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  • Report into tackling radical speakers at universities

    by Rumbold
    19th February, 2011 at 11:48 am    

    Universities UK, an umbrella body for British universities, has released a report (full PDF here) examining what can and should be done about extremist/radical speakers who are invited to speak by university societies. The report recommends a number of actions:

    * Review current protocols/policies on speaker meetings. The report highlights examples of checklist-forms being used when dealing with speaker invitations.

    * Identify an appropriate senior person to lead on issues of campus security.

    * Ensure that all involved in making decisions in relation to campus security, academic freedom, free speech and equality rights are familiar with the legal requirements operating in this area.

    * Work with the students’ union to provide clear information to students and student societies about the rights and responsibilities of the institution, the students’ union, student societies and students in relation to academic freedom, free speech and equality rights.

    * Develop and maintain a mechanism for regular dialogue with relevant external organisations such as the police, local authorities and community groups.

    The report has already drawn criticism from some quarters, who feel that it does not do enough to prevent societies from inviting hate speakers. In many ways, this is understandable. The checklist system seems simplistic (“have you ever compared Jews to cockroaches?” and so on), and given the sort of unpleasant individuals who have been invited to speak at universities in the past, it is clear why it is a good idea not to invite people like that in the future. Since universities fund societies and provide facilities fro them, it is right they should have a say in the matter. A Muslim campaigner who challenges extremist speakers argues that the report fails to address the difficulty in challenging such speakers:

    “I totally agree that freedom of speech includes freedom of speech for awful people, but in Birmingham no institution exists to address these people. If the Islamic society hosts an extremist preacher, all the effort to make people understand what’s going on comes from outside the university. When there’s a radical speaker, usually the Jewish society flags it up if it happens to be anti-semitic.”

    Yet the problem the universities face is establishing such a system to screen radical speakers. It is very difficult to devise a set of rules that could adequately screen all potential speakers; there are hundreds at each university alone. If every potential speaker had to be vetted by university staff, then the process could take months, and would be very costly. Some may argue that this is a price worth paying, but how would the screening process work? Would they have to dig into a person’s past and in many cases translate from other languages? The universities could just focus on the more obvious hate speakers, but in that case how would a set of rules be devised? Societies that invite radical speakers could be punished with a loss of funds/facilities, but once again there would have to be a competent and clear system in place.

    What of freedom of speech? This is a slightly misleading question, as stopping someone from giving a talk doesn’t amount to stopping them speaking their mind, but merely denies them a platform. But does that help or hinder the battle against extremism and hatred? Unpleasant ideas are normally allowed to fester until someone exposes them. Defeating a hate speaker in debate is likely to do more for moderate voices then banning ever would, though inviting such an individual risks radicalising some of the listeners, especially if it is the context of a talk rather than a debate.

    Should universities stop their societies inviting extremist speakers? Probably, though there is a strong counter-argument for inviting such individuals in terms of having a debate with them in order to expose and discredit their ideas. How can they ensure no extremist speakers give talks? I don’t know.

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    Filed in: Civil liberties,Current affairs,Terrorism

    21 Comments below   |  

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    1. jamal — on 19th February, 2011 at 11:54 am  

      who decides who is a speaker of hate

      do we include the likes of douglas murray and melanie phillips in that list?

    2. cjcjc — on 19th February, 2011 at 12:47 pm  

      I don’t know, do we?

      AFAIK they haven’t called for (eg) homosexuals to be killed.

    3. Abu F — on 19th February, 2011 at 1:25 pm  


      I should imagine most people would describe preachers who openly call - inter alia - for the killing of homosexuals to be preachers of hate.

      Any other daft versions of moral relativism you would like to use to support your claims?

    4. Refresh — on 19th February, 2011 at 2:43 pm  

      Douglas Murray and Melanie Philips are definitely purveyors of hate!

    5. Shamit — on 19th February, 2011 at 2:57 pm  

      Douglas Murray and Melanie Philips are definitely purveyors of hate!

      Murray not so much - and if he is then so is Mehdi Hasan.

      Melanie Philips definitely someone who likes to hate everyone who does not believe in everything she says

    6. greg — on 19th February, 2011 at 6:12 pm  

      “Murray not so much ”

      Are you serious?!? Someone who says “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board”
      isnt a purveyor of hate?

      Wouldnt you consider someone who said “Conditions for Hindus in Europe must be made harder across the board”
      or “Conditions for Jews in Europe must be made harder across the board”" to be so?

    7. Trofim — on 19th February, 2011 at 6:13 pm  

      “Melanie Philips definitely someone who likes to hate everyone who does not believe in everything she says.”

      That’s most lefties. Know sally on LC? She’s a classic, if she’s real, that is. Purveying hate is an infinitely flexible and fuzzy concept. Some mother-in-law jokes could easily enter into that category. Ideally, all controversial speakers would carry ot their business in an environment where there would be opponents who were given an opportunity to vigorously and vociferously undermine their arguments - but that would be in an ideal world.

    8. Trofim — on 19th February, 2011 at 6:23 pm  

      ‘Are you serious?!? Someone who says “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board”
      isnt a purveyor of hate?’

      That depends entirely on what you “making things harder” means in practice. “Muscular liberalism”, I suppose, could entail making life more unpleasant for Muslims, and others. For instance, making it clear that nothing, but nothing, including all religious beliefs and customs whatsoever they are, should be immune from ridicule and intellectual challenge would make life more unpleasant for quite a lot of people.

    9. Shamit — on 19th February, 2011 at 8:45 pm  

      Greg -

      I qualified my statement by saying that if Douglas Murray is a hate monger so is Mehdi Hasan.

