Challenge the opinions that challenge you – stop pretending they don’t exist
By Max Beckett
Censorship is subjective. That’s what we’re made to believe, right? It may be the case in theory, but what happens when someone with power or influence decides to lower the veil? Should they have a responsibility to override their presuppositions for the good of others?
A fine line exists between conveying distaste towards an opinion and overtly blocking free speech. This was called into question recently before an event held by Canterbury Christ Church University, where Fran Cowling, the NUS’s LGBT officer, refused to share the stage with gay rights activist Peter Tatchell at a CCCU event, in reference to his supporting of Germaine Greer’s free speech. Greer’s comments were seen as an incitement of violence against transgender people by Cowling, yet the person she chose to avoid was someone who merely supported the idea that everyone, including Greer, should have a right to express their views. Is that enough to warrant a “no-platform”?
Thanks. Fran Cowling of NUS was asked to provide evidence of my racism & transphobia. She refused – because there is none.
— Peter Tatchell (@PeterTatchell)
This is just one example within a growing trend that has stemmed from the same origin as propaganda; just this time it’s now being reversed to shun the alternative point of view. Free speech should be in its best stage yet, with institutional social wrongs finally being righted across the board, but with this comes an unintentional precedent that needs to be acknowledged. It’s still perfectly allowed for someone to have a controversial viewpoint, just nowadays we finally have more opportunities to disagree with it, and challenge it. It does not mean, however, that we should use our newfound majority to eradicate the viewpoint altogether. You can’t, and won’t, forcibly remove an idea from existence; time does that.
People with any level of responsibility need to understand this. You shouldn’t just pull a comedy event because it might be picketed, especially when the event’s subject has nothing to do with the comments in question. You shouldn’t force people to pay out £500 for having religious differences with gay rights, even if their views are outdated and bigoted. You shouldn’t ban a controversial journalist from attending a university debate because of their social media infamy, for it is a debate, which requires conflicting views to function. These people have views that are now in the vocal minority in the UK, so the option with more bravery, integrity and wisdom would be to challenge it, rather than to pretend it doesn’t exist. Take as many protesters as you want to these events. It is your fundamental right to use your angry voice against them. Just don’t no-platform them. It shows weakness and gives them the upper hand.
The attention these events generate can be positively exploited by the organisers as well, where it is possible to manipulate the controversy for the benefit of exposure. Surely a headline that reads Tens Of Students Stand Up To Bigoted Journalist At University Event sends a much more impactful message than Journalist Banned From University Talk By Student Union? Given the opportunity, people with responsibility should use this to their advantage. Solidarity will always triumph over censorship.
Although it’s incredibly tempting, make sure that before you rush in a mad panic to limit everything you can possibly find offensive, you at least allow them to speak. Then you can flood them with a tirade of angry voices.