Why I stand with Bahar Mustafa, with Julie Bindel, with Jane Fae, with Maryam Namazie and even with bloody Milo


Bahar Mustafa, responsible for developing and enforcing safe spaces to avert harassment and discrimination at Goldsmith University, is arrested under a law designed to prevent harassment and discrimination. for comments made during an argument about her advocacy of safe spaces to protect people from harassment and discrimination. This woman of colour had commited the (seemingly) criminal offence of tweeting the phrase #killallwhitemen.

Meanwhile another feminist woman of colour, my FTB colleague Maryam Namazie is invited then banned then unbanned then reinvited to speak at Warwick students union, the fiasco created by disagreement as to whether her feminist, socialist, secular, anti-fundamentalist views might incite religious hatred or Islamophobia and create an unsafe space for Muslim students.

Jane Fae, feminist and trans activist, is harassed and threatened by feminists who feel that her views and / or presence at the Feminism in London conference will compromise their sense of safety. She withdraws from the event. Other feminists Julie Bindel and Caroline Criado-Perez also pull out of the programme in her support.

The self-same Julie Bindel, who has just withdrawn from a major feminist event in support of the rights of a trans woman, is banned from speaking at a debate in Manchester because her history of transphobic remarks and opposition to transgender rights are said to create an unsafe and threatening environment for trans students.

Another speaker at the same debate, the professionally misogynistic and transphobic Milo Yiannopoulis, was to be allowed only if extra security measures were in place. The ban on the event was justified with reference to policies that are almost identical to those enforced by Bahar Mustafa at Goldsmiths. In a definitive demonstration that the chaos of the universe is scripted by a comic genius, the debate was to have been entitled ‘Does modern feminism have a problem with free speech?’

Now at this stage, if you are not confused you are really not paying attention. Over recent weeks the clouds that have been rumbling for years have finally broken in a perfect storm of self-referential, self-destructive irony. At least in respect of freedom of speech versus safe spaces, feminism has become the Ouroboros, the snake which curls around and eats its own tail.

I have written before about my scepticism around much of the media coverage and commentary on issues of safe spaces, trigger warnings etc. Many of the problems stem from the conflating of protest or objection with censorship. I believe universities (both institutions and student bodies) have a responsibility to facilitate both free expression and opposition and protest against the views being expressed. Too often event organisers would rather pull a plug than manage the demonstrations. The biggest threats to political freedom on modern campuses come not from censorious students but legal injunctions against activism and organisation.

Having reiterated that, there is no escaping the truth that there is a real and growing problem at universities, particularly around the politics of gender and the politics of secularism / atheism.

There is a juvenile libertarian line on this problem, promoted by the likes of Spiked and Breitbart. This advocates an untrammelled free-for-all on opinion, expression and speech, up to and including so-called hate speech and incitement. It might look like a tempting solution, but it too quickly swallows its own tail. You can easily imagine a student union filled with fascist skinheads cheering proposals to chase non-white people off campus or Islamic fundamentalists insisting that homosexuals should be thrown off cliffs. Hurray for free speech, unless you are queer or black or both and now completely unable to attend the union to exercise your own freedom of expression. This is the fundamental freedom-for-the-lion dilemma. Libertarians will tell you that it is the deeds that should be punished and policed, not the words – ie you don’t intervene when someone threatens to kill gay people, only when they actually attempt to do so in reality. This is of course why libertarians are overwhelmingly privileged white men who have neither the experience nor the empathy required to understand how systematic structural oppression rules through fear and intimidation.

And talking of privileged white men, where do I come into all of this? Well, from time to time I am invited to speak to students, and over the years I have spoken about civil liberties, about anarchism and protest politics, about secularism and (particularly) about gender politics. Now there is never any money in this and little else to gain, I say yes when I can because it is flattering to be invited and polite to agree, but I’d just as happily stay home and watch the football. However I am increasingly discomfited by the thought that my views and expressed opinions must be corralled within arbitrary limits of safe acceptability, my presence and contributions are conditional upon my beliefs. I am not sure I wish to speak under those conditions.

Is there a way out of this impasse? I’d hope so. It is more than reasonable that outside speakers on campus are asked to agree not to incite hatred or violence, not to intimidate, harass or discriminate. It is reasonable, I believe, for students unions to exclude any organisations that are defined by their oppressive politics, whether fascist or religious fundamentalist or whatever. It is not reasonable (or indeed practical) to exclude anyone and everyone who has ever said or written something which someone, somewhere might consider offensive or discriminatory.

There will always be marginal decisions. There will always be difficult calls and controversy, that is the nature of balancing competing rights and interests. But there can be no doubt that the situation as it stands is unsustainable and increasingly, laughably ridiculous. More pertinently, it is no longer even achieving its own objectives of maintaining campuses as a place where it is safe for all students to learn, to live and to grow.

Comments

  1. Marduk says

    “You talkin’t to me? Then who the hell else you talkin’ to?” (see open thread).

    There is of course a grown-up libertarian line which is you should have free speech permitted up to the point of obvious hate speech and incitement. Its not complicated, its just that activists have a habit of wanting to push definitions (see Fae’s reference to being “threatening” and disagreement was recently framed by the UN as a form of violence “as bad as physical violence”). Similarly its not a coincidence that after the definition of rape got extended to include things like “feeling like you are being watched even if another person isn’t actually there”, people started to find consent hard to explain. That is where the change needs to come, people have to have a reasonable definition of threat, incitement etc. because otherwise, anyone can be accused of anything and we go nowhere.

    But it isn’t really about where the line drawn as much as how you think about what it is to draw such a line and what that activity should be like.

    What the liberal position really is that you should think long and really very hard indeed about restricting people’s speech and it should be done with regret as a last resort as carefully as possible. Its a solemn kind of thing, like putting down a beloved pet, you do it for the best but not because you like doing it.

    What bothers me today is that a certain element seem to have decided that restricting other people’s freedoms is a game and it doesn’t matter and you can push it as far as you want (because its more about supporting a team than trying to decide a serious issue) and no, you don’t have to persuade or debate or negotiate, just shout louder than everyone else.

    As an aside, I found Fae’s article very unconvincing in as far as if you are going to say all spaces should always be policed and you feel foul of that policing but you didn’t like it, leveraging a metric shit tonne of privilege (ie. access to the national media) to complain about it is hardly going away when asked is it.

  2. That Guy says

    I was very surprised when I heard about Bahar’s arrest. Did I think she’s a great person? no, but did I think that what she said or tweeted warranted getting the police involved? no.

    If that’s the threshold of offensiveness required for intervention of law enforcement, then there is probably rich pickings from some regular commenters here who have said things equally offensive in the past.

    What this does highlight for me is how the threatening communications law is simply not fit for purpose, as are most other laws that prosecute under the label ‘offence’. (IIRC matters in scotland are slightly different, I don’t think offence is treated as a criterion for some laws as it would be down south).

    I’m not a huge fan of absolute freedom of speech, as you mentioned above, this opens the door for hate speech, intimidation, etc.- the problem I see, however, is that one person’s hate speech is another person’s “offensive” or provocative, and the legalistic boundaries are drawn by people who are usually in least need of protecting.

    I think a lot of the problem currently comes from some escalation on the part of student unions, which (from my experience) are run by quasi-democratially elected young people, who sit at random points of the spectrum of competence and suitability for the task.

    In this respect, I can easily see how people make mistakes or err on the side of caution (particularly if they are white, middle class, and still getting to grips with the new world of not-white not-middle class people)

    Thinking about this, I wonder how many of these decisions are made by someone with tenuous or even no connection to the offended group in question,- is there a hidden class/racial dimension to this in that gatekeepers of these orgs are likely to fit a certain demographic?

  3. oolon says

    The only clear cut case of freedom of speech being infringed is Bahar Mustafa’s case. She says something, the law is used to shut her up. Not a threat or an incitement to violence, unless you think WoC feminists are not joking with that one. SCUM is real!!

    Declining to invite people to speak at an event or dis-inviting them is considerably less clear cut. No one has a right to a platform and with some weapons grade irony most of the people complaining about “no platforming” and “censorship” have massive media platforms they regularly utilise to bemoan their lack of a platform. Although I will admit it seems bizarre to invite Milo Y, pretty much everything-ist, and not invite Bindel who reserves her bigotry for trans women and sex workers. If a Uni is putting on a dog and pony show supposedly about “free speech”, but with a panel of extremist bigots, then it seems reasonable to assume they’d not be so worried about who attended. But I’m not seeing a freedom of speech issue there, more a quixotic approach to vetting speakers. After all Milo will more than give them their quota of retrograde bigoted speech against trans people so she would be rather redundant. Freeze peach is appeased!

