The Union were wrong to ban Macer Gifford from speaking

Letting him speak isn’t condoning his actions


UCL has always struck me as a place where I can speak my mind. So is the banning of Macer Gifford, who was set to come and speak about his experiences with the Kurdsih Group YPG, an infringement of our right to listen to who we want, and hold whatever views we wish to hold?

Macer’s visit was bound to bring about mixed responses. It’s understandable how UCLU are being precautionary about the possibility of students joining up without full understanding of the situation. There’s always a fine line between giving people a platform to speak and taking into account the potential for harm, and there’s no easy way of handling this.

Macer was due to speak earlier this week

Macer was due to speak earlier this week

But while I don’t usually buy into sweeping generalisations like “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist”, the Union’s statement on this issue is worth looking into. The issues Macer wanted to talk about needed to be talked about. His first-hand insight is merely him sharing his experiences, not swaying us one way or the other.

The Kurdish Society’s intention for wanting Macer to come was not to enforce views but rather provide a platform for discussion of human rights and the very nature of the Syrian conflict. It’s unfortunate the situation was resolved in such a manner, which I’m sure was not UCLU’s intent – they did their best to get further advice from the police and have encouraged further discussion among student bodies regarding this topic.

But ultimately they failed to realise offering a platform was not the same as taking a side: offering a platform to Macer and banning an ISIS sympathiser may be seen as taking sides, but until that opportunity arises, UCLU made a mistake in banning what could’ve been a very insightful and interesting seminar.

Hopefully all parties concerned will find some way to resolve this issue and allow for the right to free speech and the cautionary obligations an institute like UCL must uphold.