In my previous blog I highlighted how many University societies led by the NUS were failing to challenge Islamist views, and instead trying to ban anyone who had the temerity to challenge an ideology that would take us back to the dark ages. Sadly when it comes to freedom of speech on university, a tale of woe seems to be the order of the day.
Last week, Rachael Melhuish, the Women’s Officer at Cardiff University Student’s Union set up a petition trying to ban Germaine Greer from giving a lecture at the because she is “transphobic”. This all stemmed from a talk she gave at Cambridge University last January, where she stated that Transphobia doesn’t exist and that transgender women are not women, but rather men who believe they are women, having been castrated.
In the aftermath of all this it appears that the censors have won this battle, as Greer has pulled out of her speaking engagement. The same people won when recently the radical feminist Julie Bindel was banned from speaking at Manchester University by their student Union, for articles she had written that were deemed offensive to transgender women.
Apparently part of the problem for some students at Cardiff is that Greer is a “problematic” speaker. Surely the whole point of a free thinking society, which universities are meant to be at the heart of, is to have your beliefs challenged.
It doesn’t mean you have to agree with a speaker, but if you cannot deal with being challenged or having your views held up to ridicule; in the long run you will struggle with whatever chosen profession you are in, to maintain friendships with people you disagree with and to learn how to debate with people.
In essence, what people did when they signed this petition is trying to shield people away from the reality of life, which is from time to time you are going to disagree with people and be offended. It’s the same ridiculous thinking which has led to Zionists, Blurred Lines, the Sun and sombreros, amongst many other things banned on campus, because of “offence” caused, under the all encompassing gagging policy of “no platform”.
An obsession of creating a politically correct world where nobody gets offended, has created a very intolerant world where debate is being crushed.
Those who set up this petition labelled Greer a misogynist and not a feminist because she holds views about transgender people which they find intolerable. What this comes down to in reality is the fact that those behind the petition don’t like that people can have differing views.
This viewpoint would gag us from hearing different views and have us sleepwalking into to the dystopian world of 1984 where our very thoughts are censored and language in this case is controlled by a student union representative.
This is a totalitarian view of life, where information is controlled, where the very act of thinking for yourself based on hearing a range of views is a crime. Sadly, it is a place where 1984 is seen as a blueprint, rather than a warning. Apparently, this is all for our own good, as it creates a safe space where vulnerable young minds won’t get offended. For me, it’s a nightmare world, where the open exchange of ideas which creates an open society could become irrevocably damaged.
I happen to believe that Greer’s dissenting opinions about transgender women are wrong, ill judged and offensive, but she has every right to hold these views. I’m sure many people find my Conservative views and my defence of the state of Israel offensive, I would however hope that they would recognise my right to hold those views. The alternative, after all, is a university body, society or government controlling and peering into our minds and deciding what is acceptable and unacceptable.
Universities should be a place where Voltaire’s (falsely attributed) maxim “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” is aspired to. It means realising you don’t have a right to not be offended, you do however have the right thanks to free speech to passionately disagree and take on those you believe to hold hateful opinions.
Unfortunately, many involved in university seem to forget this, with the Germaine Greer case being the latest example. Currently, there is a possibility that the next generation of people leaving university rather than being fierce free thinkers prepared to dissent from conventional opinion, will posses weak robotic minds that refuse to tolerate opinions contrary to their own.
For those who believe in freedom of speech, expression and thought, we must use all our powers of persuasion to stop this.
Stephen Hoffman is the Parliamentary Liaison Officer for Conservatives for Liberty. He tweets at @thehoff102
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty