Britain’s National Union of Students (NUS) is perhaps more used to starting protests than being the subject of them, but yesterday their headquarters near London’s King’s Cross were the site of a rally called to “Revise Safe Space and No Platform Policies to Facilitate not Restrict Free Expression and Thought”.
Ex Muslims, libertarians, and left-wing demonstrators coalesced to draw attention to the fact that educational establishments are finding themselves the subjects of “no platform” initiatives, with speakers cancelled en masse and at will, for fear of them causing “offence”.
The protest, let by the Council of Ex Muslims, saw black signs with swords on them, imitating the black flag usually associated with ISIS.
Around 80 protesters (and four counter-protesters) gathered on a small stretch of pavement and listened to speeches about free speech from people including LGBT activist Peter Tatchell and communist Maryam Namazie.
The protest was peaceful, the biggest conflict being a counter-protesters’ attempt to photobomb one of Mr. Tatchell’s photos with a banner. They were welcomed, rather than stopped.
The protest, called by Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Right2Debate, stated that it aims to change the increasing use of “Safe Spaces” to silence people. They said yesterday:
“Educational institutions must be a place for the exchange and criticism of all ideas – even those deemed unpalatable by some – providing they don’t incite violence against peoples or communities. Bigoted ideas are most effectively defeated by open debate, backed up by ethics, reason and evidence.
“The student body is not homogeneous; there will be differences of opinion among students. The NUS’s restrictive policies infringe upon the right of students to hear and challenge dissenting and opposing views.”
The response from the NUS consisted of a poster in the window stating “this is the NUS no platform list. If you’re not on it you haven’t been no platformed” before going on to list three Islamist groups, one of which is defunct, and three “right wing” groups, two of which are defunct.
The point they were trying to make is: why are you protesting if you’re not banned from speaking?
Notable signatories to the letter which accompanies the campaign include Richard Dawkins, Peter Tatchell, Salman Rushdie and AC Grayling.