Organisations including the National Union of Students have made silencing 'controversial' voices a priority
Last week saw yet more attempts to silence dissenting voices among the Left – from the Chambers of the House of Commons to a lecture hall at a London university. While they were unsuccessful, questions need to be asked about the far-Left’s aversion to allowing those who disagree with them the same freedoms as those who do not.
Despite threats of deselection from Left wing activists, 66 Labour MPs voted against leader Jeremy Corbyn in favour of extending airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. Among the ‘traitor list’ drawn up by hard-Left party Left Unity were Hillary Benn and Neil Coyle, both of whom have since received death threats via Twitter.
Stella Creasy was sent pictures of dead babies, had 500 people march on her Walthamstow constituency office and has received abuse on Twitter comparing her to ISIS.
Meanwhile, over on the other side of London, yet another university student society was trying to silence a dissenting voice through fear and intimidation. Goldsmiths Islamic Society (ISOC) attempted to stop Left-wing Iranian-born Maryam Namazie from giving a talk on blasphemy and apostasy to the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (ASH).
The ISOC President wrote to ASH claiming Namazie’s presence would violate their ‘safe space’. This so-called ‘polite request’ warned ‘we advise you to reconsider your event tomorrow’. When the event went ahead regardless, the ISOC members did everything they could to disrupt Namazie’s speech.
According to Namazie: “After my talk began, ISOC ‘brothers’ started coming into the room, repeatedly banging the door, falling on the floor, heckling me, playing on their phones, shouting out, and creating a climate of intimidation in order to try and prevent me from speaking.”
The national confederation of these unions, the National Union of Students (NUS), claims to be the ‘national voice of students”, but has made silencing ‘controversial’ voices a priority. Back in May, numerous delegates who attended the NUS annual conference reported an ‘atmosphere of intimidation’ at the event.
An open letter signed by 43 of the event’s attendees claimed that many students ‘felt too scared to speak on stage out of fear of the response they would get’ and that there was an ‘atmosphere of intimidation, fear and inaccessibility that perpetuated during the entirety of conference’.
According to the letter, ‘there seemed to be a general lack of tolerance for opinions which aren’t the mainstream view’, and ‘we frequently saw the same faces speaking on stage, time after time, creating an atmosphere that this was a conference for the few, not the many’.
Student unions’ decisions to ban speakers are often due to pressure from a student society on campus, who will more often than not claim their own ‘safe space’ is at risk. The Goldsmiths ISOC, for example, claimed that ‘the university should be a safe space for all our students’. Claims like this are often taken seriously enough to ban someone from coming onto campus and sharing their ideas with students, despite the fact that students are free not to attend such an event.
The decisions taken by a few from within student unions to ban speakers have however crumbled under external pressure in the past. In September, when Warwick University’s student union banned Namazie from speaking on campus, the decision was quickly overturned by widespread criticism in the national press and on social media. Suddenly the union’s big talk about having ‘a duty of care to conduct a risk assessment for each speaker who wishes to come to campus’ went out of the window.
A month ago, University College London Union reversed its decision to ban former YPG fighter Macer Gifford after facing online criticism. Last year, the University of Derby’s students’ union overturned its ban on UKIP members speaking at events.
The far-Left’s attempts to shut down debate among its ranks are resulting in a stream of embarrassing own-goals. MPs are threatened with de-selection if they vote against the worldview of their leader. MPs exercise their right to vote however they like, and Corbyn’s sinister tactics make the headlines.
University student unions and societies attempt to silence speakers who deviate from their worldview, making those who threaten their supposed ‘safe space’ feel as unsafe as possible. But, almost every time, they are exposed for the fascists they really are.
Emily Dyer is a research fellow at the Henry Jackson SocietyLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.