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Monday, 16 November 2015

Freedom of speech..? (part 1)

(Writer's note, this is part one of a two ((maybe three)) part series, in which I tackle the thorny issue of freedom of speech, enjoy!)

Firstly, straight off the bat, I appreciate the irony of me, a white middle-class male, writing a blog (while sipping my herbal tea) on my nice expensive laptop, after a long hard day of being at a good uni, commenting on freedom of speech and how it's actually quite restrictive. I understand the irony, I do.

But I'd like to introduce a caveat. This is partly about freedom of speech on campus, and about how the popular Western concept of freedom of speech is so unreal and back-slapping. I am at Uni, and I witness this concept of freedom of speech every day.

And it's starting to get on my nerves.

There seems to be a wrong and naive attitude on many social media platforms about freedom of speech, and it centres on a quote by Voltaire's biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall. That is of course, the famous quote, "I may disapprove of what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it".

In the last few weeks, Germaine Greer was supposed to attend my University and speak on her achievements and Women in the 20th Century in a lecture. Previously she has said some naive and wrong things regarding transgender people. In no way am I approving of what she said. But as a result of that, there was a petition passed around, and in no time at all, it was being mentioned by the Guardian. Germaine Greer cancelled her lecture, citing her age and an unwillingness to be subject to abuse throughout her lecture.

It sounds like an awful day-time TV show - a world-renowned thinker and feminist meets the students of a Russell Group University, a centre of learning and broadening minds; guess who comes off worse?

FIND OUT, AFTER THE BREAK.

And then the shock of everyone comfy in their comfy blue sofa, popcorn suspended in their hand, mouth agape, when they realise that it's the students coming off worse. It's the students looking silly, because they're so delicate that they can't listen to an opinion from nasty Germaine Greer without feeling insulted by her views on something totally different.

It's become some form of horrible social policing. If someone has an opinion that differs from my own, or indeed the social norm, then they can't engage in dialogue with me without me getting offended.

Voltaire's misattributed quote reads more like "If your opinion fits into a particular category of opinion that somewhat mirrors my own, then I'll defend to the death your right to say it".

Don't get me wrong here, in this article, I am not supporting Germaine Greer's views on Transgender people. Personally I view them as wrong. But I am strongly supporting her (and indeed anyone's!) right to come to a great University, supposed sanctuary of open thought and fresh minds, and state views, no matter how radical, in what I once thought was the best medium for them.

Without exposure to views different to your own, it is very difficult to form your own opinion.

I thought the University campus was the best medium for different and radical views to be heard, and fresh and exciting opinions be made.

It seems clear that I was wrong.

 ( I was also going to do an article on the rise of the trigger warning at University, but decided against it, for the sake of my laptop screen, and my fist )

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Heartbreak

I'm currently staring at my computer screen and trying to formulate words to express the pain and anguish I feel for my fellow humankind after the atrocities of last night. Conversations I've had on the topic have consisted mostly of "I just don't understand"s and and strong feelings of fear.

My housemate came back from a night out last night having not heard the news, came into my room, and I was sat, much as I am now, staring at the BBC article that broke the story in dumb silence. That night turned quickly to somberness, both simply grateful to be alive.

Hate is not the answer.

Love and acceptance is.

The point of this blog is a plea. 

It's a plea to all to not react with vengeance against an innocent Muslim community for acts that they have had nothing to do with. It's a plea to act inclusively, to foster community links and draw close together, now, in these awful times.

It's a call to war also. The war I'm talking about is not a war in Syria. It's not a war in Iraq. It's not a war in Afghanistan. It's a war with ourselves. Every time I stand silent when I hear a group preaching racist hate, I am losing that war. Every time I don't engage in dialogue those who view Muslims as blameworthy for attacks such as the ones last night, I am losing that war. And it's not a war we can afford to lose for much longer. 

Hate is not the answer.

Love and acceptance is. 

"Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” - Martin Luther King Jr