Sunday, December 02, 2007

Time for No Platform to end

Stand up for free speech. If you're a delegate to the NUS extraordinary conference, join the Facebook group in opposition to the No Platform policy. If you're not - join and ask your delegates to do the same. If you're a student in Manchester, vote in the priorities ballot on Monday and rank Motion C ("Kicking the racists off our campuses") last. There is just one way to defeat fascism and racism - freedom for all.
One of the useful things about complete overhauls is that nothing is sacred. The proposed NUS constitution is attempting to enshrine the illiberal "no platform" policy (banning those the NUS leadership think are racists from attending NUS events and preventing NUS officials from debating them), in effect making it all but impossible to ever remove the no platform policy. The conference on Tuesday 4th December is the one and only chance to stand up for free speech and show that it is far more effective to engage in debate and defeat extremists, as shown at the Oxford Union last week. This seems to have gone under the radar during the massive debate about whether the NUS governance review promotes or limits democracy - but it is absolutely certain that any organisation which can ban an elected delegate from speaking their mind is far from democratic.

In a liberal and democratic society, all must be free to voice their opinions in public. A marketplace of ideas is how society has progressed from an autocratic theocracy in the times of Galileo (the apocryphal muttering of "and yet it moves") through the Enlightenment to the generally free culture we live in today. It is open debate, with rigorous scrutiny of ideas, which leads to advancement of our society. Some ideas are right, and some are wrong - it is open scrutiny and honest debate which allows us to determine which is which. Unfortunately, it is not possible to realistically distinguish between inoffensive ideas, offensive ideas which are beneficial, and offensive ideas which are just offensive. Today, someone without an understanding of religious history would not understand why, 500 years ago, the theory of heliocentrism would have led to persecution for those that suggested the theory, and the offense such an idea caused. They might also not understand why the theory of evolution is rejected and those that publically accept it in certain regions of the world are ostracised from their families and communities. Both of these theories have been seen as offensive - but they are beneficial because they have turned out to be right.

The BNP have undergone a PR review to make them appear less extreme to the public, changing policies like repatriation of non-white people from compulsory to "voluntary with incentives". This is offensive, and is almost certainly nothing more than just racism. But to cut off the BNP's right to state offensive ideas, just because they are offensive, would logically lead to the banning, in some institutions of correct academic ideas like evolution, as it is offensive. It is moral relativism (i.e. hypocrisy) to limit free speech on the grounds it is offensive at home while campaigning for human rights and civil liberties abroad when it is freedom of speech - the freedom to offend - which has been the key freedom in the development of the society we have today. The BNP must be given the rope to hang themselves.

Finally, the claim is made that by debating with members of the BNP they views are legitimised. Utter rubbish - in a debate one side wins and the other loses. A loss in a debate is a sign that one's views are not legitimate. If people think that Nick Griffin being humiliated and embarrassed by a student half his age is legitimising the BNP, they're talking nonsense.


Paul Leake said...

Creationists and Intelligent Design advocates consistently demand ID or Creationism be in science to teach both sides - demands to teach the 'controversy'. That every debate features real scientists and pseudo-scientists creates the impression that evolution isn't about as settled as a scientific fact as anything can be.

I'd condemn absolutely using legal sanction against Griffin, the BNP or Irving, and think the Austrian jailing of Irving for his views brings shame to Europe. However The BNP have failed to break the connection between their supporters and groups that carry out or threaten political violence and anyone who would willingly invite the BNP onto their campus is either ignorant or irresponsible. The same should go for any part of the political spectrum who's active opponents show themselves threatened with or victims of violence.

Chris said...

Paul, you make a fair point. But the "no platform" policy does more than prevent invitations to BNP members onto our campus (which is irresponsible and largely political posturing, cf. the Oxford Union debate). It also prevents student members of groups which are subject to the "no platform" policy on campus from taking part in any union activity, including attending, voting, and speaking at Union general meetings, standing for election, or getting involved in societies.

I have to say I do not believe a member of the BNP would be elected at any students' union. If they spoke against an equality motion at a general meeting, they'd be on their own. Our democracy is robust enough to ensure that BNP candidates do not get elected and remain an extremist minority party.

I believe that if you support "no platform" policies, you don't trust students to think for themselves. I believe ideologies that confirm the equality of all humans are much stronger than ones which are racist and I believe that the overwhelming majority of students do as well.

Miller 2.0 said...

How about the two-step argument that the management of a private organisation can do what they like with their building, and that on the whole, inviting or allowing fascists into the building is not a policy worth following?

Miller 2.0 said...

"and I believe that the overwhelming majority of students do as well."

Indeed, but due to the current relative obscurity of the BNP, fascists losing arguments win proportionally more supporters than those who beat them, and are thus politically sustained; though small, through this medium, they remain constant.

Chris said...

Tom, I don't think I've ever rejected that concept of a private organisation being allowed to set its own membership rights - that's freedom of assembly.

I think there are two issues here - one which is dealing with members who may be fascist, and the other is non-members who may be fascists.

If there was no "no platform" policy, I would never extend an invitation to a BNP member to speak at UMSU. If I were in charge of approving invited speakers, I would reject any application for a BNP member to visit, and I can't think of any reason why I would approve one.

I believe UMSU's constitution is strong enough as it is. Our executive is responsible for approving who can visit and I do not subscribe to the Oxford Union's idea of inviting fascists to speak on a "free speech" debate because, among other reasons, they really don't have anything useful to add to it. Hopefully our debating society and other related ocieties also agree with that.

However, for members, I believe that it is not right for a students' union to deny the ability to vote and stand in a students' union election, no matter how abhorrent their views. I think their views would be rejected by students and they would not be elected.