    IMO freedom of speech is meant primarily to be freedom from legal action over your speech, or state sponsored censorship. That speech should be detached from the person speaking it. For instance is anti-trans speech universally not allowed? Are there no places cannot spew bigotry for fear of imprisonment or censorship? There is absolutely no lack of anti-trans speech out there, at all, and even if Bindel was personally banned by every institution on the planet that would have little effect on that speech. Legitimising it by inviting trans hating bigots silences trans people who are simply never in the running for speaking engagements and panels like this.

  4. oolon says

    Bollocks, use of tags ruined a sentence above. Should say ..
    “Are there no places *insert TERF here* cannot spew bigotry for fear of imprisonment or censorship?”

  5. Adiabat says

    You can easily imagine a student union filled with fascist skinheads cheering proposals to chase non-white people off campus or Islamic fundamentalists insisting that homosexuals should be thrown off cliffs. Hurray for free speech, unless you are queer or black or both and now completely unable to attend the union to exercise your own freedom of expression. This is the fundamental freedom-for-the-lion dilemma.

    This is already happening, except that the ‘skinheads’ are Bahar Mustafa and her cohorts and the ‘homosexuals’ are white men, and you are standing with her…

    And I do too, right up to the point where white men are ‘completely unable to attend the union to exercise their own freedom of expression’ – oh wait that happened as well. See Mustafa’s previous scandal. She should’ve been fired back then.

    The issue isn’t untrammelled free-for-all free speech, or even your racist and sexist theories about white men who have “neither the experience nor the empathy required to understand how systematic structural oppression rules through fear and intimidation”, it’s the institutional protection of groups who use their speech to try and prevent other people’s speech.

  6. julian says

    Why do you tolerate such blantantly idiotic comments like #6? See this is why “facilitating free speech” is a waste of time. You’ll need to trudge through 20 nonsensical moronic replies before you get anything half decent. The goal should be “facilitating a sound understanding of the issue” and people like adiabat should be thrown into a boiling vat.

    Please send the police my way, Adiabat, I’d like a good laugh.

  7. EigenSprocketUK says

    Standing with Milo Y? your fortitude and commitment to fundamental principle is commendable. I’d only consider standing with him if I was in a lift and had a fart ready.

  8. SillGjenganger says

    @Marduk 2
    Seconded
    I might add that keeping your opponent from being heard – sometimes through ‘no-platforming’ but more often by loudly defining dissenting opinions as pathological and beyond the civilised pale – is a well-established and very effective progressive tactic. If you say loud and often enough that anyone who disagree with policies to favour your particular minority is too toxic to deserve a hearing, you might stop other people from listening, and be gloriously free from ever having to argue your case. Censorship using control of media and public discourse can be just about as effective as using the police.
    As for Ally’s idea to “facilitate both free expression and opposition and protest against the views being expressed“, that sounds much like ‘facilitate both demonstrations and counter-demonstrations’ must have sounded in the 1930’s. It will encourage all sides to hone their street-fighting skills, in the hope that when the dust settles they will be left standing and their opponents will be off the field for good.

  9. SillGjenganger says

    @Julian 8
    If he throws all the morons off his site and only keeps the right-on guys, how sure are you that you will be among those remaining?

  10. Ally Fogg says

    Oolon (4)

    The only clear cut case of freedom of speech being infringed is Bahar Mustafa’s case. She says something, the law is used to shut her up. Not a threat or an incitement to violence, unless you think WoC feminists are not joking with that one. SCUM is real!!

    Well as you know I agree with you, but sad fact is that it is not that clear cut either. She is not being charged with incitement. She is being charged with malicious communications, which is anything that is ” indecent or grossly offensive, or which conveys a threat, or which is false, provided there is an intent to cause distress or anxiety to the recipient. ”

    So basically the problem is that we have an outrageously illiberal law that says it is a crime to type something indecent & intended to cause distress, which to be honest I think most of us here probably do several times a day.

    But I’d also challenge your claim that the other cases aren’t necessarily issues of freedom of speech. It is, frankly, bollocks on stilts to say that it is not censorship to silence someone if they can go say the same thing on another platform. really, that is such a terribleargument. It makes as much sense as saying “we don’t have a smoking ban in this building, because smokers can go elsewhere to smoke.” This entire debate is about freedom of speech at specific locations and at specific times.

    I think it is also specious to talk about people having a right to a platform in this context, because what is happening in most cases is that you have one body of students (eg the debating union or atheist society) who invite someone because they want to hear her/him speak, and then a larger, more powerful parent body intervenes and says “no, we will not allow you to provide this person with a platform.” Now in this instance I’m not sure it matters whether the larger, more powerful body is the student union, the university, the police or the government, because all of those are nested inside each other and all exercising on the same power dynamic.

    It seems to me the only real argument you have there is that Bindel has said things which you (and I, FWIW) consider to be bigoted.

    You think that her views are so horrible she shouldn’t be allowed a platform as a consequence.

    The big problem I have with that argument is that there are plenty of people out there who consider both you and I to be bigots of once sort or another. The reason Jane Fae is not going to Feminism in London is because there are enough feminists out there who consider her views so horrible that she shouldn’t be allowed a platform.

    Don’t you see that your position on this question is exactly the same as theirs?

  11. Ally Fogg says

    Julian (8)

    I admit there’s some stiff competition, but it is true, yours is the most idiotic (and dangerous) post on this thread by a good distance.

  12. Adiabat says

    Tamen (7): This article shows some different tweets: http://thetab.com/2015/10/06/diversity-officer-charged-for-racist-kill-all-white-men-tweet-56630 which seem more likely to me.

    They might come under the aggravating message law, but that law is ridiculously illiberal and applied too broadly by police.

    Julian (8): You do realise that I disagree with the police charging Mustafa, right? That I ‘stand with her’ right to say what she said?

    I’m assuming you don’t because otherwise your last line makes no sense.

    people like adiabat should be thrown into a boiling vat.

    But wouldn’t that hurt?

  13. Adiabat says

    Ally (12):

    what is happening in most cases is that you have one body of students (eg the debating union or atheist society) who invite someone because they want to hear her/him speak, and then a larger, more powerful parent body intervenes and says “no, we will not allow you to provide this person with a platform.”

    True. I think an aspect of the concept of ‘free speech’ that is often overlooked in discussion is the right for people to listen to views and opinions that they might not even agree with, but want to hear anyway. In that case this desire was clearly expressed and that right was overridden by the more powerful group.

    This is my big problem with no-platforming. Perhaps a student wants to, and should, hear the arguments against what the prevailing view is. Maybe those arguments have no merit, but if a student can’t see that then that says more about the university’s quality of education than anything else.

  14. Ariel says

    Ally #12

    But I’d also challenge your claim that the other cases aren’t necessarily issues of freedom of speech. It is, frankly, bollocks on stilts to say that it is not censorship to silence someone if they can go say the same thing on another platform. really, that is such a terrible argument. It makes as much sense as saying “we don’t have a smoking ban in this building, because smokers can go elsewhere to smoke.”

    I see it as a different argument, which is not necessarily bollocks. Just put the emphasis on “issues”, not on “freedom of speech”. The point would be that if you have many platforms at your disposal, then silencing you on a particular one is not an issue by default – in other words, it doesn’t have to be a problem. (Analogously: yes, there is a smoking ban here, but it’s not a problem as long as you’ve got plenty of other places to go.) The upshot is that in such situations you need more than just to shout “censorship!” in order to make a convincing case.

    All in all, it’s not about whether someone was silenced or censored. It’s not about the choice of words. It’s about whether there is a problem.

  15. Ariel says

    Adiabat above, I haven’t seen your comment before posting mine. The ordering should be different 🙂

  16. Ally Fogg says

    yes, I think Adiabat’s comment does answer yours, Ariel, but I would add that saying (in effect) “does it matter?” is not really a response to a question of principle – assuming of course that you agree the principle matters.

