On no platforming (briefly)

I appear to be quoted (in short) in the New Statesman. Here, for anyone who cares, is the longer thing wot i wrote.

I disagree with Julie Bindel. A lot. We don’t see eye to eye on sex work or porn or religion. She likes dogs: i prefer cats. And then there is the obvious, the fundamental: she is at best a sceptic when it comes to providing support for trans individuals and i suspect would happily see support for the transgender community seriously curtailed. Add to that the fact that her prefered style of writing is sharp, even abrasive, whereas my own personal preference is for the gentle, the non-compromising and…i really shouldn’t like her.

Indeed, given the simplification to which so much political debate is reduced nowadays, i really ought to be arguing for her to be silenced, or at very least no platformed.

But i’m not.

That’s a difficult one. It certainly loses me friends and tweeps within communities that otherwise i support. But at least its consistent. I first discovered how difficult it was to be against no-platforming at a Liberal Party Conference back in the 70’s. Liberal students – ever inclined towards more mainstream left positions – proposed that the National League of Young Liberals (NLYL), of which i was then a senior elected officer, back “no platform for fascists”. Bad idea, given that the average young liberal was rather more influenced by the likes of Kropotkin and somewhere to the left of your average anarchist. I argued against no platform then, on grounds that speech was an inalienable right – and i’ve mostly stuck to that view since.

Mostly. Over the years i have modified to the point where i accept that speech can also be act. That absolute free speech is used to bully and harass and that its beneficiaries are all too often the rabid and reactionary. But that’s a larger and longer debate.

When it comes to platforms, if someone wishes to espouse a view and an audience wishes to hear that view, then i will not support their silencing. So long as they are espousing a view, and not harassing or intimidating members of the audience.

Which brings me back to Julie. I can’t see my agreeing with much of what she has to say, but i do not feel intimidated by her. Indeed, it would be hypocrite of me to claim that, having debated gender with her on at least one public media platform. I objected to her being the voice of popular opinion at a seminar organised a couple of years back by the Royal College of Psychiatry: but my objection then was not to her speaking, but to the fact that the College had not allowed place for alternative and balancing views.

Others, i know, would not share a platform with her. I have no issue with that: we all make different, difficult personal choices. If people do not wish to invite her (or me) to speak, fair enough. I do take issue, though, with a blanket ban, as imposed by the NUS. It feels quite irrational: an unlucky coincidence of campaign and public statement that led to Julie being in their conference sights one year, when another year, she’d have been ignored completely.

No doubt she IS more controversial, more divisive than many other speakers. But is she REALLY so much that, that she deserves to be on a list that likely omits the Presidents of Russia, Uganda or Syria?

The real issue, of course, is that Julie Bindel has suffered the misfortune of becoming a totem, round which advocates of certain views can rally, and against which others may rail. I am daily subject to far greater offence and upset than any i expect her to supply. But that, of course, is no longer the issue. In some quarters, whether you are for or against the no-platforming of Bindel has taken on a life, as issue, way beyond its original import.

That’s wrong. Although, ironically, every topical piece published on the subject (including the one now out there in the New Statesman) makes resolution of that issue ever more difficult.


About janefae

On my way from here to there
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