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UK: Free Speech Rally

Friday 18 March 2016, by siawi3

Source: Peter Tatchell Foundation, March 18, 2016

Rushdie, Grayling & Dawkins back NUS free speech protest

Rally urges revision, not scrapping, of NUS no-platform & safe space policies
Protesters say: Challenge all bigotry & hate but also defend free speech

London, UK – 18 March 2016

Eighty protesters rallied outside the National Union of Students HQ in London last night (Thursday 17 March) to urge revision – not scrapping - of its safe space & no-platform policies, which have been used to restrict freedom of expression. They condemned all bigotry but also demanded the right to free speech.

PHOTOS of the protest: http://bit.ly/21yXXzZ

VIDEO of Peter Tatchell’s speech at the rally:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=IfIPbyuV5Dw

See below the full text of Peter Tatchell’s speech.

A planned counter-protest by NUS supporters fizzled, with only four people turning up.

Prominent supporters of the free speech campaign include Salman Rushdie, AC Grayling, Suzanne Moore, Tom Holland, Maryam Namazie, Richard Dawkins, Ophelia Benson, Maajid Nawaz, Kenan Malik and Peter Tatchell.

See the protester’s statement and full list of signatories: http://goo.gl/ItpHKH

The protest was organised by Right2Debate and the Council of Ex-Muslims in Britain Council, with the support of Index on Censorship, Feminism in London, International Humanist & Ethical Union, Peter Tatchell Foundation, National Secular Society, Bread & Roses TV, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies, One Law for All, Rationalist International, Center for Inquiry, Atheist Alliance International, Centre for Secular Space and many others.

Peter Tatchell, Director of the human rights lobby, the Peter Tatchell Foundation, said:

"Free speech does not mean allowing bigotry to pass unchallenged. It should always be refuted and protested. The most effective way to do this is by defeating bigoted ideas in open debate and thereby winning the public to oppose intolerance. No-platforms, bans and censorship suppress bigotry but fail to expose and counter it. We are urging the NUS to revise - not scrap - its no-platform and safe space policies, to make them consistent with free speech.

“Free speech can only be legitimately restricted when someone makes false, damaging allegations - such as that a person is a rapist or tax fraudster - or when they engage in threats, harassment or the endorsement of violence. As the German communist, Rosa Luxemburg, argued: freedom of speech means nothing if it does not exist for the person who thinks differently.

“Islamist extremists are often free to speak at universities while those of us providing a progressive counter-narrative face repeated attempts to deny or restrict our right to speak. We are falsely accused of ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘incitement to hatred’ when we are, in fact, challenging the Islamists’ hatred of apostates, women, LGBTs, Jews, liberal Muslims and others.

“Warwick University Student Union, for example, initially barred the Iranian communist and feminist Maryam Namazie from speaking to the Atheist Secularist and Humanist Society, citing similar false accusations.

“At Goldsmiths University, the Islamic Society tried but failed to intimidate and cancel Maryam’s talk by misusing the concept of safe spaces.

“The National Union of Students’ no-platform and safe space policies are being abused to restrict the free expression of an increasing number of feminists, ex-Muslims, left-wingers, atheists and human rights campaigners,” said Mr Tatchell.

Council of Ex-Muslim of Britain’s spokesperson Maryam Namazie said:

"Ideas must be open to discussion and debate - that’s the best way to challenge bad ideas and promote good ones. More than anywhere else, university campuses should be hotbeds of dissent. Instead, NUS policies have made them centres of censorship, shutting down much needed minority voices like those of ex-Muslim and Muslim dissenters and instead encouraging Islamism and regression."

Alexa Robertson, Secretary of UNASH at Nottingham and Campaigns Officer for the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies said:

"The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (AHS) stands in defiance of the NUS safe space and no platform policies which continue to regress and destabilise AHS societies through their attack on freedom of expression."

Centre for Secular Space Director, Gita Sahgal, said:

"It would be funny if it were not tragic to see activists who are older than students having to challenge the NUS on their policies. When we were students our struggles against apartheid, racism and for feminist liberation set the pace for public debate and transformation for decades to come. What example do NUS policies set - except to encourage regression?"

