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Free Speech and Fascist Organisations

 In one of my discussions, I talked about juggling free speech and a certain amount of confusion. 

Having thought about it a bit more, and dwelling on my political experiences, especially those in Burnley, I have gone a bit further in my musings on free speech.  I turned to the problem of free speech and fascist organisations. 

It might have been some time ago that the fascists tossed their pebble into the political pond, but the ripples can still be seen. 

Sixty years after the end of the Second World War, sixty years after the holocaust, sixty years after the defeat of fascism, we are, all over Europe, still having to remain ever vigilant. Sixty years after young soldiers, like my father, waked into the Nazi’s death camps, people like you, like me, like us are still issuing the warnings from history, whether it be on the football terraces, the corridors of town halls, or the seminar rooms of universities. 

The UCU members cannot become complacent about this.  Complacency is our enemy, but vigilance is our watchword. And thousands of trade unionists all over this country, all over Europe, all over the world, are, like us, keeping that watch. 

And why?  Why should this concern us, as educators? Because, despite what some UCU members might think, despite what we are told about the academic sparring ring, despite the strong urge to accept free speech, there are some things that are so unacceptable, that to allow them to be aired freely, is to give them credence. 

Do we really believe that it is right to give free speech to paedophiles, eugenicists, racists? 

This is not like listening to the proponents of the flat earth theory, where we can nod and smile knowingly. 

Some things are dangerous and some things are evil. 

One of the things we do learn from history, is the fact that lies told long enough and loud enough tend to get believed.  When the modern day nazis talk of immigration, refugees and asylum seekers, with deliberate conflation, and swamping, and culture, and when the media and main political parties latch on to this, then there is, indeed, a dangerous environment being fostered. 

How, then, do our students feel, when they are faced with lecturers who promote the ideas of fascism?   There exists no equal relationship between tutor and student.  It is a power relationship, with the tutor being the more powerful. 

How can it be right for the UCU to accept that free speech can intimidate and threaten students, individually and collectively? We cannot and we must not. Speech is only free when no-one is intimidated by it. 

So, my message to trade unionists everywhere, to all educators, to all UCU members is: “Wherever and whenever it rears its head on campus, we will oppose the promotion of racism and fascism.” 

And let’s not pander to the misguidance of those who call for “free speech”. Speech is only free when it is free from intimidation, when it is free from fear, when it is free from Nazi tyranny. 

This is an issue where the UCU should not back down, should not buckle, and where we should not blink. The UCU must remain vigilant.   

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January 4, 2007 - Posted by | Free Speech and Fascist Organisations

2 Comments »

  1. So, as far as free speech is concerned…you’re against it.

    It used to be an axiom, that rights were indivisible and that freedom of expression should be without constraint and people used to know the reasons why. But so concerned (if not obsessed) have we become with the fragility of the individual that it’s far from fashionable to defend freedom of expression, especially if you’re willing to defend it however offensive it may be. Of course, a moment’s reflection serves to reveal the reason that people are so ready to ditch freedom of expression out of concern for individual sentiment: the old collectivities appear to have failed us and don’t protect us anymore. Not even, sadly, Trade Unions. Moreover, in a bizarre, up-side down, Orwellian move, in your blog you characterise your distaste for free speech as opposition to Fascism! Have you looked to see who exactly are the victims of attacks on Freedom of expression? It’s not a bunch of moldering old Hitlerites. Are you really happy to have some ideas put beyond the pale – either in the classroom or the quad? To whom will you delegate the power to decide which ideas are acceptable and may find expression and which are so tabu as to be censored? You want to fight for free speech when nobody is threatened or offended by it – guess what, you don’t have to. Freedom of expression is always attacked – and so needs defending – precisely when someone decides that it’s offensive or threatening. It would better behove a trade unionist to reassure working people that he knew both how to defend freedom of expression (as a vital bulwark defending the political freedom of the trade unions) *and* to organise to protect the oppressed. Since you don’t send that message your blog has the merit of making it easier for me now to decide how to vote.

    Comment by Jim Tyson | February 12, 2007

  2. Sadly, Peter Jones again dodges the question (as he did on the boycott issue). Again, this is a difficult and complex issue on which people take up polarised and often deeply hostile positions. Therefore answering it (with reference to real-life examples) is a test of a candidate’s preparedness to take up principled positions despite the fact that this will inevitably alienate some people. This candidate fails the test.

    What is the Peter Jones’ view of the “no platform for racists and fascists in colleges and universities” issue? Saying that “spech is only free when it is free from fear, tyranny and oppression…” is a mealy-mouthed cop-out. What about the actual, real-life examples of threats to freedom of speech and expression?

    Like the candidate, I do not believe that freedom-speech is an absolute right under any any-all-circumstances. However, I would like to know where a candidate for General Secretary of my union stands on the actual issues and arguments. Does the candidate believe white racists of the fascist ultra-right should be denied a platform? If the answer is “yes” then presumably this should also apply to Jewish zionist racists and their supporters, and to the hate-mongers of the (almost exclusively black) Nation of Islam…… Yes – it is difficult…..

    As Jim Tyson points out in the previous response – speech that does not challenge, offend or threaten anyone is rarely curtailed. It is only when people do take offence, or when exposure to criticism, comment or ridicule does make someone feel uncomfortable, that demands for censorship and curtailment of free-expression are raised.

    We in the UK think we have freedom of speech and of expression – but that freedom is already being curtailed in more and more ways (just ask the young Sikh woman whose play exploring issues within her own community was effectively censored by thuggish intimidation in Birmingham last year). Our media has adopted a policy of self-censorship to avoid threats of (and actual) violence and intimidation from Islamist thugs and deranged religious zealots (which is why no national newspaper in the UK has re-printed the Danish cartoons of Mohammed). We have educational institutions being taken over by religious fundamentalists who then force their science teachers (on pain of getting a P45 if they refuse) to tell young people that a religious belief (“intelligent Design”) has as much scientific validity as Darwinism – they are not free to tell their students that one is a religious faith with no supporting evidence whatsoever while the other is a scientific theory based on observation and supported by overwhelming evidence.

    Responding to questions on “free-speech” with generalised cliches is not likely to satify intelligent and thoughtful UCU members who know and understand what the real, and genuinely difficult, issues are and who would like their union led by someone willing to face up to these issues.

    Comment by Steve Radford | February 14, 2007


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