Pupils at the Simon Langton grammar school for boys in Canterbury have written an open letter, complaining about the decision to ban former pupil, Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos, from giving a talk at the school, owing to his “reputational issues”.
Yiannopoulos, who was banned after pressure from the Department for Education, clearly fancies himself to be quite the shock-jock, with his racist and sexist views (“America has a Muslim problem”; feminism is “like cancer”). Proper little charmer, isn’t he? However, the Canterbury pupils say they don’t need to be protected from “indoctrination” and have been denied the right to “interrogate rhetoric”. They said that silencing Yiannopoulos vindicated him, “reinforcing his accusation that our society is against free speech”. Bravo. Give those pupils a merit mark.
What a lesson for all those organisations and groups that have banned speakers (Germaine Greer and Peter Tatchell included), sometimes on the most spurious grounds, in the eternal quest for the “safe space”.
Passionate, experienced informed commentators no-platformed and muzzled, just for having a different point of view, widening the scope for debate and other such major thought crimes.
Clearly, such people shouldn’t be banned. Then there are the likes of Yiannopoulos. Couldn’t we ban people like him – go on, just a little bit? After all, does anyone really benefit from standing downwind of such pathetic attention-seeking?
However, Yiannopoulos shouldn’t be banned, not just because he enjoys it too much, or even because it’s wrong, but mainly because it’s dangerous.
It is also nonsensical. Have recent times taught us nothing? There are no safe spaces, it was all a mirage. Or, if you like, a mirage wrapped in a delusion inside an echo chamber. While the anguished central casting liberal “we should have listened to people more” rhetoric is becoming somewhat overplayed, there’s no doubt that, if 2016 has been anything, it’s been the year of “you can run but you can’t hide”. A year that’s demonstrated that however smart, decent and switched-on you think you and your mates are, there’s a big, bad, increasingly powerful counter-reality out there that vehemently disagrees, and the very last thing that people should do is ignore it.
Of course, it’s jarring sometimes. Andrew Marr interviewing Marine Le Pen sent me screaming back into the shower for a good scrub. Then there’s Nigel Farage… everywhere. Let’s be clear: I’m not in the market for normalising certain beliefs, giving prejudice a comfy perch in the national and international conversation or making media darlings or “amusing” circus turns out of the likes of Farage.
While it’s possible to be angered by some no-platforms, and more instinctively sympatico with others, the fact remains that it’s all unworkable. However odious people’s views are, they must be smoked out, challenged, ridiculed, exposed, rather than allowed to fester in the shadows and in the darkest, smelliest pockets of the internet, all the time preening as martyrs.
Above all, it is time to grasp, just as the Canterbury pupils did, that there’s no such thing as “free-ish speech”. Free speech is either truly free, for everybody, or it is the worthless joke that democracy’s enemies want it to be. Nor are there any “safe spaces” – it was all just a lovely dream.
What was called “safe” was just intellectual suffocation, with everyone pleading and cajoling: “Come on world, play nice!” Increasingly, what’s more dangerous than that?