  17. That Guy says

    Having thought about this issue some more I am now much more confused. except that I still don’t see the tweets posted above as being worthy of Bahar being charged. It looks like levers of power are being used to harass one particular person. But if Bahar is the only person on the twitters being ‘provocative’ and ‘ironic’ then I’ll take that back.

    I’m sure you can find plenty of grossly offensive tweets about dead immigrants if you tried. Alternately, look at anything Katie Hopkins has ever written.

  18. StillGjenganger says

    @ That Guy 19
    That is one problem with criminalising something that lots of people do all the time. Nobody can complain when they get stopped for it – after all they did break the law and ‘why did you not stop the other guy’ is not a defense. But it does become very arbitrary who gets punished. Better get rid of those laws?

  19. oolon says

    You think that her views are so horrible she shouldn’t be allowed a platform as a consequence.

    Nope, she has multiple platforms already, I wouldn’t see her bigotry silenced as out in the open is better. But why should she be automatically allowed access to all platforms due to her notoriety? If a SU makes the decision she is a boring odious bigot whose views are well known, who has nothing new or interesting to say. That her access to their platform will legitimise her bigotry and they don’t want to give her that legitimacy … Well, I don’t see a problem. (Obviously as I pointed out that is not quite the case here as Milo is allowed!)

    A sub-group of the SU could decide to invite holocaust deniers to give a great talk on Jewish corruption/ degeneracy or whatever they talk about. So your argument that those who have the authority to decide who uses the platform making the decision over sub-groups, who don’t is somehow wrong, seems as specious as my argument did to you. Of course the people who have authority on how a platform is used get to decide how it is used. This happens at TV stations, newspapers all the while, they decide who gets a place on their media platform. We get to criticise them and build our own platforms to counter them, but not demand our views are entertained on their platforms. If the atheist sub-group really want these people to speak at their event then they are free to hire a hall somewhere off campus and put the event on!

    What is infuriating about this is that it is the powerful who get invited to these events. People already with multiple platforms which they use to shit on those with little to none. We are then supposed to rise up in solidarity with their right to be appalling bigots on platforms denied to those they are appalling bigots about! Bollocks to that, I’ll defend their right to free speech as defined by the very pithy xkcd https://xkcd.com/1357/, but that is it.

  20. Ally Fogg says

    Gjenganger – that is correct.

    What it comes down to in practice is whether or not anyone bothers to report an incident, and if they do, whether police can be arsed to take action.

    I suspect the probability is that quite a lot of people got in touch with the police to report Bahar Mustafa for malicious communications and they made a judgement that it was going to be less trouble to charge her than to not charge her.

    I suspect it was a very similar process to the lad who was arrested for posting a picture of a burning poppy. I honestly doubt ideological politics has much to do with it.

    As I’ve said before, I’m not particularly impressed with BM for tweeting #killallwhitemen but I have far more contempt for the twats who reported her to the police.

  21. Ally Fogg says

    Oolon

    Nope, she has multiple platforms already,

    Allow me to be more specific. You are saying she should not be allowed a platform within a student union because of her odious views. The rest of my previous comment still stands. You are behaving identically to those who say Jane Fae shouldn’t be allowed a platform at Feminism in London because she holds views that they find odious (and which are probably identical to yours or mine)

    As for the point about anti-semitic speakers etc, i addressed that in the final couple of paragraphs of the OP.

  22. StillGjenganger says

    @ Ally 22
    I have heard it said that the way to get rid of bad laws is not to ignore them, but to insist that they be enforced. Maybe someone felt that BM was a good opportunity for that?

  23. oolon says

    The big problem I have with that argument is that there are plenty of people out there who consider both you and I to be bigots of once sort or another. The reason Jane Fae is not going to Feminism in London is because there are enough feminists out there who consider her views so horrible that she shouldn’t be allowed a platform.

    Don’t you see that your position on this question is exactly the same as theirs?

    They are right, Jane has no right to that platform, she does however have a right to a platform of her own making or one her supporters provide. I don’t see any inconsistency in my position here.

    In the unlikely world where I was due to speak at a conference and terfs no-platformed me. I’d accept it as their right! I have spoken at IT conferences and while it would be weird for them to bother protesting, the conference org has a right not to be associated with me or be seen to accept my views if they don’t match their standards. (As it happens IT is very “SJW” oriented these days – my last technical conference having talks on trans issues, diversity, microaggressions and all that SJ nonsense)

    >> Although Jane wasn’t denied that platform in this case, she could have gone to speak. Sarah Brown’s talk at Dyke March for instance was picketed by TERFs and boy did they look ridiculous! But this does highlight yet another disparity in access to platforms that is overlooked. Sarah ended up with a nervous breakdown due to the bigotry aimed at her by TERFs, Jane would I’m sure have had a terrible time if she’d spoken so I don’t blame her. There’s a difference between Julie Bindel being no-platformed for her views and Sarah and Jane being no-platformed for who they are. But I’ll stop there as I’m all for no-platforming and I might start to contradict myself 😉

  24. Ally Fogg says

    that’s frank and honest Oolon, but i have to say that what you are advocating there is a prescription for the snake to eat its tail. You are happily accepting a situation which, if continued to its natural conclusion, is clearly a recipe for the extinction of the political and intellectual commons. You are also admitting that you don’t in fact believe in freedom of speech and freedom of expression, you believe in strictly channelled narrowcasting for everyone, which is not the same thing.

    I’ll agree that is a perfectly coherent and legitimate point of view. I would also point out that is an inherently, reactionary and dangerous philosophy, but hey, at least we know where we stand.

  25. Ariel says

    Ally #18

    saying (in effect) “does it matter?” is not really a response to a question of principle – assuming of course that you agree the principle matters.

    That will depend on the shape of the principle.

    Just to clarify: I’m close to free speech absolutism at the universities, which I treat as very special. (Adiabat sketched some of the reasons. Imo any exceptions would have to be *very* special and *extremely* well motivated.) I’m not so certain about many other contexts. Ah, I’m afraid I’m not a free speech absolutist here at my house – indeed, here some sort of “free speech” could get you disinvited (not to mention kicked out!). I’m rather torn about conferences, especially those which are not so much scientific, as social/promotional events, where you just want to be careful about what you promote. In this case a lot would depend on details.

    In general, any discussion should take into consideration the type of event and place. Do you think there is a chance for a comprehensive but still informative principle – something that would really help the snake to avoid eating its tail? Something practical?

  26. says

    Why does the self-hating SJW Ally Fogg continue to use political phrases such as “- of color” without any consideration of the facts? Did the (“white”) Armenians maintain so-called structures of oppression against the (“of color”) Turks when the latter group committed genocide against the former?

  27. Adiabat says

    My approach to Free Speech is similar to that of objectivity: It’s an ideal to aim for that ultimately beneficial to the individual who strives for it, as well as wider society. It’s not always feasible, but you damn well should be trying regardless.

    Say you own a blog (or other platform), but you moderate anyone who disagrees with your opinion. Sure that’s your ‘right’, ‘your home your rules’ and so on, but you’re not exactly showing any commitment to the principle of free speech; the marketplace of ideas. You’re not displaying any desire to grow or develop as a person. You can’t exactly claim to support free speech when in the places where you have to power to promote it you stifle it as much as you can.

    To me it’s not about the legal or constitutional arguments, it’s a moral and ethical one. I think less of people who don’t personally at least try to promote freedom of speech in the areas where they have power.

    (And those that actively stifle it deserve scorn.)

  28. Adiabat says

    P.S I also accept the fact that some places are set up for a specific purpose (a support group for example). I don’t consider it stifling speech if the owner keeps discussion on-topic. In these places it must be understood by people there that it isn’t a marketplace of ideas, it’s a place to heal. (Nor should it be a place to opine on political issues, or any issues of wider importance really, with the “purpose” as an excuse to silence disagreement. This is where the concept of ‘safe-spaces’ tend to fall for me)

    This is pretty much the only example I can think of which is an exception to what I say above.

  29. Ariel says

    Ah, Adiabat, but this is just a general philosophy – as unhelpful and useless as only philosophy can be! “Oh, but I *do* promote free speech and I don’t stifle it, no way; it’s just that surely I can’t allow THAT!” – and here insert your favorite. Never experienced such dilemmas? Lucky you, then!

