The confusion thickens

The Independent seems to have a very bizarre understanding of the Universities UK guidance on how to manage guest speakers.

The document comes out in the wake of a number of incidents where freedom of speech has been threatened – in particular an Egyptian speaker at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies was forced to abandon a speech largely because of protests from the Muslim Brotherhood.

In addition, research by Student Rights, a pro-equality group, shows that there were 180 cases of radical preachers speaking at university events in the year up to March 2013. It shows some ways in which freedom of speech can be preserved even if the speaker is controversial – such as segregating different sections into different parts of the room as in the case of an ultra-right religious speaker arousing protests from feminists. (In a recent case, a speaker at University College London insisted the audience be segregated before he agreed to speak).

What? The Independent thinks the issue is that segregation is a tool to preserve free speech from being prevented? But the speaker didn’t demand that protesters be segregated, he demanded that women be segregated. And how would segregating protesters help anyway? Unless you segregated them all the way out of the building and into a different one.

The Student Rights research showed that in a quarter of the 180 cases segregated seating for men and women was promoted. It described the practice as “a widespread trend”.

The document argues this could be acceptable – but organisers would have to be sure they did not breach equality laws by, say, putting the feminists at a disadvantage at the back of the room. “Segregation in the context of the facts outlined above would only be discriminatory on the grounds of sex if it amounts to ‘less favourable treatment’ of either the female or male attendees,” it concludes.

Godalmighty – the author, Richard Garner, really is that confused – he seems to think it was the feminists who were segregated, and that they were segregated as a way to defuse their potential protest. Yeesh. It wasn’t the feminists, it was the women. The segregation wasn’t “feminists here, normal people there” – it was “women here, men there.” Men can be feminists, and women can be not feminists.

Also…really? He thinks that would fly? “New university policy – segregate the feminists, to preserver order and free speech.” Even the deeply addled UK vice-chancellors would probably spot the problem with that idea.


  1. maudell says

    Sounds just like our own atheist free speech warriors. “Preserve free speech by shutting feminists up! Free speech means zero social repercussions for being an asshole, ever! (but I will fight for my duty to publicly shame and ostracize a woman who speaks up about harassment) Free speech means the absolute right to every platform – the New York Times not publishing my op-Ed about the pleasures of using the word cunt is censorship! (but let’s pressure atheist conferences to not invite feminist speakers)”

    Cultural relativists, fundamentalists and brave heroes walking hand in hand. Odd couple. Britain is getting worrisome. Terrible pro-SLAPP defamation laws (an actual affront to free speech), the porn laws they want to pass and now ‘separate but equal’ rationalization. All seem incredibly anti-free speech to me.

    Speaking of which, if I remember well, in the iERA case, the demand was also to silence women (even the non-feminist ones -gasp!). Men can ask questions at the end, but women have to write the questions on a piece of paper, to be read by a man if they feel like it. That clearly represents the pinnacle of free speech.

  2. Tom Davies says

    The document comes after free speech was threatened… therefore it must be about preserving free speech.

    You ned to remember that there are things you are not supposed to notice. Such as anything which could undermine the establishment’s idea of diversity.

  3. says

    If there are people threatening violence against a speaker, so you hire extra security and go ahead with the event anyway, that’s protecting free speech. Acquiescing to a speaker’s arbitrary demands about the seating arrangements in the auditorium, or else he’s gonna take his marbles and go home? Not so much.

    Actually, that’s not nearly strong enough: it’s a fucking bizarre inversion of the notion of free speech protection. If some stupid yobbo can’t open his mouth before a peaceable, orderly and attentive audience, because of some personal idiosyncrasy of his own, then he can damn well go exercise his free speech rights on Hyde Park Corner* with the rest of the loons. He’s willingly forfeited his place at any respectable venue.

    * Do they still do that there?

  4. Shatterface says

    Liberty, if it means anything, is the right to tell people where to sit.


    Over on one of the other sites some fuckwit argued that we already accept segregation in public bathrooms so I thanked him for making the parallel between listening to a hate preacher and taking a shit.

    I don’t think that’s what he really meant

  5. johnthedrunkard says

    And the elephant in this living room is?


    It makes Pat Condell sound like a voice of moderation and tolerance.

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