Freedom of Speech

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Freedom of Speech

Postby parnassus » Wed Dec 07, 2005 8:15 pm

Very recently, the Cambridge University Students' Union passed a motion that banned extremist speakers from addressing student audiences. Islamist groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir are on the list, as is the British National Party. The president of CUSU justified the ban with, "Speaking at Cambridge gives these people legitimacy, as well as putting the welfare of our students at risk."

I was opposed to the ban, as university should not be existence in a bubble. Firstly, there are extremists in the real world - so get used to them and learn how to implode their arguments. Secondly, Britain promotes freedom of speech. What kind of message do we send out to people when we say, "You can only speak if you say nice things about everybody?" This kind of ban belongs in a police state - where the policemen all wear fluffy pink slippers.

What do you think? Is it right to gag certain groups or not? I am in agreement with the current laws, which state that such legal gags should only be fitted if the speakers are advocating hate crimes.
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Postby pinkparrot » Wed Dec 07, 2005 8:25 pm

It's difficult (as everything on here is.) Generally this sort of attitude is everywhere, when teachers tell you to put your hand down when you have an idea they know is different from theirs or interrupt you half-way through (both very annoying and impolite.) And then there's that saying "If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything." which is most unrealistic.

I think people should be listened to. So much for freedom of speech! As long as it's fine with so-and-so :roll: . People can be extreme and I agree that you should know how to deal with it before you encounter it in the real world. After all, what are test mocks for?! How could someone coming in and saying something "put the welfare of students at risk"? The pen may be mightier than the sword but I don't think it's to that extent! Of course I would agree if the speech was made to a group of young children but students?! It's not possible to protect people from evil in the world simply because of the sad and discouraging fact that it is everywhere.

Though saying that I don't know much about this topic and know that the world is often more complicated than I think it is so there are situations where the ban is right and where it is wrong. If someone was coming in offering a lecture on How to Destroy the World, I would see their point!
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Postby parnassus » Wed Dec 07, 2005 8:49 pm

Generally this sort of attitude is everywhere, when teachers tell you to put your hand down when you have an idea they know is different from theirs


I think that is a slightly different thing. Teachers have set lessons to teach and only a certain amount of time in which to give them. If you offer a point of view that is too complex to be covered in that time, too advanced for most of the class to follow, or totally irrelevant, then they will cut you off. It is usually a time-saving device rather than deliberate censorship. At university, especially Oxbridge, you are not 'taught'. My professors refuse to use that word because it suggests passivity. You are meant to learn, and surely learning involves listening to whatever speaker you choose?

And then there's that saying "If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything." which is most unrealistic.


I agree with that saying to a certain extent. I once happened to mention to a roommate that I was going to the theatre one night. She asked, "Are you going to audition for something?" I said no, and told her I was going to see a play. She responded, "Good! Because you can't sing, you can't dance, you can't act - you're crappy in drama."

I plead guilty to the first two charges - I dance with all the grace of a hammer-toed hippo and I can't carry a tune in a bucket - but I am actually rather good at acting. Good enough to emerge with a Silver Medal in Acting (passed with merit) from the London Academy of Music and Drama, anyway. And good enough to get an A* at GCSE. (My roommate, incidentally, received a C.) There was really no need for her to give that cruel critique of my (dis)ability when I had already told her my purpose in going to the theatre.

But when applied to politics, the saying you quote does become ridiculous. I would love it if everyone were polite and kind to each other. But the fact remains that they are not, so it is no good pretending that they are. If you want to change this, you don't block your ears, which is all that banning extremist groups amounts to. You mount a convincing opposition that will attract supporters.

How could someone coming in and saying something "put the welfare of students at risk"?


There are a lot of ethnic minority students in Cambridge. The authorities were concerned that a BNP speaker with a gift for rhetoric would convince white students to make life uncomfortable for international students, perhaps even leading to bullying. Likewise, Hizb ut-Tahrir preys on vulnerable and lonely Muslim students and convinces them to shun their non-Muslim counterparts. This isn't right. But I still don't think banning extremist speakers is the way to fight this - they'll still find ways to make their voices heard. At least if they speak in the Union they can be monitored by the police.
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Postby pinkparrot » Wed Dec 07, 2005 9:03 pm

Yes, if people want to say something to the world, they will no matter what it takes (or is that just me?)

Bullying, racism and other forms of (grrr...some word I don't know!) are in the world anyway but people can be manipulative. Though if people stuck to their own views all the time then this world wouldn't be the same place. But I don't really like the world as it is. People shouldn't be corrupted by someone else's point of view. The art of persuasion is used by bad people as well as good people. Most infuriating.

I agree that teaching is a different thing. I must have had too many bad experiences with teachers!

Your old roommate doesn't sound like a pleasant/tactful person.

In many ways I don't understand the big bad world of politics so I'm surprised that something I'm saying is valid. I have as much contact with the world as I have with tact.

Yes, everyone should be polite and kind to each other. I wonder what came along originally to spoil it? But it is sad how everything is like this. In theory, care bears and my little pony should get along in whatever world they come from, but there's always evil in the picture somewhere. It is frustrating but even through my own extraordinary powers of imagination, I can't imagine a world without evil in it somewhere.
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Postby parnassus » Wed Dec 07, 2005 9:06 pm

I have as much contact with the world as I have with tact.