    Still, as to the snake and its tail: on reflection, I don’t think anything at all will be helpful (so, Ally, I hereby withdraw my question)… with only one possible exception: a solid kick in the ass, perhaps taking the form of consecutive “storms of self-referential, self-destructive irony”, devouring people together with their friends.

    In other words, to paraphrase Adiabat: at this moment it’s not about the legal, constitutional *or* moral and ethical arguments. It’s about making the people on the left feel – really feel – that a continuation of such practices will turn them ridiculous and powerless. I’m quite afraid that no argumentation will do the trick. The only remaining hope is that it’s nothing that a kick in the ass can’t cure.

  30. julian says

    You are happily accepting a situation which, if continued to its natural conclusion, is clearly a recipe for the extinction of the political and intellectual commons.

    That’s just hyperbolic nonsense and you free speech absolutists know that. You just can’t justify your selective outrage otherwise.

  31. Daniel Phillips says

    This makes no sense whatsoever. As evidenced by your exchanges in the comments Ally, you DO support the right for anyone to say what they want, provided there is no obvious case of incitement. What you are arguing for, with your examples of skinheads and Islamists, is for students unions to not give certain people a platform. But what kind of libertarian would demand that a private body allows any particular person to speak? You seem all to willing to mock libertarians without actually understanding what they believe in. Indeed all the evidence points towards you being one yourself. Perhaps its because PZ Myers will only publish your article if you say “privileged white men” at least once?

    Also, who is to judge whether a comment is a woman (who incidentally would easily become “white” if she gave herself an “anglo” name, but that’s a different matter entirely) letting off steam or an actual case of incitement? Do you think one of the late Fred Phelps’ children should be arrested if they tweeted #killallfags? If yes, how would you be certain that one particular hashtag is more “inciteful” than another one? Would you add a law calling for various ethnic or sexual minorities to be given a “free pass”?

  32. Pierce R. Butler says

    Marduk @ # 2: … disagreement was recently framed by the UN as a form of violence “as bad as physical violence”.

    I couldn’t find that with a quick search – got a link?

  33. Paul says

    I most certainly do not stand with Bahar Mustafa for this is a 28 year old adult in a position of responsibility.And the fact she seriously believes that as a woman and a member of an ethnic minority she can’t be guilty of either sexism or racism makes me question whether she’s suitable to do the job she’s employed to do.As does the fact she felt she could tweet the phrase ”killallwhitemen” without causing an outcry.

    As a man of colour myself- i hate that expression- i’m well aware that people who’re not white in this country are far more likely to suffer from racism than those who are.And as a man i accept that women are far more likely than men to suffer from sexism. But that doesn’t mean that white people don’t suffer from racism and men don’t suffer from sexism.And that they can be really hurt by it.

    I’m all for freedom of speech but given her position Mustafa shouldn’t be allowed to set and reset the goal posts according to her own questionable agenda.And she shouldn’t be allowed to get away with using a hashtag which would have certainly got someone the sack and probably questioned by the police as well if they’d substituted White with Black and/or Men with Women.

  34. Marduk says

    #34

    Report:
    http://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2015/9/cyber-violence-against-women-and-girls

    Commentary:
    https://popehat.com/2015/09/28/revisiting-the-un-broadband-commissions-cyberviolence-report/
    http://motherboard.vice.com/read/im-disappointed-zoe-quinn-speaks-out-on-un-cyberviolence-report
    http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/09/uns-cyberharassment-report-is-really-bad.html

    Oh shit, breaking news (apologies for source, it just came up when I finding the others…)
    http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/10/07/u-n-broadband-commission-pulls-feminist-cyber-violence-report/

    I wrote about this on the “open thread” (I also wrote about the issue being discussed here, either Ally is a passive aggressive worm and ignoring me or this is a coincidence… I still liked his piece in The Guardian yesterday which he is being very modest about btw)

  35. redpesto says

    That Guy: I was very surprised when I heard about Bahar’s arrest.

    I wasn’t – and I’ve only half-followed the whole story – for three reasons. One, it’s a nuisance case. Two, the police aren’t going to say: ‘It’s just a feminist letting off steam’ and in the next breath be expected to follow up every random death threat against a woman unless they accept that these things are not equivalent or identical (i.e they mean it; she doesn’t), and have a pretty good reason as to why. Third: the police have no sense of context or nuance, which is why they thought that guy really was going to blow up Nottingham airport.

  36. redpesto says

    Postscript: I don’t mean the commenter ‘That Guy’ – just in case that wasn’t clear.

  37. Marduk says

    Pre-mod! You cheeky bugger. I’m half hoping this is a sort of performance piece where you moderate people in a debate about free speech but it probably isn’t is it.

    Fair enough, I was only here for ideas not actually to antagonise people and in parting I leave you this one. You may not agree with me about the nature or existence of a distinct social movement online (the dreaded “SJW”) with its own syncretic approach to misreading feminist and post-colonial theory for less than entirely lofty purposes, but if it isn’t those people that are the problem, who is it?

    That you are blaming “feminism” for this stuff is unfair and makes no sense. What is their problem with Maryam supposed to be exactly?

    So long and thanks for all the fish.

  38. julian says

    i’m well aware that people who’re not white in this country are far more likely to suffer from racism than those who are.

    No. It is not “we are more likely” it is “we are the ones it happens to”. Not the dominant groups. Racism defined in such a way that the most underprivileged is seen as guilty as those most strongly invested in keeping them underprivileged is a worthless definition.

  39. Paul says

    No. It is not “we are more likely” it is “we are the ones it happens to”. Not the dominant groups. Racism defined in such a way that the most underprivileged is seen as guilty as those most strongly invested in keeping them underprivileged is a worthless definition

    No you’re wrong.And quite frankly your above comment suggests you have little grasp of some of the more complex realities of race and racism in this country.Which ,as i said earlier,doesn’t detract from the fact that those of us with a black or brown skin are far more likely to suffer from racism than those who’re white.

  40. says

    This is the fundamental freedom-for-the-lion dilemma. Libertarians will tell you that it is the deeds that should be punished and policed, not the words – ie you don’t intervene when someone threatens to kill gay people, only when they actually attempt to do so in reality. This is of course why libertarians are overwhelmingly privileged white men who have neither the experience nor the empathy required to understand how systematic structural oppression rules through fear and intimidation.

    Excellent point, Ally. Aside from being quite quotable, I also think you highlight a pretty major impractibility of that sort of libertarianism. What if we applied that logic to terrorism? “Oh, this guy’s just going on radical Islamist websites and talking about blowing up a building, we can’t punish him until he actually does!” It’s doubtful most libertarians have thought very deeply about the cost in lives their policies might require,

  41. oolon says

    You are also admitting that you don’t in fact believe in freedom of speech and freedom of expression, you believe in strictly channelled narrowcasting for everyone, which is not the same thing.

    Um, well, I hate to tell you this but it is what we have now. It’s what they have in the US where I believe the xkcd cartoon hails from, no right to private platforms. Given, apart from Janes experience, the only “casualties” of this terrible freeze peach embargo you envisage are a couple of high profile transphobic feminists and Milo I don’t know how you justify the testeria there. I for one welcome the destruction of freeze peach.

    On another note, Milo has been banned too. So we can rest easy, ultimate destruction of freedom of speech and all we stand for has been achieved as two bigots don’t get to speak on a platform. Maybe those xtians who thought it was the end of the world yesterday were right!
    http://mancunion.com/2015/10/07/update-yiannopoulos-also-banned-from-censorship-event/

  42. StillGjenganger says

    @Gunlord 43
    Not as good an example as you think, terrorism. Applying the ‘grown-up libertarianism’ of Marduk #2, you would prefer to allow that kind of limit if at all possible, but may sometimes find it unavoidable. Specifically on terrorism I would say:

    – The laws on speech, possession of material etc. are uncomfortably illiberal, also in this case. It might be better to prohibit a bit less – and spy more instead.
    – For terrorism there is a real, indeed large, risk that any talk will indeed lead to explosions and killing. That is not remotely the case for gay-bashing or racism.
    – We are for all practical purposes at war with ISIS and their friends. War always has justified exceptional measures.

    Whichever way you slice it, the current ‘hate speech’ laws cannot be justified this way. You have two footballers slagging off each others, and one of them is a criminal because he used the word ‘black’? I ask you.

