now Union hacks will probably snort at that claim, so it is worth pointing out that it isn’t entirely nuts.
The Union is unlikely to invite a convicted criminal, say a mass murder, to try and understand the psychology of murder. They are unlikely to invite a member of the British Nazi Party (its website is really shit). So there is a ‘No Platform’ line, somewhere.
But what depresses me is how often that argument is wheeled out. Nigel Farage may well incite hatred, intended or not.
He is not, however, either sufficiently dangerous or extreme to deny him a platform: quite a lot of people voted for him recently. (I also very much doubt he cancelled for fear of a gaggle of students waving some placards.)
Professor Haslam who invited Farage is an expert in the history of the Soviet Union, not entirely unsympathetic, and you should read his book before whipping out the argument that the invitation equals endorsement.
Just as absurd is that the objection to the Israeli Ambassador’s visit to the UK takes the same form.
The Union invited the Palestinian Ambassador last year. So which view are they endorsing? There is more often than not a painfully obvious conflict when that argument is wheeled out in situations where it feels, to most of us, tenuous.
Actually, I would like to push this further. Usually implicit in the kind of argument made against these invitations is the assumption that these people are brainwashing, sent by Big Brother to endorse some fabricated violent war.
I find that patronising. I have spent months in Israel and Palestine, reporting and finding things out for myself. I am not afraid of any of them, and there is much I would like to ask the ambassador.
What makes me saddest of all is that the left feel the need to oppose not the arguments of these people, but their very presence.
I think we, as I include myself part of the left, are afraid: The zeitgeist is neoliberal. We stand on thin intellectual ground in the 21st century, with minimal mainstream representation and only flimsy ideology to fall back on.
Please protest against anything you wish; it staves off the pervasive apathy.
I joined the Le Pen protests two years ago, knowing in advance that the Union’s format would not allow serious challenges (It didn’t; I got inside afterwards).
But I do not recognise the claim ‘Tell P that he or she is NOT welcome in Cambridge.’ That is not my Cambridge.
My Cambridge is a place where I can dive into books, think carefully, and throw my ideas at these people as hard as I possibly can. You should too.