Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces and Dangerous Thoughts: PART ONE

Posted: February 22, 2016 in Political Correctness/Censorship
Tags: , , , , , , ,

No Platforming

No Platform is a policy of the National Union of Students (NUS) of the United Kingdom. Like other no platform policies, it asserts that no proscribed person or organisation should be given a platform to speak, nor should a union officer share a platform with them. – NUS No Platform Policy

The no platform policy has existed for many years and its singular intent is to selectively limit who can and cannot speak at university campuses across the U.K, with protesters actively disrupting speakers or actively attempting to prevent students from attending an event. This can be for a variety of reasons but the policy mainly applies to those who may hold racist or fascist views but it does extend to other views that the union may deem offensive, such as transphobia. This piece aims show just how many people of varying backgrounds have been deemed unsafe for holding a disagreeable perspective.

Firstly, radical feminist Julie Bindel was No Platformed after the NUS concluded she held transphobic views. Julie Bindel responded to this with her own article on the Guardian. In the article she claims that her exclusion proves that this is an anti-feminist crusade, and the refers to how a male student leader accused student supporters of Bindel of being ‘transphobes’ and ‘whorephobes’. This accusation stems from statements made in Bindel’s 2004 article ‘Gender benders, beware‘. However, it should be noted that Bindel recently apologised for her comments in this particular article. There is a point in her article on No Platforming that I agree with, and it is that ‘the current climate in universities of creating “safe spaces” in which no evil must enter is pathetic.’ and she is right about this, especially if we consider that Academia is supposed to be the place where controversial and otherwise offensive views are challenged and countered instead of being suppressed. However, she also directly counteracts her above ‘creating safe spaces statement’ by stating later;

“Initially, the University of Manchester decided to no platform me and not my opponent, Milo Yiannopoulos, a vocal anti-feminist, (though he too was later dis-invited, after protests over the hypocrisy). In doing so, they handed me a gift. Here is proof that this is an anti-feminist crusade, and nothing at all about so called safe spaces.”

So which is it Bindel? is NUS creating safe spaces or are the two unrelated. She is also wrong on this being an anti feminist crusade, No Platforming can and has affected both sides of the political spectrum. But this isn’t the first time the NUS has coddled students or acted in their interests. It’s been happening for many years, and is only becoming more prominent.

For instance in 2010, two members of the NUS forced the University of Durham’s student union to cancel a proposed debate on multiculturalism. An article written by Mark Tallentire mentions how the ‘student debate featuring two BNP politicians’ was cancelled due to fears of violence. Furthermore, the article states Anna Birley from the NUS said that she was ‘confident the debate would have been intelligent, responsible and an opportunity for students to challenge offensive views; and was disappointed the focus had become the threatened confrontation outside.’ On the other hand Simon Assas from the (The Unite Against Fascism – UAF) group, ‘called it a victory for common sense and for people who wanted to stand up against racism and fascism.’ The article goes on to state how the NUS’s president of the time Wes Streeting ‘believed there was no place on university campuses for the BNP; and that the idea the NUS, rather than the BNP, had caused a welfare and public order issue was preposterous.’ Paul Nicholls, Co-founded the facebook group Durham University Students for Freedom of Speech in response to the cancellation of the debate. The group gained a lot of support from students at the university. Nicholls claimed that this was a ‘NUS betrayal of students outside the chamber where the debate would have been held.’ This happened six years ago but even so despite what Bindel claims, No Platforming is something that can and may at some point affect us all. It also suggests that this growing act of censorship is being initiated only by a select group within the NUS, and that the NUS itself is not entirely to blame.

In addition, more recently Nick Lowles The head of a campaign which seeks to counter racism and fascism in the UK was allegedly “no-platformed” by the NUS on the grounds that he is “Islamophobic.” The Independent reported on how this may have been tied to a facebook post by Lowles that was shared by a user on twitter, in which he claims black students opposed his appearance on an anti-racism platform. Lowles in the interview for the Independent believed that the students took issue with his position on condemning on-street grooming by gangs;

“My crime, it seems, has been to repeatedly call on the anti-racist movement to do more to condemn on-street grooming by gangs and campaigning against Islamist extremist groups in the UK and abroad. I make no apology for either position. We need to be consistent in our opposition to extremism – from whatever quarter it comes.”

He also adds that he has no issue with the NUS as a whole, only with those who are ultra-leftists. Another man that has been No Platformed, is veteran activist Peter Tatchell who was No Platformed for being racist as claimed by Fran Crowling. She had refused to go on stage at the Canterbury Christ Church University unless he didn’t attend. The reason purportedly being;

‘Ms Cowling stated in emails to event organizers that she could not share the stage with Mr Tatchell, because he signed an open letter in the Observer last year supporting free speech and against no-platforming, the practice by some universities to ban speakers because of their views.’