Haydar Zaki of Right2Debate and Quilliam Foundation said:

"We cannot rely on censorship to counter intolerant views that do not break the law, but undermine the human rights of others. These views can make student communities feel unsafe and they must be challenged. This must be done through debate not censorship."

Feminist Julie Bindel said:

"Students are silencing radical thinkers and activists that have contributed to fighting oppression of marginalised groups. In the meantime they are supporting the right to speak of religious bigots and misogynist pornographers. It is time to challenge their support of a deeply conservative agenda and return to truly radical and challenging politics."

Benjamin David, President of Warwick Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society said:

"Contravening free speech through excessive no-platforming is chafing our universities - having the dire consequence of narrative-sanitisation. We implore all those defenders of pluralism and human rights to stand with us, shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand, and pressure the NUS to reform their excessively oppressive no-platforming policies."

Joint statement by the protest organisers and supporters:

“We are deeply concerned by the increasing attempts by the National Union of Students (NUS) and its affiliated Student Unions to silence dissenters – including feminists, apostates, LGBTI rights campaigners, anti-racists, anti-fascists and anti-Islamists – through its use of No-Platform and Safe Space policies.

“We stand against all prejudice and discrimination. We agree that free speech does not mean giving bigots a free pass. A defence of free speech includes the right and moral imperative to challenge, oppose and protest bigoted views.

“Educational institutions must be a place for the exchange and criticism of all ideas – even those deemed unpalatable by some – providing they don’t incite violence against peoples or communities. Bigoted ideas are most effectively defeated by open debate, backed up by ethics, reason and evidence.

“The student body is not homogeneous; there will be differences of opinion among students. The NUS’s restrictive policies infringe upon the right of students to hear and challenge dissenting and opposing views.

“We, therefore, call on the NUS to revise its No-Platform and Safe Space policies to facilitate freedom of expression and thought, rather than restrict it.”

Text of Peter Tatchell’s speech to the rally outside NUS HQ:

We are here to defend free speech, against those who want to suppress or restrict legitimate debate.

Some of us have political disagreements with each other on various issues. I am critical of some other people and organisations at this protest. And some of them disagree with me. That’s fine. We can agree to disagree.

But we are all united in our agreement that free speech should be defended and that intolerant ideas should be challenged and protested against, in ways that are compatible with free speech.

We condemn attempts to close down debate, and stand in solidarity with free speech defenders worldwide who are successfully challenging oppressive ideas with liberating ideas.

Freedom of speech is one of the most precious and important human rights. A free society depends on the free exchange of ideas. Nearly all ideas are capable of giving offence to someone.

Many of the most important, profound ideas in human history, such as those of Galileo Galilei, Charles Darwin and Karl Marx, caused great offence in their time.

Free speech does not mean allowing bigotry to pass unchallenged. It should always be refuted and protested.

The most effective way to do this is by defeating bigoted ideas in open debate and thereby winning the public to oppose intolerance.

No-platforms, bans and censorship don’t work. They suppress bigotry but fail to expose and counter it.

We are urging the NUS to revise - not scrap - its no-platform and safe space policies, to make them consistent with free speech.

We agree that there are some instances where no-platforms and safe spaces may be justified.

Free speech can be legitimately restricted when someone makes false, damaging allegations - such as that a person is a rapist or tax fraudster - or when they engage in threats, harassment or the endorsement of violence.

Islamist extremists are often free to speak at universities while those of us providing a progressive counter-narrative face repeated attempts to deny or restrict our right to speak.

We are falsely accused of ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘incitement to hatred’ when we are, in fact, challenging the Islamists’ hatred of apostates, women, LGBTs, Jews, liberal Muslims and others.

Warwick University Student Union, for example, initially barred the Iranian communist and feminist Maryam Namazie from speaking to the Atheist Secularist and Humanist Society, citing similar false accusations.

At Goldsmiths University, the Islamic Society tried but failed to intimidate and cancel Maryam’s talk by misusing the concept of safe spaces.

The National Union of Students’ no-platform and safe space policies are being abused to restrict the free expression of an increasing number of feminists, ex-Muslims, left-wingers and human rights campaigners.

As the German communist, Rosa Luxemburg, argued: freedom of speech means nothing if it does not exist for the person who thinks differently.

We oppose bigotry and defend free speech. And we urge the NUS and student unions to do likewise. Free speech is a fundamental human right and worth defending