Thursday, May 10, 2007

disappointing

Due to a large amount of public opposition from the Students Union here on campus it came to my attention that Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party (BNP) was due to be speaking on campus next Monday.

In their own nanny-state way the SU decided to hold an emergency general meeting (EGM) to propose a no-platform policy aimed at preventing Mr Griffin, and others like him, from speaking at the University. I do not feel that this was the right approach, and such a denial of Freedom of Speech is typical of the "tolerant" attitude which is currently so trendy.

I responded to an email from the SU President, and my views on the matter can be summarised as follows:

"Whereas I have no problem with the SU being obviously anti-BNP, I struggle with the proposed motion to pass a no-platform policy.

Like most, I am not a BNP-Supporter, but I do not feel that the SU should impinge on anybody's freedom of speech. University is a time when students really learn to think and develop ideas for themselves, and censorship of any kind denies the right to do that properly. Although it is very kind of the SU to take responsibility for ensuring that we are not exposed to the BNP, I feel that such a stance is belittling to say the least. I am perfectly capable of coming to my own conclusions, and I am perfectly capable of dealing with extreme ideas.

Furthermore, any publicity is good publicity, and the recent flurry of activity and EGM organised by the SU will ultimately only serve to generate interest and curiosity as far as the BNP are concerned. As I mentioned above, I have no problem with the SU being obviously anti-BNP, but the moment active steps are taken to prevent Nick Griffin from speaking at all he will become an object of curiosity as people seek to find out what the controversy is about. It would be far better simply to quietly make it known that the SU does not wish to be associated with the BNP and let events proceed as planned without further interference or publicity."

Unfortunately, I have just found out that the University has decided not to allow Mr Griffin to speak, and a press statement can be found here.

Now don't get me wrong, I can see that there are some perfectly good practical reasons for the University not wanting to allow such a controversial figure to come and speak. I can also understand that if the nature of his talk was advertised to be racist or otherwise offensive then that provides a basis on which to disallow it.

However, simply to deny someone the right to speak based on who they are is, I believe, wrong. It is certainly not befitting of an institution whose nature should allow its members to be open minded and have the opportunity to come to decisions on their own.

It seems strange that in this country people are so keen to halt freedom of speech in this way, and yet when Mr Griffin, and others such as Abu Hamza have actually got as far as stirring up racial hatred very little has ever been done about it.

EDIT: I am aware that my last paragraph is inaccurate, especially given that Abu Hamza was recently jailed for seven years. However it still took time for this verdict to be reached, and my point is that I'd rather that there was a better reaction to what someone actually says rather than simply introducing a ban based on what it is presumed that they might say.

10 comments:

The Green Arrow said...

A well thought out post. University is supposed to be a time of learning and debate. Not closing minds because someone with a strong opinion of the world says you should not listen to alternative views.

Are the students no longer trusted to make their own minds up.

Adam said...

Nanny-state? It doesn't seem unreasonable for the SU to hold an EGM, given that this issue has generated a huge amount of concern among the student population as well as elsewhere. What else are they supposed to do? Bear in mind that passing a general No Platform policy at the meeting was not even considered: the final motion merely agreed to start the process of considering such a policy.

It seems to me that there is a difference between asserting one man's freedom to express his beliefs and requiring the University support him in doing so. There are very legitimate concerns relating to the disruption to exams this event would cause, whatever your views on freedom of speech or the principle of No Platform policies.

JP said...

It's nice to see some comments coming in already.

I can perfectly understand cancelling a talk for practical reasons (which would include exams) as I said in my post, and I can perfectly understand restricting someone if the title or explicit purpose of their talk was - for example - motivated by racial hatred.

I can also perfectly understand the strength of feeling against the BNP (I most definitely am not one of their supporters) but I still feel that for the SU even to consider a no-platform policy - for anyone - is dangerous ground and one step too far. To not have a no platform policy does not (or at least should not) indicate support for anyone who speaks at the University but it does mean that an open forum can be provided.

Ross said...

"It seems strange that in this country people are so keen to halt freedom of speech in this way, and yet when Mr Griffin, and others such as Abu Hamza have actually got as far as stirring up racial hatred very little has ever been done about it."

Sure about that? According to the bbc:
"Controversial Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri has been jailed for seven years after being found guilty of inciting murder and race hate."

Griffin has also been on trial although I seem to remember he got off on that occasion. So your last paragraph is pretty inaccurate.

otherwise i agree though of course
if the SU had let Griffin speak just as many people would be complaining to them about that so they cant really win.

dave said...

Agreed. Wow. =)

Happy Birthday by the way.

