Freedom of Expression

Free speech, offence, bans and protests

On Left Foot Forward Niamh McIntyre and Anna Burn assert that their protest against the (later cancelled) debate on abortion culture was not an attack on free speech.  Their action did not, they argued, prevent Tim Stanley and Brendan O’Neill from speaking/writing freely elsewhere.  In fact their planned protest could itself be seen as a manifestation of free speech.  I agree with the premise that free speech and providing a platform are different things – though not with much else they have to say. Although I didn’t agree with their case against the debate, I said in my original post that they should have the right to protest.  I think Searchlight have a rather better case in protesting against Tommy Robinson’s invitation to the Oxford Union. Again, there are things I don’t agree with here. I wouldn’t describe Tommy Robinson in the same terms Searchlight chooses, and I don’t personally find it objectionable that he is speaking at the Oxford Union.  However, in addition to the points raised by Searchlight, it could be noted that Tommy Robinson has, in the past (I don’t think recently), targeted people not just for their religion but for their ethnicity (for examples follow this link).  He is thus (I think) in a different category from Brendan O’Neill and Tim Stanley.

Another speaker has recently received an outright ban from the University of East London. This is  Ibran Ibn Mansur, or Dawah Man.  His horrible comments about homosexuality make it hard to react against this decision:

In one video posted in July last year Mr Mansur preaches to a “brother” seeking advice on his gay desires. The preacher blasts “filthy Western culture” and tells him to marry a woman to “protect” himself.

He adds: “It’s not something you were born with, the same way a person who’s sick, we’re all born healthy but then you get an illness so you take the treatment to get rid of not only the symptoms, but the disease.”

He adds: “Homosexuality, sodomy, is an act that in the sharia… comes under the category of ‘obscene, filthy, shameless’ acts.”

So – is the banning of Dawah Man part of a growing campus censoriousness (described by Brendan O’Neill) or a welcome recognition of a major problem? Although Tommy Robinson has also, on occasion, targeted a protected characteristic (race) there are some differences. Whether or not you agree with his core arguments, crude racism doesn’t drive them.  However an aversion to homosexual acts is central to Dawah Man’s beliefs and agenda.  Also, Tommy Robinson is due to speak at a neutral venue where he will, I imagine, receive a very mixed response and be challenged if says anything which seems bigoted (or even if he doesn’t).  However Dawah Man would have been speaking at an ISOC event to which he had been invited, I assume, in a fully approving spirit.  And, while there is no pattern of conventionally far right or anti-Muslim speakers being welcomed on campus, there is a strong pattern of extreme Muslim speakers (more extreme than Dawah Man) addressing Muslim student societies.

Whether or not we think Dawah Man should have been banned outright, maybe we can at least agree that it would be great if the appearance of speakers like him, Yusuf Chambers, Abduallah Al-Andalusi and Hamza Tzortis attracted the same level of anti-fascist outrage as Tommy Robinson.

Update: Here’s the Student Rights take on Tommy Robinson.  I agree that he should be challenged on the concerns raised in their post.