Send the No-Platformers a big, democratic middle finger
You may not like Julian Assange, but that does not mean he doesn’t deserve a platform
In August 2012 Julian Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador and I stopped eating bananas. The two are not unrelated.
I instinctively distrusted a man who claimed to be working in the cause of freedom while showing such utter disregard for the lives of, for example, innocent Afghans who provided information on the Taliban. Now it seemed possible he was going to go without having to answer an allegation of rape. I never bought the argument that it was all a plot to force an extradition to the US. Surely it would be easier for the Americans to both to fake the allegation in and extradite him from the UK?
There is much to be said for the view that the United States has been responsible for some truly despicable behaviour in South America over the last century, but giving refuge to a wanted rapist struck me then, as it does now, as a particularly morally blind method of revenge.
Ecuador, aside from being a harrasser of journalists, is one of the world’s largest producer of the yellow herb, and therefore quite literally, a banana republic. Their President, a wannabe Chavez called Rafael Correa, was enjoying the plaudits of the anti-American world. You know, places like Russia and Iran. Something snapped:
‘Hit ‘em where it hurts Spence,’ said the little voice in my head. So I gave up bananas.
Beyond the initial excitement of being involved in a moral crusade I can’t say my life has changed that much. I was starting university and couldn’t spend too much time worrying about a sad little Australian in a cramped apartment in Mayfair. The effectiveness of my campaign has been questionable, especially since I discovered most British bananas are in fact imported from Costa Rica. Assange is still in the embassy, the statute of limitations on some of his offences is running out, and my potassium levels are probably lower than they should be. He occasionally makes the news and each time he does I remind myself that he is filth and should rot in jail, not just for his likely sexual assaults but also probably for his treason and myriad of other offences.
This is a strong opinion, but, and it is incredible I have to say this in a newspaper read by people who attend Cambridge University, it is just my opinion. I have a right to express it, and if it offends you, feel free to stop reading this right now. Go on, I dare you. Close this tab.
Whether I like it or not, Assange is a consequential figure, and as a good Union member (visits in the past three years: 7) I also have a right to hear him speak and question him if I want to. If I personally felt so affronted by his behaviour that I couldn’t look at him, or I felt I had been made unsafe by his videolink presence, then I would do the sensible thing and not go to the Union.
I have the right to be offended, but I do not have the right to dictate who societies should and shouldn’t invite. If I decided not to go on the evening in question then I might do some work, or take advantage of one of the many other establishments this city has to offer. There’s an all-you-can eat sushi place by the Grafton Centre, to take just one example.
Like, I suspect, many of you, I am usually lazy and cowardly when it comes to confronting the No Platform nincompoops. They’ve been as ever-present in my Cambridge career as drinking societies, boaties, and essays. I do not have the energy to use social media to explain to them precisely why I think their arguments are idiotic and small-minded. I can’t be bothered to tell them why I think an as yet unproven accusation of rape does not rob Julian Assange of his right to speak freely, though it should probably, in time, rob him of his freedom. I have no desire to illustrate to them how the cause of justice is served by having this ridiculous figure air his messiah complex directly to the intelligent and discerning Union audience. Their minds aren’t going to be changed, and neither is mine.
By an enormous stroke of luck, however, thousands of us now have the chance to send them all a big, democratic, middle finger. That’s the beauty of voting. It’s anonymous and it doesn’t involve arguing with someone who might imply that you’re a rape apologist for stating something that most of the country know to be a basic tenet of a free society.
Log in on Thursday and vote to allow Assange to speak. It’ll take 30 seconds and instil you with the warm glow of one who has struck a small blow for freedom.
It’s a good feeling; it’s how I felt when I first declined a banana.