This statement alone suggests what many have come to fear from some students on University campuses, they are literally afraid to confront or face someone in a open debate or discussion because they simply can’t handle someone else’s perspective. Its unsurprising then that Tatchell would also come to Lowles defence, he said to the Independent that Lowles campaign has a ‘trail-blazing’ record of fighting fascism and racism. He suggests that ‘the idea that there should be any attempt to prevent them speaking is profoundly disturbing. It smacks of political sectarianism of the worst kind.’ The most important part of Tatchell’s statement is that he feels that the some within the NUS are more concerned with fighting their fellow activists than actually contesting real racists or fascists. It should be noted that very recently Mr Tatchell came to the defence of the person who attempted to censor him stating that whilst he was disappointed she wouldn’t debate him, he respects her right of choice. He is also asked if he would debate Manny Pacquiao over his controversial comments that gay people are “worse than animals.” His reply was:

“I’d be prepared to share a platform with any bigot in order to challenge and expose them. Not just Manny, but Vladimir Putin, Robert Mugabe. I would, and have, shared platforms with lots of bigoted people in the past, and I think successfully have exposed their prejudice.”

Tatchell showing the best way to overcome offensive speech is to challenge it head on, instead of conjuring up petitions to get a speaker cancelled.

Brendan O’Neil, a journalist has also been critical of No Platforming and the rising opposition to freedom of speech. He wrote in the Telegraph how these leaders think controversial ideas should be crushed rather than contested. He also aptly describes how students at Cardiff University have tried to erect a Greer-deflecting forcefield around their campus. Greer was No Platformed because she also believes transitioning men are not women. This led to the women’s officer at Cardiff University, Rachael Melhuish, petitioning specifically that a lecture Greer was booked to give be cancelled, stating in the petition;

‘While debate in a University should be encouraged, hosting a speaker with such problematic and hateful views towards marginalised and vulnerable groups is dangerous. Allowing Greer a platform endorses her views, and by extension, the transmisogyny which she continues to perpetuate.’

However, despite the university stating the debate would go on, Greer cancelled the event. Zoe William’s piece in the Guardian seems to show a mixed perspective, on the one hand she suggests as an example that nothing is gained by allowing those openly racist to express views on multiculturalism. But she does conclude that the best way to counter transphobia is not silence it, but by taking the person’s argument to task, by argument and persuasion. The truth of the matter is you win nothing by turning your back on those who hate, it merely stirs them to action. If you give them a platform you can show how perhaps absurd their ideas are, and therefore any support they would have had vanishes in that instant. Another example of censorship at Cardiff University is that Dapper Laughs was also banned from performing there. A petition was also used and declares that ‘Misogynistic humour should not be supported by an organisation that stands for equality.’ This is also one of many reasons by comedians refuse to go on stage at universities. Offensive humour is simply not allowed due to the sensitive nature of some students.

Furthermore, O’Neil’s article goes on to add that ‘it’s now commonplace to hear students describe certain ways of thinking as a threat to their “mental safety”. Where once students might have raged and blasphemed against The Man, now they set up “safe spaces” where no offensive word may be uttered or saucy image displayed.’ He uses many examples to show how the expression of students on campuses are being stamped on such as how ‘the student union at University College London banned a Nietzsche reading group, claiming it was encouraging students to dip into “fascist ideology”. Even philosophers aren’t safe from campus bans.’ and He also perfectly sums up this rising epidemic of ever more restrictive policies;

“Feminists, thinkers, songs, magazines, Israelis — nothing is safe from controversy-allergic student officials. Whenever they crush or hush things they deem offensive, they use the same justification: that it’s important to protect students’ self-esteem and “mental safety”.”

Another example of No Platforming this time relates to controversial journalist Milo Yiannopolous, a writer for the site Breitbart. Milo has seen controversy follow him wherever he walks, especially since he was one of the few journalists who didn’t outright condemn the Gamergate consumer revolt. In a Skype call done by the Independent Journal, Milo states how;

‘They are not banning just conservative voices – but anyone who exists outside progressive liberal bubble. The loss to well-rounded education is incalculable. They can’t get exposure to opposing views. At university, you ought to be challenged. You ought to be uncomfortable, you should be confronted with disagreement. It’s a place of education – challenging your beliefs.’

The whole point of going to University as he states is to challenge yourself, and that may mean you will meet people who see the world in a completely different light, and you gain no victory by protesting them. Because as the cases above show, feminists, comedians, conservatives, and liberals who don’t follow progressive dogma may face being met with a wall of pitchforks and torches by either the NUS or their fellow students.

Finally, recently Sean Faye at the Independent came out in defence of No Platforming, by attempting to point the hypocrisy of the likes of Julie Bindel. Faye also goes on to state that:

‘Perhaps it’s true that this is merely “special snowflake” behaviour. However, to my mind, the coddled and sanctimonious voices here are not the students engaging in “no-platforming” or withdrawing from debates but an elder generation of activists petulantly claiming they are being silenced from their “right” to be heard in the national press.’

In the article he misrepresents what free speech is. It’s a fundamental right of expression that goes beyond law and our human rights, and is nothing to do with the ‘eye of the beholder’. He also claims that its ‘the frequent defence of the oppressor who knows that minorities lack the same power to exercise their own free speech in approved ways.’ The issue with this statement is assuming that a person lacks power based on skin colour, when that is simply untrue especially on campus. Thus Faye concludes that the censorious nature of No Platforming is a part of Free Speech. And in that instant has condemned himself, and everyone around to him to this possibility of being silenced by student activists who they themselves feel entitled to control your right of expression.

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Comments
  1. […] Firstly, if you haven’t read part one on No Platforming, it can be found here. […]

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  2. […] the two paragraphs above. Well if you’ve ready anything previously on here related to ‘No-Platforming‘ then you probably already know what my stance is on it. I hate it. It directly contradicts […]

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