  43. David S says

    @Paul(36)

    And the fact the victims were white men doesn’t lessen their victimization ,in my opinion,than if they’d been black and/or female.

    http://www.theguardian.com/uk/1999/nov/17/race.world1

    I read that article, and I’m too busy getting annoyed about the abuse of statistics in the law to even start on getting annoyed about reverse racism. According to the article…

    The chances of a department being staffed by two white men and eight black women as a sample of the Lambeth population were 10,000 to one, according to evidence presented.

    For starters, I’m pretty sure that the 1 in 10,000 figure is bogus. I suspect that it has been calculated on the assumption that staff would be selected at random from the population, which would be an odd recruitment policy. More important, even if the 1 in 10,000 figure was correct, it still leaves us with a classic “Prosecutors Fallacy” argument. If an office finds itself debating its HR policies in a tribunal, then obviously something unusual has happened there, so the question you really need to ask is not “How likely is it that this particular office would have eight black women and two white men?”, but something more along the lines of “How likely is it that some office somewhere would have a similarly unrepresentative makeup?” I’m pretty sure that there are more than 10,000 offices in the country so, even if employees were randomly selected, you would expect to find quite a few with very unrepresentative makeups.

    What appears to have happened is a smaller-scale version of the statistical gubbins that result in Sally Clarke being falsely convicted.

  44. Ally Fogg says

    Just firstly, can I tell you all that the site was playing up and not allowing comments through last night.; No one is on pre-mod here, not even you, Marduk.

    julian (32)

    That’s just hyperbolic nonsense and you free speech absolutists know that. You just can’t justify your selective outrage otherwise.

    How can it be hyperbolic nonsense when it is happening right now, in front of our eyes? We are right now in a situation where on one hand we have a transphobic feminist being blocked from speaking at students unions and a trans feminist being bullied out of speaking at one of the country’s most large, diverse and important feminist conferences in the country, and (this is the scariest bit, iMO) Oolon and, I would guess, you suggesting that this isn’t even a problem. I’m not making a spurious slippery slope argument here, I am saying we are already, right now, sliding down on our arses.

    It is plain and obvious that if it is acceptable for Jane to be materially prevented from speaking at FeminLon in case she upsets some TERF / SWERFs it must be acceptable for anyone to be prevented from speaking anywhere. Or where do you draw the line? That is not a rhetorical question, i am asking you, at what point would you stick your neck out and say ‘enough’? How about if, say, a black woman feminist were hounded off a campus because her presence upsets some racists and MRAs? Is that fair game too? ‘Assuming not, what is the difference in your mind?

    Daniel Phillips (33)

    But what kind of libertarian would demand that a private body allows any particular person to speak?

    That very much depends on your definition of ‘private space’ but for starters, Brendan O’Neill and his pals at Spiked argue that university campuses should be places where absolutely anyone should be allowed to say anything., and plenty agree with them.

    Oolon

    Given, apart from Janes experience, the only “casualties” of this terrible freeze peach embargo you envisage are a couple of high profile transphobic feminists and Milo I don’t know how you justify the testeria there. I for one welcome the destruction of freeze peach.

    Except it isn’t. You’re completely ignoring that the same thing is happening to atheist and secular societies – yes, Maryam’s ban was overturned, but there have been plenty of other similar incidents, such as those that were threatened with being thrown out of their own Freshers’ Fair last year for wearing J&M t-shirts.

    And to be honest, the fact that they have now formally banned Milo Y as well, despite the fact that the event he was meant to be speaking at has been cancelled anyway, just makes it look like they are doubling down in desperation. Who next?

  45. Adiabat says

    Ariel (31): You’re right, and this is why I consider it an ideal that is extremely hard for anyone to meet 100%. And I consider any failing to be a moral failing of varying degrees, of which I have my own failings, so I’m not so that lucky.

    To echo something Ally said in #48; I don’t demand that a private body allow anyone to speak, but I do consider it a failing if they don’t do so. And if they don’t do so to a large extent I would hold open contempt for such a body, such as the National Union of Students. They are getting to the point where their lack of support for the principle of free speech is harmful both to students wishing to be exposed to ideas, and to wider society with regards to the knock-on effect that will have.

  46. says

    Gjenganger @46,

    I think you raise good points, thank you. I think I’m in agreement with 3, supporters of actual organizations ought to be dealt with more harshly than just ordinary people (so to speak). For points one and two, though–

    1: I can see the practical benefit of spying on speech rather than forbidding it, but that strikes me as posing its own set of problems from a libertarian perspective; the right to privacy is as important as the right to speech, after all.

    2: From an American perspective, we’ve had some very troubling instances of spree shootings and racial violence perpetrated by people who talked a lot about that stuff online, so it’s easier to look with a much more jaundiced eye on even just racist speech. Now, I don’t want to seem like a parochial Yank, so I will say that there’ve been some nasty incidents in the UK like that as well–I’ve read some articles in The Guardian about a spike in anti-Muslim and anti-Polish hate crimes in England and Ireland. For that reason, I’m not sure I would be so quick in saying racist speech online is necessarily less related to racist actions IRL than, say, religious extremist speech.

  47. proudmra says

    It’s disturbing to see how popular the attitude is becoming, especially on the left which used to stand for free speech above all: “I disagree with what you say and will fight to the death to keep you from saying it.”

  48. says

    So, let me get this straight.

    Because we aren’t providing them with an audience, we are somehow destroying free speech?

    They can say whatever the fuck they want. But nobody is obligated to listen.

  49. StillGjenganger says

    @Gunlord 50
    You would like to limit the prohibition to actual threats and incitement, where there is a clear cause-effect chain. I.e. when somebody knows that there are people out there who can be expected to act violently as a direct consequence of your telling them to do so. Draw the net any wider and anything negative said about any vulnerable or unpopular group can be deemed illegal. There are quite a few feminists out there who would claim that because of the ‘epidemic’ of violence against women out there, anything that shows any woman as a sex object or otherwise in a bad light can be said to contribute to violence against women and so should be prohibited.

    It is a hard line to draw though. Back in the Ku Klux Klan days you could reasonably claim that it would not take much in the way of accusing blacks of being ‘uppity’ to count as incitement to violence. I cannot comment on contemporary US, what kind of speech against 1) blacks, 2) the police, 3) the federal government, 4) any random group, it would take to effectively incite violence.

    As a someone who lives in the UK, I will say that AFAIK any ‘spike in anti-Muslim and anti-polish hate crimes’ is way too low-level to bear any comparison with recent shootings by (or against) US police. And that any incitement effect is way too indirect to bear a prosecution. (Of course, if any Pole or Muslim disagrees, I shall listen to their evidence).

  50. StillGjenganger says

    @WithinThisMind 52
    The principle is sacrosanct, of course. No one can be forced to be at the Warwick Student Union and listen to Maryam Namazie. No one can force the Warwick Uni Secular Society (or whoever) to invite her either. But once they have decided to invite her, what is the right solution? Should the Student Union, or any old pressure group, have her banned, because they cannot be expected to tolerate that her words are spoken anywhere on campus? Or should they just exercise their sovereign right to stay away from the talk?

    Jokes apart, I do actually believe that there can be things you should be able to avoid while living a normal life – from hardcore pornography, to Charlie-Hebdo’s cartoons, to PZ Myers opinion pieces. That is not the same as giving you the right to ban them from your neighbourhood, or your university.

  51. Iamcuriousblue says

    “There is a juvenile libertarian line on this problem, promoted by the likes of Spiked and Breitbart. This advocates an untrammelled free-for-all on opinion, expression and speech, up to and including so-called hate speech and incitement.”

    Care to back that up with a quote, Allie?

    Breitbart’s hard-right tendencies aside, I can’t think of anybody who’s a serious free-speech libertarian (and I’d put Spiked in that category) that fails to make the distinction between free speech and direct incitement to violence. A distinction, I might add, that’s very well-entrenched and functional in US law, but many UK folks seem to have a hard time wrapping their heads around. I suppose the latter perhaps think that if one doesn’t want to allow governments to ban things based on the vague and slippery category of “hate speech”, that’s an invitation to a Hobbsean anarchy of incitement to violence and direct threats, where the strongest and loudest push all others out. That’s far from the case, of course – one can disallow violent or borderline violent conduct while scrupulously avoiding bans based on speech content.

  52. Iamcuriousblue says

    Oolon @ 4:

    “IMO freedom of speech is meant primarily to be freedom from legal action over your speech, or state sponsored censorship.”

