Students Unions should support freedom of expression, not restrict it

by Michael Nugent on March 17, 2016

Today in London, Right2Debate and the Council of Ex Muslims in Britain are organising a protest rally at the National Union of Students, to call for the reform of policies that restrict freedom of expression, including censoring people who challenge the injustices caused by Islamism.

When I was a Students Union President in the early 1980s, we strongly supported freedom of expression on controversial issues. We would have considered it unbelievable that, three decades later, students unions would be trying to restrict such basic rights.

Our student world still had the Berlin wall, the Soviet Union, apartheid in South Africa, and the euphemistically called ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland. Even without the Internet, we supported the rights of dissidents around the world to speak out against injustices.

Students Unions today should support freedom of expression, not try to restrict it. Please join Maryam Namazie and others at today’s protest, if you can, from 5-6pm at Macadam House, 275 Gray’s Inn Road, London, WC1X 8QB.

Students Union meeting about IRA hunger strikes

In 1981, I was running for the position of Students Union President in what is now the Dublin Institute of Technology. Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, IRA prisoners had gone on hunger strike, looking for political status.

I was approached by a member of Sinn Fein, along with a member of a prominent Fianna Fail family. They asked me to withdraw from the Students Union election, so that they could nominate IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands for President of the Students Union.

When I declined to do so, they said that they would make sure that it was known that I was one of those responsible for the death of Bobby Sands. I said they were welcome to enrol him as a student, and run him against me in the election. They did not do this.

We then organised a general meeting of students, to discuss the IRA hunger strikes and Northern Ireland violence and politics, and we invited the people who wanted me to withdraw from the election to put their case before the students.

At that meeting, the students decided to condemn political violence in Northern Ireland, and to call on both the IRA hunger strikers and the Irish and British governments to bring about a negotiated end to the hunger strikes, in order to de-escalate political tension and further violence.

Cumulative impact of freedom of expression

Did our meeting have an effect on the outcome of the hunger strikes? On its own, very little. But it was part of the cumulative impact of countless similar responses by citizens and organisations around the country, that collectively must have had an impact on everybody involved.

And it gave a forum, for those students who wished to avail of it, to openly discuss and tease out the nuances of a complicated political and ethical issue, including hearing and responding to the opinions of people with whom they strongly disagreed.

I went on to campaign actively against IRA and loyalist terrorism, and also against the Irish and British governments’ broadcasting restrictions, that prevented terrorists and their support groups from being interviewed on radio and television. Let people listen and make up their minds.

Today, I frequently debate, in colleges and universities, against people whose religious beliefs I strongly disagree with, and which I believe are harmful to society. No doubt they feel the same about my beliefs. Let people listen and make up their minds.

On my blog, I allow robust debate by commenters, and I do not ban people whose views I disagree with. I encourage commenters to challenge ideas, while respecting the individual people who are expressing those ideas. Let people listen and make up their minds.

Please support the protest in London today

I reject and challenge the use of the word ‘Islamophobia’. It is typically used to conflate two ideas (criticism of Islam, which is just, and bigotry towards Muslims, which is unjust) and to silence those who are criticising Islam by falsely portraying them as bigots.

It is tactics like this that are used to prevent Maryam Namazie and others from speaking on university campuses against the injustices caused by Islamism.

Universities should be prepared to host events at which speakers cause offence to people who do not share their beliefs, as long as such events do not break the laws of the land or incite violence or crime.

This is important because universities are not the same as private bodies with their own political agendas. Universities are public bodies that should foster freedom of expression, and encourage critical thinking and intellectual growth among students and staff.

Students Unions should support freedom of expression, not try to restrict it. Please join Maryam Namazie and others at today’s protest, if you can, from 5-6pm at Macadam House, 275 Gray’s Inn Road, London, WC1X 8QB.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ghost orchid March 17, 2016 at 4:32 pm

If I can silence you for your unpopular idea, then you can turn around and do the same to me.

I don’t want to live in an authoritarian world where only *right think* is tolerated.

It is really cute how the SJW will state that ex-muslims should be silenced since criticism of Islam = hate speech.

Don’t they realise that if the fundie Islamists gained any significant political power that they would put the SJW in jail for expressing support of women and gay folks?

2 Shatterface March 19, 2016 at 7:12 pm

Our student world still had the Berlin wall, the Soviet Union, apartheid in South Africa, and the euphemistically called ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland.

Not to mention Bonnie Langford in Doctor Who

Dark days indeed.

My interest in politics came from by belief in free speech, not the other way round. It’s an end in itself, not just a means to an end.

That means I’m not prepared to sacrifice free speech for a ‘greater good’.

In the Eighties threats to free speech came mainly from the Tories, the Liberals and people like Mary Whitehouse: Clause 28, video nasties, the political censorship of news concerning Ireland or nuclear weapons. But even then we had no-platforming on campus and our student union tried to ban 18 certificate films from the campus.

And then, in my second year, Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses.

3 JetLagg March 23, 2016 at 3:45 pm

Ghost Orchard@1

Don’t they realise that if the fundie Islamists gained any significant political power that they would put the SJW in jail for expressing support of women and gay folks?

I really don’t think they do. They want to be the benevolent dictator, and it never occurs to them the dictatorship might be toppled and all of their work undone in a heartbeat by someone with different values, but an equal willingness to crush their opposition using any tactics necessary.

4 Kirbmarc March 24, 2016 at 9:04 am

“They want to be the benevolent dictator, and it never occurs to them the dictatorship might be toppled and all of their work undone in a heartbeat by someone with different values, but an equal willingness to crush their opposition using any tactics necessary.”

If anything the Islamists are more efficient at managing power and at dealing with inner splits than the authoritarian left of these days.

A Regressive Left revolution would be hijacked by the Islamists soon enough and would leave to the end of the civil rights that real social justice activists have fought for. The “keyboard warriors” would be the first against the wall for “blasphemy”.

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