Yes, you should definitely start reading a good newspaper, pinkparrot. (By 'good', I mean a broadsheet and not a tabloid.) It is no use being intelligent if you are ignorant of current events.
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Postby Thirteen-thirty-seven » Thu Dec 08, 2005 10:11 am

pinkparrot, you should read two good newspapers. Each newspaper has its pwn political bias. You will not get unadulterated truth from just one. I suggest reading one left-wing newspaper ( I think The Independant is the best) and one right-wing newspaper (The Telegraph has the best quality of journalists in the right-wing press, althopugh I don't agree with most of their opinions.) Also the satirical magazine, Private Eye, is a good read, although don't use it as your sole source of news, because its primary object is to amuse.

Anyway, back to the original question.

parnassus wrote:There are a lot of ethnic minority students in Cambridge. The authorities were concerned that a BNP speaker with a gift for rhetoric would convince white students to make life uncomfortable for international students, perhaps even leading to bullying. Likewise, Hizb ut-Tahrir preys on vulnerable and lonely Muslim students and convinces them to shun their non-Muslim counterparts. This isn't right. But I still don't think banning extremist speakers is the way to fight this - they'll still find ways to make their voices heard. At least if they speak in the Union they can be monitored by the police.


I agree. if you make something forbidden, you make it more attractive, especially to angry young people who already feel put-upon by society (such as certain young Muslim men - NOT ALL OF THEM). Also, where do you draw the line? Some people considered Nelson Mandela a terrorist. Would he be banned from speaking at Cambridge. The trouble is that the term "extremism" is hard to define. Some people would call be an extremist leftie (people who read the Daily Mail, mainly) but one of my terachers once called me a fascist!
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Postby towildhoney » Fri Jan 06, 2006 1:12 am

I think this is very difficult to decide upon as though universities should be a fora for debate and disscusion. They also contain young and some vunrable and impresionable people as all society does, I supose. I think as Margret Thatcher put it starving terorist groups of the oxygen of publicity upon which they feed can seem apealing but the ban on Sinn Fein on the air ways having actors voices instead of there own became ridiculous and farcical.

I think a student union does have a resposibility to protect its members a well as allow free speach. Offering a foum for groups like the BNP could be offensive and hurtful and I think there views are so contary to the beliefs of a modern liberal democracy that it is legitimate to deny them the right to speech at what are private events. The problem I supose is to decide who to exclude I personaly think any group that advocates violence or religous or racial hatred. I don't think in the general press you should deny free speech to people but you do have to think as an SU when inviting people to speek how dangerous or offesive there views are and if there argument deserves a forum.
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Postby fuzzy » Fri Jan 06, 2006 1:42 am

Put it this way, if i was was Mr Cambridge (I know that theres not anm actual person aclled that lol) then I would certainly NOT want groups such as the BNP coming to my university and impressing upon my students quite fankly racist thoughts. Yes, you shouldnt be kept in a bubble, but just because you go to Cambridge does not mean that you will not read the newspapers etc etc; talks at Cambridge for the studnet populantion are not the only way in which to listen to the views of others- ie, ppl will still be able to express themsleves and thier veiws will still be heard, just not in that particular private intitution. There will have been political motives for this too Vicky- its not simply a case of not wanting to offend ppl; its also about the image of the university and not wanting it tarnished with the brush of political radicalism.
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Postby kitty_cute » Fri Jan 06, 2006 1:33 pm

Yeah, I'll have to agree with fuzzy here.
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Postby Columbia » Sat Jan 07, 2006 12:42 pm

I'm remembering a quote I once heard that siad, "You have freedom of speech, but that doesn't give the freedom to shout "FIRE!" in a crowded theatre", and I agree with that. There's allready limits to free speech in this country, particularly when this free speech involves derogatory comments towards minority groups. But what worries me about this is, who decides which groups are dangerous enough to be banned from speaking? What if we one day end up with a far-right neo-conservative making this decision, banning gay rights groups, anti-racism groups and socialist/communist groups just because HE doesn't like them. I think we really need to be careful with this one.
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Postby fuzzy » Sat Jan 07, 2006 8:01 pm

I agree you, Columbia. Limitataions and infringement so fhtis kind are potentailly dangerous- it depends whos in charge and making the descisions. Vicky, Im aware that Cambridge is a rather old fashioned university. Does this therefore mean that the studenst have no say, is it the student council (or something similar) who decide upon this?
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Postby parnassus » Mon Jan 09, 2006 12:26 pm

The Students' Union has every say in this matter. It is the SU that has banned the extremist speakers, not the professors.

Columbia's analogy is a good one. I am, however, still concerned that censorship will only make people more curious to hear whatever the extremists have to say.
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Postby fuzzy » Mon Jan 09, 2006 12:30 pm

Well if the dessions are being made for studenst by students, whats the problem? It is, after all, a relitively 'democractic' system? If your that concerned, join the council and have you say!
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Postby parnassus » Mon Jan 09, 2006 12:33 pm

I have. I did. I cast my vote and made my views known. But naturally we had to go with the views of the majority, and those in favour of banning the extremist views won by a landslide - not because of people voting in favour of the ban, but because of all the abstentions! Many people who wanted to vote against the ban did not do so for fear of being perceived as racist.

I am not worried about the system used to give CUSU motions their quoracy. I am simply worried about the motions that people choose to raise.
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Postby pinkparrot » Mon Jan 09, 2006 4:06 pm

It's a shame. The majority are not always right.
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