    And what is a public university if not a state entity? And student unions, insofar as they have power over students, are a level of government. In the US, it’s entirely clear that such entities are bound by First Amendment restrictions on governmental power. (Thanks, Fourteenth Amendment!) It’s unfortunate that UK citizens do not enjoy similar protections against what is clearly a type of state censorship, but big thumbs up to those who are pushing back against it.

  53. Ally Fogg says

    WithinThisMind

    So, let me get this straight.
    Because we aren’t providing them with an audience, we are somehow destroying free speech?
    They can say whatever the fuck they want. But nobody is obligated to listen.

    No, you have not got that straight.

    The problem is not that you aren’t providing them with an audience.

    The problem is that they have an invitation and an audience and you are preventing them from going and saying what they want to the people who want to hear what they say.

    That is how you are destroying free speech.

  54. Sans-sanity says

    “they have an invitation and an audience”

    The audience, I think, are the primary victims of this rubbish.* I think that there’s far greater harm in being prevented from hearing what you want to find out about that saying what you want to say.

    (* Bahar being an exception because… well… arrested)

  55. julian says

    How can it be hyperbolic nonsense when it is happening right now, in front of our eyes?

    Because it isn’t happening and your paranoia would be obvious to you too if you weren’t so committed to it.

    Or where do you draw the line?

    I don’t draw a line. I’m perfectly ok with protests whether the people protesting have an actual complaint. As a rule I want communities discriminated against to be able to bring their message to places where they otherwise would not be heard. This is important not because of “free speech” but because it’s something we need to have if we’re ever going to deal with the issues disproportionately effecting them. So I will protest or counter protest as appropriate. Hell, I’ll even tear down the sign of some obnoxious prat sticking the pictures of aborted fetuses under the noses of expectant mothers.

    You seem to want to heavily restrict who can protest and who can be protested. And I don’t see how you can do that without making the life of the woc in your rhetorical question harder. She will no longer be allowed to blog critically about invited speakers. Any columns she may have been commissioned to write about the implications of the event’s endorsement of said speaker will get scrapped. Whatever she does will be seen as an attack on free speech and her voice will become even more alienated.

  56. StillGjenganger says

    @Julian 59

    Because it isn’t happening and your paranoia would be obvious to you too if you weren’t so committed to it.

    Just FYI, this kind of accusation is only too common around here, but people rarely throw it at Ally. Not because he will come fearsomely down with sulphurous words and bans (he will not), but because he has earned a reputation of being understanding and fact-oriented to a fault. You run a certain risk of being seen as ill-informed and overaggressive with this kind of comment.

    Are you new to this forum, by any chance?

  57. Ariel says

    You seem to want to heavily restrict who can protest and who can be protested.

    I don’t know about Ally, but here is my own answer: no, I do not. Please, do protest as much as you want. Moreover, let everyone “blog critically about invited speakers”. What I want is rather:

    – to refuse you the right to *decide* about disinviting someone who has already been invited,
    – to support both individual people and the institutions (especially the universities, in some cases also conference organizers) in their decisions of completely ignoring your protests,
    – to eliminate (or at least to minimize) any nasty consequences, which ignoring your protests could entail for these people or institutions; indeed, to create an atmosphere in which ignoring your protests is generally received as pretty normal.

    For me, this is primary. As a further goal, I would want also to convince people like you that they are wrong when protesting against giving the platform to e.g. Maryam Namazie (even though you *do* have a right to protest). Nevertheless, I would treat the first three objectives as primary.

  58. Adiabat says

    Sans-sanity (58):

    The audience, I think, are the primary victims of this rubbish

    Exactly, it’s as much to restrict the right to listen and be exposed to new ideas as it is preventing a particular person from speaking. Ultimately those arguing for no-platforming want to prevent others from being exposed to ideas that they do not like. It’s not a case that the audience will be exposed to the ideas elsewhere as they claim in defence; they know there is going to be some audience attrition for every platform someone is banned from, where a portion of the audience won’t put the effort into finding the view expressed elsewhere.

    It’s a concerted effort to keep as many people ignorant as they can so that they are more likely to adopt the views of those promoting no-platforming.

    It’s the same reasoning and motivation behind parents who send their children to go to faith-schools.

  59. That Guy says

    Ally, I think you have a secret fan,

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/09/no-platform-universities-julie-bindel-exclusion-anti-feminist-crusade

    Although Julie takes a different tack. I’m not so sure I follow her logic that it’s always men and their misogynistic allies that are prompting no-platforming. Unless she’s throwing trans women under the ‘men’ umbrella that I can believe.

    Ally’s examples upstairs such as Jane Fae cut the knot on this line of reasoning.

  60. julian says

    – to refuse you the right to *decide* about disinviting someone who has already been invited,

    If you mean “you” as in “the person protesting the invited speaker”, I’d like to point out that isn’t a power protesters have which is why they are protesting. But if you mean “you” as in “the body having made the invitation” you’re being ridicolous. 1) It is still their event and they have final say as to who gets to speak. 2) An invitation is not a contractual agreement. 3) Information may come out that would make anyone with a shred of decency not want this person at their event. (For example, Bill Cosby speaking at a graduation ceremony at a HBCU) 4) The body may feel its commitment to those attending is its top priority. And a dozen other possible reasons.

    – to support both individual people and the institutions (especially the universities, in some cases also conference organizers) in their decisions of completely ignoring your protests,

    The goal of a protest is to be disruptive. To be visible, to take up space, to upset whatever the status quo for the day is. If you want to create an environment where protests can be ignored and dismissed you are effectively removing that right. This is an issue here in many parts of the US where the government has gotten so good at deflecting attention or demonizing protesters even people on hungry strikes get laughed at by the media. Who exactly do you think benefits from your proposal? It certainly isn’t the venue. The relationship between it and its audience just became paternal and no matter how committed you are to that frozen peach eventually the fact none of your objections amount to mroe than yelling at a brick wall well get to you. It isn’t the venue’s target audience. They’re just receptacles for whatever the venue wants to put on.

    to create an atmosphere in which ignoring your protests is generally received as pretty normal.

    Ignoring protesters is normal as hunger strikers in Chicago discovered just a few weeks ago. In fact beyond sites like this that berate and belittle protest as a valid form of free speech (except to begrudgingly say it more or less should be respected even if its impact must be minimized, just like you did) protests in general go completely ignored by people not directly involved in that community. So, congrats! You won. Have a sticker.

  61. Ally Fogg says

    Julian

    If you read the post at the top of the page, and indeed the other post that it links to in the relevant paragraph, you will see that I strongly and wholeheartedly support – and indeed actively encourage – protesting, demonstrating, picketing, whatever else.

    The Julie Bindel case here is entirely irrelevant to that because it has not been blocked by protest and demonstration, it has been blocked by old fashioned bureaucratic power exercised in the form of censorship.

    The Jane Fae situation is slightly different, but that is not really about protest either, but about a campaign of systematic online harassment and bullying by a tiny coterie of TERFs. I have no doubt that if Jane had felt able to attend FemInLon and the Brennan fan club had turned up to picket or demonstrate, they would have been given pretty short shrift by the vast majority.

    In the meantime you haven’t even begun to acknowledge the repeated attacks on atheist and secular societies and speakers in various different locations.

  62. Ariel says

    Julian:

    If you mean “you” as in “the person protesting the invited speaker”, I’d like to point out that isn’t a power protesters have which is why they are protesting. But if you mean “you” as in “the body having made the invitation” you’re being ridicolous.

    Ah, Julian, I was obviously (or not?) alluding to what actually happened: the Free Speech and Secular Society inviting someone, the MSU overriding it by banning the speakers. This is something that I find unacceptable and indeed, I actually think that students should be protected against such practices – against removing the speakers of their choice for whimsy reasons, like… ‘oh, we just consider them generally harmful!’‘ or simply ‘you know, but we don’t like them!’. Such protection – imo – should be written into the statuses of student societies and the conditions should be very strict.

    The goal of a protest is to be disruptive. To be visible, to take up space, to upset whatever the status quo for the day is. If you want to create an environment where protests can be ignored and dismissed you are effectively removing that right.

    Seriously? In your opinion the protesters have the right to “upset the status quo”? Sorry, but I don’t think so. Yes, they have a right to try. No, they DO NOT have a right to successfully upset the status quo. Dear Julian, are we inhabiting two different planets?

