Friday, 14 March 2014

A question of free speech

A couple of days ago I published a statement (without comment) from ULU, signed by some of it’s officers proclaiming a “ban” on the Socialist Workers Party from their premises. Like many others I saw this simply as the SWP finally getting its ”comeuppance “. Others seemingly took that view like Phil BC at A Very Public Sociologist who wrote:

What did the SWP expect? Did they think their culture of bullying and depravity wouldn't have repercussions for their standing in the student movement, that pool from which they've habitually fished? As far as the University of London Union are concerned - a favoured venue of many a revolutionary outfit - the SWP are now non-people.

On the face of it that seemed to be then end of the matter, except it appears not only has a row broken out amongst the Sabbatical Officers in ULU, as Susuana Antubam points out on her Face Book page:

Potentially risky post, but I have to be honest.

Hey, thanks for the messages of support. I have to announce that that I wont be in the sabb office much any more, because I don't feel like i work in an office where the rest of my sabbatical team (not Oscar) constantly undermine me as a Women's Officer. The statement I released was written a week ago, we've known about the swp request for weeks, I tried to engage with officers but they chose to ignore me. The rooms that the SWP tried to book have been given to other organisations. Yet both of my sabbatical officers are trying to reverse this decision because apparently its not good politics to ban people that we "disagree with" this isn't the first time this has happened and I can't let it effect my mental health more than it has. I really want to do my job well but I can't do it located where I am, they are not my comrades.

But also bloggers like Andrew Coates have raised serious concerns about how this may affect free speech and assembly in the future, not just for the “far-left” but even for the mainstream parties as he rightly points out on Tendance Coatsey:

This is utterly, completely, wrong.

I feel strongly about this since I have been at left meetings held at ULU since the mid 1970s.

Ban one, then why not another?

This was particularly lame, they have “no wish to help support any growth in your oppressive organisation.”

Fuck me, lets look at some really oppressive organisations and practices in some fucking oppressive countries. 

Coatsey adds in the ensuing discussion on his blog:

Those who think that the SWP are so bad that they do not deserve a venue for their meetings should perhaps also consider banning the Tories, the Liberals, Labour and UKIP, who have plenty of faults, often similar ones, to account for.

What most people have “put the SWP on trial” over is not whether “comrade delta” is guilty or not (frankly that’s a matter for the courts to have decided) but the way in which the alleged victims of this case (and others let us not forget) were treated by the SWP leadership and the loyalist majority in order to both obfuscate matters in order to defend one of their leading members and ignore the whole question of “natural justice”.

In my view and probably that of most outside observers they certainly were guilty as an organisation of failing vulnerable members. Talk of “Lynch mobs” by the de facto leader of the SWP, Alex Callinicos didn’t exactly help matters. Many of us saw just cultish behaviour and wondered what kind of political regime would be established by these “comrades” in the unlikely event of them ever gaining state power.

Stalin anyone?

Of course this “banning” is a very real question that all those of us who believe in democracy and free speech need to address. One of the basic tenets of democracy is that we have to allow those who have differing views, no matter how appalling one might find these people, the right to organise and propagate their ideas no matter how unsavoury most of us might find them.

The SWP along with the British National Party and the Islamists who all in their own nefarious ways seek to undermine & destroy freedom and democracy cannot be outlawed or banned in an arbitrary manner in a democratic society. To do so would undermine the basic liberties that most of cherish and seek to protect. At the same time such rights come with responsibilities (something most of the left in particular tend to forget). This does not include the right to promote violence against either groups or individuals just because their views “offend” others.

The left in particular showed extreme cowardice over the Rushdie affair and continues to do so over whenever death threats against more secular inclined Muslims like Maajid Nawaz take place. They are not the only ones as the media are failing free discourse on a regular basis as this video from the outspoken (and somewhat controversial) Pat Condell shows.

Some of his You Tube talks go a little too far for me, let alone some of my more left-wing inclined readers, but hey its’ a free country (still!!) and sometimes it’s useful to view issues from a different perspective.

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