      Hasan said and I quote:

      “We know that keeping the moral high-ground is key. Once we lose the moral high-ground we are no different from the rest, of the non-Muslims; from the rest of those human beings who live their lives as animals, bending any rule to fulfil any desire.”

      He was quoting from the Koran and if its taken out of context it would piss me off as a non muslim - in fact, I hate the word kaffir and he used.

      This is the man who lectures our Prime Minister why he should be careful even though the speech in Munich was pretty much spot on.

      So if Douglas Murray is a hate monger so is Mehdi - and I do not believe either one of them are.

    10. Arif — on 19th February, 2011 at 10:44 pm  

      From another perspective, maybe the core dynamic isn’t:

      A: Purveyor of hate -> incitement to hatred -> violence against innocents

      The dynamic that activates more people is:

      B: Fear of violence against own group -> seek source of fear -> identify purveyors of hate -> draw attention to A

      This reaction by Universities UK is useful at a philosophical/discursive level but misses the main point. It may even intensify dynamic B and draw in more people to be portrayed as apologists for hate, hatemongers, handmaidens of hate, etc, because they don’t make distinctions on who to fear in the same ways as others.

      The starting point for me is that everyone should be safe at University. The problem is that if people want to make you feel unsafe they can get round any rules to do so. It is easy to use coded terminology or behaviour, to stigmatise people for their reactions to threats and belittling the threat itself, etc. Becoming ever more sensitive to this is a double-edged sword and eventually can overwhelm well-meaning people with responsibilities for other people’s feelings.

      Maybe we do not discuss enough what we can all say to one another in what forums without offence. Such discussions in good faith may help defuse things, by providing another avenue to bring up how you are being offended and work through fair ways to respond without making others feel threatened. But they can equally be used by people in bad faith by people who wish to oppress one another’s religion, put each other on the defensive and so on.

      I have no structural solution, just that we should all scrutinise our own motives and enter discussions about free speech/hate speech in a constructive spirit.

    11. Abu F — on 19th February, 2011 at 11:26 pm  

      Lovely waffle, Arif - does this mean that you think that people who promote the hatred of other people are *not* in point of fact purveyors of hate?

      Which of these words do you struggle with: “purveyor”, or “hate”?


    12. Boyo — on 20th February, 2011 at 9:28 am  

      I don’t think Douglas or Melanie have ever said any religious groups “live their lives as animals”. For all their froth, I think that would sink them. Yet weirdly Mehdi goes from strength, presumably due to the inverted racism of that section of the Left - it’s ok for “brown folk”, as Sunny would put it, to be barbarians.

      I agree with Rumbold that I don’t see how practical vetting/ banning etc is, although this is perhaps another example of refusing to grasp the nettle, attached as we are to our traditions while ignoring the blindingly obvious proverbial elephant - this is not the UK of 50 or 100 years ago - although the complacency of the report seemed to think it is.

    13. Arif — on 21st February, 2011 at 6:36 am  

      Abu F #11. Sorry that my post comes across as waffle. I admit I am working out my thoughts as I go along.

      Just to clarify, I DO think that people who promote hatred of others are purveyors of hate.

      But if you don’t mind me using your post as an example of what I was getting at in #10, could it be that it is because of dynamic B that you want to place me in dynamic A (as in some way supporting hatred)?

      And can you see how this approach to me may get in the way of a constructive meeting of minds between us?

    14. Kismet Hardy — on 21st February, 2011 at 7:15 am  

      I was the president of the friends of amsterdam society at uni. I used to go to hustings to spout radical pro-drugs inanity. I got my platform. I got booed. Let morons talk.

    15. Arif — on 21st February, 2011 at 8:06 am  

      But Kismet Hardy, you did not spread hatred, I assume.

      Take a trip with me….

      If in a sci-fi parallel universe, your words made people scared that you and your supporters see prohibitionists as lesser humans whose human rights should be compromised….

      If this was given credence by places where this was happening or powerful groups actively pursuing human rights abuses on prohibitionists…..

      Then being a moron is no excuse and booing is not much of a safeguard.

      Maybe prohibitionists would be more stirred up and you would get much more than boos anyway.

      And then maybe you would want the police to help, or for University authorities to have found a way to protect you from getting yourself into something you didn’t mean to before you reached the platform.

      What do you think?

    16. cjcjc — on 21st February, 2011 at 8:27 am  

      Meanwhile it’s business as usual:

    17. Kismet Hardy — on 21st February, 2011 at 8:30 am  

      I think university is a place for free thinkers. If an impressionable goon falls for some beardie’s call for jihad or some stoner’s yelp for the SU to provide free dope then that goon will never get the point of a university education

      And really, if you’re the impressionable type (you know the ones that go to uni and discover Keane instead of Velvet Underground) then it’s better they hear these speeches in public, where they also hear the boos, instead of privately, one-to-one in a dark room, with no one around to whisper ‘that dude you think is quite cool is actually chatting shit’

    18. Arif — on 21st February, 2011 at 9:11 am  

      Kismet Hardy, if university is a place for free thinkers (which it wasn’t in my experience), wouldn’t it be a good idea for it to be a SAFE place for free thinkers? Or do you think one precludes the other?

      I think we always make implicit boundaries, and as they are pushed we may be forced to make them more explicit and see if we can justify them or not. This is what seems to me to be happening here.

      I think the politics of fear has very different dynamics to the kind of thing you seem to be talking about. It clouds our thought. People who support it think they are against it. People who are against it are suspected of being for it. What you say and how you say it makes no difference to people’s fears when they get to a hysterical level, or if the fear is being manipulated.

      The discussion ceases to be meaningful, like on a discussion board with no Sunny Hundal. And then free thinkers will want to opt out and go somewhere else.

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