Monday, December 03, 2007

Just say no to `No Platform'

Britain: A student at the University of East Anglia strikes a blow for free speech against the NUS's censorious policies

Last week, the students union at the University of East Anglia passed a policy introduced by Richard Reynolds, stating that `in order to discredit illiberal, extremist or racist ideologies, it is necessary to openly confront these ideas and not merely pretend they do not exist'. This runs counter to the policy of the National Union of Students, which is to deny a platform to extremists. Here, we republish the UEA students' pro-free speech policy:

Fight Fascism, End `No Platform'

* You can't win the war against fascist ideas if you don't fight the battles. Banning things just makes us look like we are scared to take them on;

* Saying you `believe in free speech, but...' is meaningless, just as saying `I'm not racist, but...'. Either we are free to say and think what we believe or we are not;

* If fascist groups were to come to campus to debate, our representatives should be inside the room arguing with them and proving them wrong, not just protesting pointlessly outside;

* If we ban these groups, we give them the moral high ground - they can claim they are unfairly treated and accuse those who do believe in democracy of being hypocrites;

* Part of being a student is coming across new ideas, not all of these will be nice, but we learn from them all.

Some myths about `No Platform':

* `Fascist groups will come to, or are going to be invited to, campus'

This does not mean we want them here or we are extending an invitation. They can anyway, it is beyond the power of the Union to stop them.

* `By arguing with such groups (giving them a "platform") we are giving them credibility'

The whole point of arguing with someone is to see who is right; it does not imply we think they are right, quite the reverse is true. Our arguments can always be made better and we can further understand what is wrong with their position - just like when we study outdated academic ideas on our courses.

* `Fascist/racist groups will attack people, especially ethnic minorities, LGBT students and other discriminated against groups.'

This may be true. However, if it is, this is a matter for the police as it would be a criminal offence. You cannot assume people are guilty, however unpleasant they are, before they act.

* `Ethnic minorities, LGBT students and people from other discriminated against groups will be too uncomfortable to debate with such people in the room.'

Democracy requires debate; sometimes that debate can be messy, but to sacrifice controversy for an easy life is to sacrifice democracy itself. Why should we presume that minority groups need special protection? Surely they are as capable as anyone else? To suggest otherwise is not only patronising; it is the very essence of discrimination, which we should be fighting against.

* `The NUS conference would be invaded by extremists!'

The conference was not invaded before NUS had a `no platform' policy. These `extremists' would have to be elected as delegates, like every other NUS conference delegate. And if they don't follow the rules, then, like everyone else, they can be chucked out.


School Newsletter Omits Christmas from December 'Important Dates'

A Freudian slip?

They made a list, but they should have checked it twice. In a December newsletter to the families of elementary school students, Spokane Public Schools' list of "important dates" didn't include Christmas. Hanukkah, Human Rights Day, winter break, the Islamic holy day Eid al-Adha, first day of winter and Kwanzaa all made the list. But no Christmas.

"It was absolutely an error of omission," district spokeswoman Terren Roloff said. "In our efforts to be inclusive, we missed the obvious." The omission drew complaints from some parents that Christians are being overlooked in favor of other cultures and beliefs. Greater Spokane Association of Evangelicals Executive Director John Tusant said the error surprised him. "The stores have been decorated for the last month. How do you overlook that?" Tusant asked.

Hutton School parent Jane Harper noted the absence of Christmas but didn't think the omission was meant as a message to Christians. "Christmas is so dominant in our society. I don't know that anyone should feel slighted," Harper said.

Roloff said the district would not have included Hanukkah and Eid al-Adha if it had intended to avoid religious celebrations. She said her office has been fielding calls about the newsletter from concerned parents, and that most have been understanding about the mix-up. Christmas had been added to the "important dates" section of the online version of the school district's newsletter by Thursday afternoon.


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