    Who exactly do you think benefits from your proposal? It certainly isn’t the venue. The relationship between it and its audience just became paternal and no matter how committed you are to that frozen peach eventually the fact none of your objections amount to more than yelling at a brick wall well get to you.

    Yes, there is some point here, so I will say a bit more. I think, indeed, that student’s voices should be important in shaping the general policy. Time, space and funding is limited and surely some difficult choices (in particular, the ones concerning the invitees) have to be made. It is also evident to me that the organizers of future events will (and should) take students’ preferences into account – including those expressed during the protests.

    However, “to take them into account” doesn’t mean to follow them. Moreover, what I consider unacceptable is calling off an event – or banning the speaker – just because this is a demand of a particular, vocal group of protesters. I would like to hear a very decisive “no” answer *each time* in such cases. (Yes, even if the invitee is Milo, who would be one of the last candidates I would ever seriously consider.) In this – and only this – sense the protests (imo) should be ignored. Indeed, I would like also such refusals to be treated as obvious and normal – as a matter of a standard university policy.

    Ignoring protesters is normal as hunger strikers in Chicago discovered just a few weeks ago.

    Julian, maybe you haven’t noticed, but I’m not discussing protests in general. This is about free speech at the universities. There is no need to generalize.

  63. julian says

    Ally:

    If you read the post at the top of the page, and indeed the other post that it links to in the relevant paragraph, you will see that I strongly and wholeheartedly support – and indeed actively encourage – protesting, demonstrating, picketing, whatever else.

    In the same sense Ariel does sure.

    The Julie Bindel case here is entirely irrelevant to that because it has not been blocked by protest and demonstration, it has been blocked by old fashioned bureaucratic power exercised in the form of censorship.

    It was blocked because the people in charge didn’t want her there. So we’re back to just what do you propose be done? Is it going to be a set of rules like Ariel recommended? Are you going to be the one to dictate who can speak? Are we going to start mandating that all events host X amount of controversial speakers? What exactly is supposed to happen here? Legislation would make things worse. Appealing to everyone’s “liberal commitment to free speech” is a lost cause since most of us aren’t liberal nor do we share liberalism’s goals.

    I don’t know Jane Fae as well as your other examples but if she didn’t feel comfortable or safe, well that’s not really a free speech issue. The issue is discrimination and targetted harassment which results in , among other things, her having to limit where she shares her views. And that has very obvious answers but that isn’t part of any trend outside of targetted abuse of minority groups. This is why I don’t think much of this latest paranoia to come out of the “left.” Dots that very obviously belong to other pictures are being connected to form a completely incoherent set of complaints that no one has proposed a solution to. Beyond “We need to preserve free speech!”

    Ariel, Adiabat

    It’s the same reasoning and motivation behind parents who send their children to go to faith-schools.

    Really? Liberty U sounds like just the place the two of you are asking for. The student body can only protest at its own risk, faculty has first and final say in who all speakers are, refusal to attend the lectures of invited speakers results in disciplinary action… Your utopia.

    In your opinion the protesters have the right to “upset the status quo”?

    Yes! A thousand fucking times ‘Yes!’ That is actual free expression, a demand the powers that be notice you and your lot in life. I’m more worried about preserving that right than I am whether someone with guaranteed writing gigs at major newspapers is finally seeing her fantasies about gunning down trans women catching up to her professionally. And judging from this convo I’m probably in the minority in that.

  64. StillGjenganger says

    @Julian
    You are falling into the same fallacy as the NRA. You want the right of disruptive protest so that you and your friends can force your view to the front and squeeze out everybody else. The NRA wants guns so that they can shoot the bad guys. Both groups miss the point that what they really want is a power monopoly. In the real world, if you can do it, so can your enemies.

    If you are very lucky you might get to where a small, self-selected group can force out all dissenting views. What will happen then is that one faction will do it to competing factions, and a lot of people you thought were actually quite nice will be out in the cold. It is happening already, as Ally writes, and people from Danton to Robespierre to the Mensheviks could tell you that it always happens. Alternatively , other groups will find their own ways to do it to you, and at best you get to spend all your time on a dirty-tricks war. At worst you will lose, and get no more space or free speech than you were offering your enemies.

    If you are sure enough that you can win outright, by all means go ahead. I shall then join the other side, no holds barred, and we can see if it is you and your friends, or me and Rupert Murdoch, who ends up controlling what people can say. Personally I think we are all better off with a social contract, that sets rules for permitted tactics and gives some minimum space to all sides, including the less powerful. But then I prefer talking to banning, even with people I disagree with. That is why I am here, after all.

  65. oolon says

    @iamcuriousblue

    And what is a public university if not a state entity?

    Definitely the one flaw in my argument, I do think Unis should err on the side of no-platforming except in the case of clear hate speech. Which would likely be illegal in the UK anyway! But still not quite meeting the requirement for clear cut censorship given the authority is not the state but the SU.

    When sex work and trans activists are being regularly no platformed, not media feminists who use their Guardian column to bemoan being “no platformed” without a hint of irony … I might be more concerned.
    (Won’t be convinced by a slippery slope argument in response, what law, precedent or rule change is being made here)

  66. oolon says

    Given I’ve been “no platformed” for “just disagreeing”, I don’t know if this will get through. But a small point

    Maryam’s ban was overturned

    She wasn’t banned, unless you don’t believe the SU who said their procedures were not followed and they were not made aware of her appearance being turned down. As soon as they knew about it they overturned the decision made by someone else … Could be all PR and they did know and the SU are liars, but to frame as a “ban” when they made that statement is presupposing all that without making it clear it is speculation on your part. More evidence in my view of an overwrought reaction from yourself, you’ll be citing Smurthwaites not-“no platform” next.

  67. julian says

    In the real world, if you can do it, so can your enemies.

    It’s almost like that’s the point of rights.

    Look, I’m done. You all have a lovely weekend. Or don’t. I don’t care to be perfectly honest. You seem like the exact sort who enabled Milo’s fantasy of an oppressed white man under seige from interested and facistic parties.

  68. StillGjenganger says

    @Julian 71

    You seem like the exact sort who enabled Milo’s fantasy of an oppressed white man under seige from interested and facistic parties.

    For myself that is close enough that I will not complain. But for Ally and the others that is ridiculous. But then, if you thought it was possible to disagree with you without being scum, you would not be the Julian we all know and love.

  69. Ally Fogg says

    Julian (67)

    It was blocked because the people in charge didn’t want her there. So we’re back to just what do you propose be done? Is it going to be a set of rules like Ariel recommended? Are you going to be the one to dictate who can speak? Are we going to start mandating that all events host X amount of controversial speakers? What exactly is supposed to happen here? Legislation would make things worse. Appealing to everyone’s “liberal commitment to free speech” is a lost cause since most of us aren’t liberal nor do we share liberalism’s goals.

    Hi Julian, welcome to the beginning of this conversation! Again, you give every impression of not actually having read (or understood) the post at the top of the page. Let me remind you.

    Is there a way out of this impasse? I’d hope so. It is more than reasonable that outside speakers on campus are asked to agree not to incite hatred or violence, not to intimidate, harass or discriminate. It is reasonable, I believe, for students unions to exclude any organisations that are defined by their oppressive politics, whether fascist or religious fundamentalist or whatever. It is not reasonable (or indeed practical) to exclude anyone and everyone who has ever said or written something which someone, somewhere might consider offensive or discriminatory.

    Yes, the even featuring Bindel was (in your words) “blocked because the people in charge didn’t want her there.” Which is a pretty perfect definition of censorship, as it happens.

    What I am suggesting is that this is not an adequate reason to prevent an event taking place. I am not a student, I have no voice in this debate far less any power over policy, but I know some students read this blog and I hope this will at least encourage them to think about the issues, perhaps from a slightly different perspective. But my recommendation, in broad and simple terms, is that if any group of students within a student union (whether a society, a debating society or whatever) decide that they want to invite someone to come and speak to them, then there has to be a very strong and compelling justification before a larger body (whether student union, university, police or government) is justified in intervening to say “No, you may not hear this person speak.”

  70. Ariel says

    I’m also done here; just a few final remarks.

