Extremists like Milo should be challenged, not shut down by mobs

Rashad Ali replies to James Bloodworth on fascism and free speech


Rashad Ali is a counter-extremism expert. Here he replies to former Left Foot Forward editor James Bloodworth’s recent piece on a cancelled talk by right-wing activist Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkley. Bloodworth argued fascists should not be given a platform to express their views. 


Democracy, or the right of people to govern themselves, cannot be undertaken without the right to form your own beliefs and express them. After all, we would like to think that we have thought through our ideas and won the argument in the public sphere before executing them.

As such, freedom of thought or belief and the freedom to express such ideas become ontologically necessary in any democratic state. The rule of law aimed at protecting the rights of people to freely do so become axiomatic.

You cannot shut down the media, for example, and still claim to be a free and democratic society. Nor can you restrict the right of parties to hold beliefs and ideas and even advocate policies which we may find repugnant. Laws which are unjust are no laws at all, as Augustine put it.

Laws or decrees which curb people’s basic rights, whether discriminating on grounds of race or of political or religious views deserve to be struck down and rejected.

This is why we have seen US courts reject President Donald Trump’s executive order which singled out people from seven Muslim majority countries and prevented them from even seeking asylum and refugee status, along with merely travelling to the US.

It’s also why we have seen strong reactions to Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, seeking to make the press an enemy of the state, and why Republicans have repudiated Trump’s attacking a Federal Judge.

These matters undermine the rule of law, and standing up against them becomes necessary and fundamental to the prevention of authoritarian rule, and basic norms of democratic governance.

You cannot therefore defend the actions of an unruly mob violating the basic rule of law and undermining the right to freely express obnoxious views, especially when the mob uses intimidation or violence.

The debate around a cancelled talk by right-wing activist Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkely is a case in point.

The limits by law and among human rights activists and philosophers tend to be at the extreme end of the spectrum. We should allow all to express their views unless they are going to incite people to violence.

Different states have passed different pieces of legislation with particular political and historic contexts in mind (banning terror glorification, holocaust denial and anti-Semitism are two examples). But these don’t form good precedents to follow in curbing free speech.

Nor is the argument that if we don’t shut bad speech down it will spread like a cancer one which is well founded. First, because it is wrong – this would still restricting free speech on non-legal grounds.

Second, restricting such speech even on legal grounds has never been effective. Weimar Germany had anti-hate speech laws, under which people were convicted. This did not deter the Nazis. It did however increase their notoriety, furthered their victimhood narrative and made pseudo-martyrs of them.

Having said that, it doesn’t mean that our pubic institutions must give the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos unfettered public support and access to our universities without being challenged. This same argument has been had at UK universities regarding the far-right and right-wing Islamists.

Instead, challenging them and their ideologies – not necessarily with a view  to winning them over, but rather to defeating their ideas – is key to stopping those who are engaged by them becoming more enthralled with their ludicrous and dangerous ideology.

Our research countering extremism has found this can be done, even online, through campaigns and one-on-one engagement. You can get a reasonably high level of engagement and even have senior or active members of such organisations leave and rescind their affiliation to such groups and ideas.

And you can certainly dissuade those who are initially attracted to those ideas and engage them in their thousands.

There is no reason why an intelligent, articulate, persuasive public thinker and activist like James Bloodworth could not take on and expose neo-fascist ideology for what it is – populist, elite-supporting nativism – rather than provide justification for the rule of the mob, however well-intentioned that mob might be.

Rashad Ali is a senior fellow of the Institute of Strategic Dialogue and a director of the counter-extremism consultancy CENTRI

See: ISIS targets refugees who need our help, says Quilliam

Like 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.

11 Responses to “Extremists like Milo should be challenged, not shut down by mobs”

  1. Evil One

    In essence I agree with you. The only difference I have is the idea that Milo Y is any sort of extremist. If you go beyond the bitchiness and the jokes he is fairly serious and saying things which are fairly mainstream. He is certainly no racist, nor sexist and his criticisms of feminism or Islam are not the rantings of a bigot, but carefully considered and backed up by data. He is little different than Christina Hoff Sommers on feminism or people like Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens on Islam. Disagree with him all you want, but the tendency of the left to call everyone on the right a fascist is doing no-one any favours.

  2. Marc Dauncey

    What a load of crap. This guy on previous speaking outings has corralled abuse towards trans and immigrant students. He’s recruiting fascists and targetting vulnerable students. Ali needs to pack up and go home now because he’s missed the point. We will not allow neo nazis to hurt our people and if that means shutting them down, so be it.

