Maybe the right is right. Perhaps we, on the student left, are snowflakes. There are certainly some uncanny similarities, and not, as one individual wrote, without a flake of irony, that “when we come together we become a mighty blizzard.” Many of us evidently feel fragile enough to mandate non-contact with anything aside other snowflakes. When we come together, what we in fact create is an unhelpful sludge that must be shovelled from underfoot, before genuine progress can be made. On the matter of free-speech, this sludge is so bad that we are now, and have been for some-time, sliding back down the hill.
Rather than protesting and debating contrary ideas, students are opting to cocoon themselves in a protective blanket of ‘safe spaces’
It is astounding that freedom of expression and an open exchange of ideas – the cornerstone of liberalism – has been gifted to the right. This is no hijacking; the student left (sometimes referred to simply as ‘students’) have left the keys in the car and walked away. Recent polling has revealed that two thirds of university students support the NUS’s policy of ‘no platforming’ speakers with whom they disagree. Rather than protesting and debating contrary ideas, students are opting to cocoon themselves in a protective blanket of ‘safe spaces,’ where only views they already agree with can be heard on some of the major issues of our time.
This is not just a betrayal of liberalism, but of a university education. Naturally, we are all here to acquire qualifications, but we are also here to begin our lives in a world where contradictory and conflicting schools of thought clash and coexist in all aspects of life. Praising this government in writing is not something that I’m used to, but as I have already iterated: on the subject of free-speech, the right seems to get what the left does not. Without breaking the cycle by punishing universities that allow freedom of speech to be persecuted, students will only become more insular, intolerant, and unable to marshal their dialectical faculties. You do not have a right to not be offended.
This country has laws regarding hate speech, and it is those that the NUS and other student bodies ought to be following
This does not mean giving a platform to everyone. This country has laws regarding hate speech, and it is those, not their own, that the NUS and other student bodies ought to be following. One local example, from 2016, saw Israeli economist Dr Yaron Brook prevented from giving a lecture on ‘free speech and the survival of western culture’ at the University of Exeter. Perhaps most alarming about this incident was that it was done without the slightest glimmer of irony. One wonders if this merits some sort of neurological investigation. Dr Brook was not hosted by the Friends of Israel, nor was he addressing the matter. Ultimately, he was silenced in the name of freedom and tolerance for being of a particular nationality.
One very much hopes that the Minister for Higher Education’s threat to intervene will be a sufficient stimulus. That the government could become embroiled in student politics like this is a profoundly uncomfortable idea. However, to fully appreciate how necessary it might be, one need only gaze across the Atlantic. On campuses across the States, right-wing speakers like Ben Shapiro have required presidential style security to speak at Conservative events. At Berkeley – rarely mentioned without the appendage ‘home of the free speech movement’ – students rioted, forcing Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter to be uninvited. Here in the UK, we are not there yet. Maybe we never will be. Yet freedom of speech is under attack at British universities, and it should not require a government intervention for students to stand up and protect what is perhaps our most fundamental right.