F ree speech is apparently under fire from the left. As a member of the left I have to ask how?
I repeatedly see the narrative that free speech is being limited by No Platforming, denying the right to speak is a limit on freedom of speech. However, this is a severe misunderstanding of what free speech and what No Platforming is. I’ve never actually met someone who’s against No Platforming. Even the most outspoken opponents of it when pushed will always concede there are cases where it is needed. For example inviting fascists to the campus is an issue where almost everyone I’ve spoken to has said “they shouldn’t be allowed, they’d incite violence”. Congratulations, that’s No Platforming! I’d also like to point out that transphobic speakers also incite violence, the brutal violence of systematic transphobia is solidified whenever they speak. People like Germaine Greer feed into the violent transphobic hate machine and I have no issue with people like her being silenced if it guarantees the safety of my comrades.
This paranoia over No Platforming has lead to things like Right2Debate being pushed through the guild system.
The motion is supposed to enforce freedom of speech and allow contested speakers to be debated rather than just cancelled. However refusal to comply will lead to the event being cancelled, in other words it forces societies to comply or be no platformed. This policy is however hopefully being changed facing further scrutiny.
I myself have been accused of being anti-free speech. When Socialist Students, Islamic Society, Friends of Palestine, and Feminist Society hosted the NUS backed Students Not Suspects we met large amounts of criticism. Certain individuals protested, and demanded we have a pro Prevent speaker. I was accused of silencing and mocking the audience, once for asking how to better transcribe a question an audience member asked, and once for failure to let someone ask a question. The latter of which was caused by the fact the student heckled his question moments before I was going to pick him to ask it. I spoke to him after the event to clear it up, and he told me himself that not only did he understand but also that my choice of questions for the night was very balanced. However the rumour that I tried to silence him remains.
The real irony of me being accused of restricting free speech is that the people and groups accusing me of being regressive have stopped me exercising my freedoms in the past. The very people who picketed StudentsNotSuspects tried very hard to stop me and my comrades picketing Quilliam’s event in term 1.
I’m a big believe in the freedom of speech, but few recognise freedom of speech comes hand in hand with freedom to protest and the freedom to affiliation. An institution has the right to affiliate and host groups of its choice. Thus is in its freedom of speech and affiliation. No Platforming is also within its right, it has a right to affiliate and not affiliate itself with any speaker or group. Freedom to protest is also an inalienable right, injustices should be challenged and protests and the like are a direct way of expressing political sentiments. The fact that these concepts are viewed as against freedom of speech is nonsensical. One should be free to contest, but it seems freedom of speech is increasingly coming to mean “let people with problematic views speak, and only challenge it when we allow you to”.
There’s a real danger of this free speech rhetoric, it’s a good narrative. It’s really easy to believe that the left are silencing events. Free speech is such an enshrined topic in western culture that any challenge to it is heresy of the upmost degree. So the minute something is done that “challenges” it the topic becomes sensationalised. What happens in reality however is often problematic behaviour is challenged, and the regressive right turns to polemic to condemn the left.