    As for guy who commented saying that Milo isn’t sexist or racist, why don’t you run back to whatever fascist hole you crawled out of – no-one believes a damn word of your lies.

  3. Marc Dauncey

    The time of “letting them speak so we can expose their ideas” is long gone – the liberal approach has allowed the far right to take control both sides of the atlantic. You failed, let the grown ups deal with these scum in future.

  4. Oswald Mosley, Labour MP for Smethwick

    The article is of course spot on. And the comments, aside from Evil One’s, pure comedy gold.
    The modern Left isn’t even remotely liberal, if it ever really was. If it’s not the hysterical smearing of Goebbels then it’s the thugs of Rohm.

  5. al

    Marc you still don’t get it do you old chum. The liberal approach hasn’t allowed the far right to take control, it’s caused the right to be VOTED in. It’s exactly the attitude you are showing that gets peoples backs up.

  6. Andrew

    And so Marc Duancey proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the true face of fascism and totalitarianism marching across the west today is in fact coming from the left – as if we needed telling.
    Spitting at journalists and secretaries and threatening to rape young female PA’s as they enter the Tory conference, writing obscenities on war memorials to women, regularly disrupting legal political meetings and gatherings in both Universities, and town halls, endless violence, rioting and destruction of property (including university buildings!!!) carried out by groups of black clad men and women in ski masks. Always offended, always whining, always demanding, forever policing everyone else and informing the police every time someone says anything you don’t like and encouraging others to do the same, people always fearful of a even a minor faux pas, of being over heard. All of it, always, from the left . You are pathetic. It’s not so much a question of people moving to the right – it’s a question of being repulsed by an ever more aggressive, violent, accusatory, regressive, hateful, bigoted, ignorant left. At least that’s how I feel. I fear progressive, honest, liberal , intelligent left wing ideas and arguments are being swamped and it’s people like Marc Dauncey who now speak for the left – or least dominate it. It’s a shame, but anyone who is against, or offends people like Marc Dauncey will always get my ear and more often than not my vote as he and his ilk are the worst possible alternative – worse than the Tories, worse than UKIP, worse than Trump.

  7. Speedy

    Marc Dauncy, you sound very much like a facist yourself.

  8. Desdecardo

    You have never let them speak. You have never allowed them an open forum. Never done anything resembling our rights in the Constitution. You have forced people on the middle over the edge.

    And no, Milo is not rascist. He has a black boyfriend ffs. He has never said anything to allude to that then your Lord of the Flies buddies just being fed garbage to get your chicken little self going.

    You haven’t stopped to think. You jump to conclusions. You force people to think you are monsters and the worst example of what a brown shirt is. And show you know nothing of world or US history.

    You cause legitimate hate mongers to get followers by burning your own towns and universities over someone who is guilty of being a crumogeonly. That guy that was punched at the inauguration is a rascist tool that needs to be stopped. Milo just knows how to get chicken littles to to believe the sky is falling because people are dumb and easily stirred up and reactionary in a herd.

    Go after legitimate tools. Not someone, that if you actually read about or listened to you would shrug and say that he isn’t that bad. He is sort of like a Gay Catholic version of Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand wasn’t a rascist.

  9. Andy

    Well Marc Dauncey. I think you have demonstrated where the fascist tenancies really lie.

    History has shown us that there is only one side of the argument that has historically carried out public book burning and arresting people for thinking and saying the wrong things (shutting them down). This was done in both Germany and the Soviet Union. It looks like you are firmly on this side of the argument?

    Instead of trying to shut him down – why don’t you explain where he is wrong (if you are in fact able?)

  10. Evil One

    Ok, Marc, you hysteric, find me the racism and sexism from Milo. Not second hand reports from poorly researched articles, but thinks MY has written and speeches he has made. And your tactic of calling everyone who disagrees with you a fascist/Nazi isn’t working any more. The true fascist is you, trying to silence people and supporting violence. It is hilarious that you, with your temper tantrums, think you are ‘grown up.’ At best you are pathetic, at worst you pose a real danger to free speech and democracy.

  11. Tony Miller

    Mark Dauncey <- Spoken like a true fascist
    Can you not see your own hypocrisy. You are pigeon holing about half of the population and advocating censorship because they don't share your political views. I doubt very much that you have actually listened to Milo speak, or at best you have listened to sound bites out of context. The only people I have heard him targeting are people who have targeted others first.
    If you're so confident in your assertions, then provide some evidence. There is a wealth of youtube footage that I'm sure must be saturated with your implied bile, if you are to be believed……….

Leave a Reply