    Liberty U sounds like just the place the two of you are asking for. The student body can only protest at its own risk, faculty has first and final say in who all speakers are, refusal to attend the lectures of invited speakers results in disciplinary action… Your utopia.

    I’m definitely against the faculty having „first and final say in who all speakers are” (even though, as it happens, I’m one of the faculty). On this point I agree with Ally: groups of students should have a right to issue invitations and *no one* – including the faculty, including other students, should be permitted to override such decisions without very strong reasons.

    As for refusal to attend lectures – that’s so incredibly unjust! I’m all for skipping lectures, believe me! Seriously, I’m planning to skip all lectures at Liberty U this month, and maybe the next one too!

    (Ah, if I only could just as easily skip mine, scheduled for next week. Dream on, Ariel.)

    Have a nice weekend.

  71. scoober says

    To be honest, I am somewhat unsure about my position on this issue. If I am arranging a conference, I can select the speakers I choose, on whichever basis. This means that I might choose not to invite e.g. Julie Bindel due to her transphobia. If I invite Julie Bindel, but subsequently discover her transphobic views, I think it is within my remit to change my mind about inviting her. In both cases, I am making a very similar decision, for very similar reasons. The only difference is that in the latter case, the invite is already in the post. The issue seems to turn on how binding an ‘invite’ is (and I don’t think it is very binding, so I’m not sure I have an issue with the ‘uninviting’) – unless we think that Ms Bindel has a standing right to speak at my conference.

    What seems ugly is when a mob weighs in and demands a speaker be uninvited. As Ally suggests, protesting (or indeed debating) would be a far better response.

  72. StillGjenganger says

    @Ally 73
    I really like what you say in this post, so maybe I have misjudged you earlier (in my post 10 for instance). My problem is that protest can be quite as effective a tool for silencing as a no-platforming campaign. If speaking out is likely to face you with a foaming (twitter) mob screaming insults – or lead to a successful campaign to get you fired – many people would resort to self-censorship . So how do you draw the line between protest and harassment? Is it ‘anything goes’ as long as it is not orchestrated by a formal organisation, like a students union? Or does free speech imply limits on the kind of tactics protesters can reasonably use?

    Is it protest or intimidation to campaign to fire a technology executive who has discreetly donated money to an anti-gay-marriage campaign? For Charlotte Proudman to make an example of a random sexist comment in a business letter, to ‘discourage the others’? Or for hordes or more or less spontaneous antifeminists to pour torrents of insults over Charlotte Proudman, Anita Sarkeesian, or anyone else with what they see as wrong and threatening feminist behaviour?

  73. HuckleAndLowly says

    There is something I don’t understand here; maybe someone can help me. I had always thought that free speech advocates are happy to have “incitement to violence” restrictions in place because of the harm, or risk of harm, that such speech may cause. Is Ally against this “incitement to violence” restriction? Why? In Northern Ireland, “killAllTaigs” or “killAllProds” would be seen as direct incitement to violence and would result in conviction, as far as I know. This seems correct to me: such speech has some chance of producing such violent action, and the gains to society from freedom of speech are outweighed by the loss to society that such violence causes.

    The impression I have reading the piece is that Ally doesn’t see “#killAllWhiteMen” as representing incitement to violence. Why not? I can only think of two reasons at the moment, but neither make much sense. First, it could be because “#killAllWhiteMen” is a twitter hashtag, and maybe they are understood in a different way: maybe it is not speech, somehow? I don’t use twitter, so I don’t know how these things are understood, and so this is a possibility, I supose. But it doesn’t make much sense to me.

    Second, it could be because there is some clear reason why nobody will be motivated to violence by hearing a voice calling on supporters to “killAllWhiteMen”. But what could that reason be? People (both men and women) have killed, or tried to kill, other people in response to such ideologically motivated incitement (the examples that pop into my head are the baader meinhof gang, the red brigades, and the animal rights militia); why doesn’t that hold here? It is simply the belief that nobody who supports the positions taken by Bahar Mustafa could ever do anything bad? Again, this belief doesn’t make much sense.

  74. HuckleAndLowly says

    I notice, by the way, that Suzanne Moore’s recent article in the guardian, where she also stands with Bahar Mustafa, has had its comments closed “for legal reasons”. Should we be concerned?

  75. Ally Fogg says

    HuckleAndLowly ((77)

    I covered that here http://freethoughtblogs.com/hetpat/2014/08/10/me-and-my-maletears-facing-the-consequences-of-ironic-hatred/

    In a nutshell, incitement requires context. Would you arrest Lemmy for singing a song called “Eat the Rich”?

    The Guardian will be nervous because Bahar Mustafa is currently on a charge so we are technically subject to contempt of court if we speculate about her guilt or innocence.

    I’m not losing any sleep.

  76. Marduk says

    #56

    This seems to be one of those persistent misunderstandings.

    Q. “And what is a public university if not a state entity?”
    A. An autonomous charity for the furtherance of knowledge and education.

    Universities are not, and never have been, state entities (in the UK at least where they pre-exist the modern state and the United Kingdom itself). For example, they are not in the brief of the education secretary because nobody involved answers to her or works for her.

    The relationship between the state and universities is that the government procures research services from universities and also pays for them to educate its citizens. However, you yourself could in theory set up a ‘for profit’ university or research centre if you wanted to and tender for work. You could legitimately say that they are “state funded” but then most are proportionally less state funded than much of what gets called “the private sector” so that is a bit unfair also.

  77. Bugmaster says

    I don’t think freedom of speech is a complex issue. It’s hard, yes, but it’s not complex. Freedom of speech is all about fighting for the rights of people whom you personally loathe. That’s all it is.

    Freedom of speech is a hard principle to endorse, firstly because of the emotional reaction (“How can I possibly bring myself to provide horrible people like bloody Milo/Bahar Mustafa/Rush Limbaugh/Julie Bindel/etc. with a platform ?”); and secondly, because it does legitimately undermine your short-term goals (i.e., removing the loathsome opinions of horrible people from public discourse), as well as your medium-term goals (i,e, removing said opinions from public consciousness). People do nonetheless endorse freedom of speech for a variety of reasons: because of the security it brings (tomorrow, someone might decide that you are the horrible one, as was the case with Bahar Mustafa); or because it supports their long-term goals (reducing the amount of fear and oppression in society), or for some quasi-religious reasons (“the Founders have decreed it so, and we cannot gainsay the Founders”).

    Naturally, incitement to violence is not protected speech, but that too is relatively simple (unless someone sues you, of course). Saying “#killallmen” is (or, rather, should be) protected speech. Saying “Tomorrow, at 9pm, let’s gather by our local 7-11 and start shooting as many men as possible, bring extra ammo” is not.

    All of the complexity that I’ve ever seen regarding freedom of speech (on both sides of the ideological divide) basically boils down to, “how can I ensure that my own speech remains free, while suppressing someone else’s speech ?” Yes, I agree, this is pretty hard to do. Too hard for us mere mortals to ever accomplish perfectly, in fact.

  78. StillGjenganger says

    @Bugmaster 81
    Excellent summary of the situation – especially the bit about freedom of speech undermining the goal of banishing ideas you do not like from public consciousness.

    I completely agree with you, as far as the principle goes. But there are a couple of niggly complexities when you get more practical:

    One is the matter of protecting public space from things that are considered obnoxioius. If you take hard-core pornography, for instance, you are allowed to make it and to view it, but not in all places and all ways. For instance you are not allowed to put it on billboards where everybody is forced to see it, like it or not, in order to protect the sensibilities of the ‘normal majority’. TV, newspapers, … lots of fora have that kind of rules. I do not see it as problematical, as long as you can express the relevant opinions (without illustrations) and can publish and view the stuff in more discreet places, but you do get a discussion on where to draw the line – and who decides whose sensibilities should be protected.

    Another point is opinions, like Holocaust denial – or the Blood Libel. Both are, if you like, incorrect statements of fact. Should they be illegal? Should it be illegal to deny the Armenian genocide? To claim that Blacks are less intelligent than Whites? Personally I am for freedom of expression, even here, at least in non-public contexts. The ECHR seems to think (correctly IMHO) that the answer may depend on the culture and history of the country in question. Holocaust denial in Germany, racist speech in the US, … do more damage because of the local history. But, again, it is not an obvious line to draw.

  79. Lucy says

    People talk too much anyway. And everything that ever needs to be said has been said already. Less talking and writing, more doing.

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