JP said...

Wow, agreeing with Dave...cool.

Ross is right, my last paragraph is actually quite inaccurate, for which I apologise.

What I was getting at is that there was a lot of faffing around before anything was done about Abu Hamza, and obviously Nick Griffin has got away with a lot of what he's said. My point - however badly I may have put it across - is that I'd rather that people reacted properly to what has actually been said, and not issue a pre-emptive ban based on 'what might be said'.

Anonymous said...

Freedom of speech is a nice idea but it doesn't always work. A lot of suicide bombers start off as ordinary people before listening to some mentalist who shouldn't have been allowed to speak in the first place. I mean how far should we take freedom of speech? Should paedophiles be allowed to air their views in the union?
To be honest, letting any old nutter come into the country (or stay in the country in Nick Griffin's case) and spout whatever dangerous shit they like (purely because it would be non-PC to prevent them, and being PC takes precedence over common sense at all times) is exactly the sort of inept Labour policy that I'd expect you to normally be against, Jim.
People like Nick Griffin try to cause hostility between religions, races, etc, and I think we've seen enough of what that leads to lately..
I doubt anyone who lost family or friends in the London or Trade Center attacks will agree it was a price worth paying for the suicide bomber recruiters being able to speak freely..

I think utter freedom of speech in all cases at all costs in an airy fairy leftie liberal idea that just doesn't work in real life and a bit of firm common sense needs to be used in controlling it, even if that isn't the PC thing to do..

Nim said...

"...I'd rather that there was a better reaction to what someone actually says rather than simply introducing a ban based on what it is presumed that they might say."

According to the BBC's profile of Nick Griffin: "He has a controversial past, which includes a 1998 conviction for incitement to racial hatred for material denying the Holocaust."

Nick Griffin seems to have said enough already to make what he might have said predictable. Should we let Abu Hamza carry on public speaking coz you never know, he might start preaching world peace?

JP said...

The problem, Mr Anonymous, with your argument is that it assumes that all those encouraged to be suicide bombers were encouraged through somebody speaking at a meeting open to the general public, and not - as is usually the case - by people they knew personally, by distributed material, and by radicals preaching to a closed community. To police what is said behind closed doors would require an unhealthy amount of paranoia and the inevitable presence of a 'Secret Police' force. That said, if we are to curb terrorism something has to be done of course, but there is a world of difference between arresting someone for possessing/distributing videos which incite murder and racial hatred (clearly wrong) and arresting someone because of what they might say.

Nick Griffin's 1998 conviction is an interesting one; the fact that we are still paranoid about what he might say implies that his punishment was evidently not severe enough for what he did say back then, which proves my point about the way 'what has been said' is dealt with.

Going back to the recent proposed talk at the University, I would presume that the University could reserve the right to intervene and halt the talk if necessary. On the basis that if he did actually say something inappropriate he could be stopped swiftly I wonder why there is such a big problem. Furthermore if genuinely stirring trouble and - for example - inciting racial hatred was known to be dealt with strictly he may not take the risk in the first place (and if he did and was dealt with properly it might at least mean that we were saved this debate again in the future).

In my time at Oxford I very much enjoyed going to the Oxford Union, where it was not unusual to have speakers who were controversial enough to warrant some form of protest along the street. To take one example, I was fortunate to hear Tony Martin (the farmer who shot a burglar) when he made his first public appearance after his release from prison. I've not come away desperate to bear arms to protect my property, and neither do I now feel that shooting someone in the back was acceptable. I have however come away with some interesting insights about the man. If I am honest I think he is mad (literally) and the mental health people probably need to keep tabs. I don't, however, begrudge him the freedom of speech which he was granted in the slightest.

dave said...

"I doubt anyone who lost family or friends in the London or Trade Center attacks will agree it was a price worth paying for the suicide bomber recruiters being able to speak freely.."

This is laughable. Let's put the deaths involved in these two terrorist attacks (around about 3500) and compare those with regimes where freedom of speech is curbed (around about 1,000,000,000). Actually lets not bother, the figures speak for themselves.

It's not like me to get all hoy poloy (sp?) about something like a war. However, there are a great many more people alive today in Britain who are related to people who died in WW2 defending (not solely) freedoms such as speech than who are related to victims of the London bombings. You sir are a tard.

Also lets not ignore the obvious tardiness in the implication that if freedom of speech was curbed that 11/9 (it was the 11th of September) and 7/7 wouldn't have happened.

I think it's Ace Ventura when he thrusts the air with his pelvis shouting "HUH? HUH? CAN YOU FEEL IT? HUH?." I feel like him right now.