The KCL Libertarian Society’s “EndangeredÂ Speeches” talk featuring Dr Joanna Williams, known for her conservative views on the feminist movement and trans rights, has sparked great debate at King’s. While the KCLSU and KCL Intersectional Feminist Society called for non-platforming of Dr Williams, a question remains to be asked: do we want to censor opinions we deem offensive or hateful? Here’s what two Roar writersÂ haveÂ to say about it.
Dilemma at King’s: Freedom of speech or censorship?
Recently, there has been great debate between the KCL Libertarian Society, the KCLSU and the KCL Intersectional Feminist Society about the â€œEndangered Speechesâ€ talk hosted by the War Studies department. Journalist Joanna Williams, known for her controversial opinions on feminism and trans rights, was invited to talk about freedom of speech, and calls for boycott and non-platforming quickly ensued.
Society is facing a crisis where different narratives are fighting a battle of survival â€“ one narrative is that of the politically correct, that focuses on the inclusion of minorities and the fighting of social injustice. The other often believes in outdated gender norms, in assimilation rather than integration, and in policy choices that do not benefit anyone but the elites. We must not let the latter become the defenders of freedom of speech and tolerance for diversity in opinions.
This dilemma has become far too evident on our campuses, where opposing blocks of societies, one block backed by the KCLSU, are fighting for and against platforming controversial opinions. By not platforming the opinions we disagree with, we are giving those very opinions a legitimacy we cannot afford to lose.
I am appalled by Joanna Williams’ views, but I am even more appalled by the fact thatÂ the Intersectional Feminist Society and the KCLSU would go to the lengths they went to in the aftermath of the events. Calling for non-platforming and for boycotts is exactly what confinesÂ Williams and her peers into to a conservative bubble. These views, on the contrary, must be brought to light and contested.
The politically correct are facing the danger of becoming an elitist grouping representing the few and alienating the masses, pushing people with controversial opinionsÂ over to the right wing. In liberals’Â quest to include, many are feeling excluded, and in their quest to dominate public discourse, they are damaging the very freedoms they are supposed to protect.
The freedoms that characterise our societies must not be compromised because of disagreeable opinions. The opinions of Williams will not disappear just because we do not want to hear them â€“ we need to be present, to challenge her and her likeminded in order for these views to be de-legitimised and made irrelevant.
Written by Julia Thommessen
Free Speech at King’s: The Student UnionÂ Should Be Ashamed
Free and unimpeded speech is arguably the most defining factor of Western civilisation; it is a catalyst and an enabler for new ideas. Free speech allows ideas to flourish and subsequently progress in society. Martin Luther King exercised his right to free speech to achieve civil rights for African-Americans, and so did the multitude of activists who campaigned for LGBT rights. Free speech and progress are inseparable.
Yet in recent years, universities, despite their responsibility to foster debate and allow free expression, have been increasingly demarcating speech, placing â€œoffenceâ€ as the ultimate jurisdiction in deciding whether someone should be censored. As discussedÂ in one of our earlier articles, our college falls under the red category in Spiked Magazineâ€™s Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR), meaning that we are actively engaging in censorship of certain ideas. Of course, I could discuss the notorious safe space marshals, but this has already been extensively coveredÂ (I had the pleasure of witnessing them in action a month ago – don’t you just love it when cis-gendered white males get to dictate what you can or can’t hear? Look into that, Professor Byrne!).
What needs to be discussed further are the students of this institution betraying the basic value of free speech, engaging in the same censorship tactics employed by safe-space marshals with the backing of the Student Union. Recently the Kingâ€™s Libertarian Society hosted their â€œEndangered Speechesâ€ event, featuring Dr Joanna Williams, known for her opposition to theÂ #MeToo movementÂ and transgender rights. The KCL Intersectional Feminist Societyâ€™s called for the de-platformingÂ of Dr Williams as she was deemed to â€œpreach hateâ€ and furthering the patriarchy. The society has also claimed that allowing Dr Williams to speak would lead to the deaths or harm of trans people, including students and staff.
Disappointingly, the Student Union issuedÂ a paradoxical statement â€œstanding in solidarityâ€ with the above stance, claiming that whilst university should be a place for debate certain â€œhateful speechesâ€ that are deemed â€œoffensiveâ€ to specific groups must be stopped in accordance with the #ItStopsHere campaign – an astonishing statement! What if certain religious groups, Christians or Muslims, were offended by a pro-LGBT speaker â€“ would they, in accordance with the KCLSU statement, be de-platformed? Certainly not, because this is against the unionâ€™s idea of political correctness.
Â â€œHate speechâ€ in this sense does not represent any meaningful, determined concept â€“ it merely represents anything in opposition to the unionâ€™s ideology. Such claims as Dr Williams furthering the patriarchal agenda defy any sense of logic, yet the Student Union seems convinced of their legitimacy. What the KCLSU also fails to acknowledge is that â€œhate speechâ€ is encompassed by free speech. And if we put â€œhatefulnessâ€, an entirely subjective and socially evolving emotion, as the decisive factor in limiting all kinds of speech, who determines what is hateful?
A hundred years ago, the advocation of LGBT rights, such as gay marriage, homosexual relations, and transgenderism, would be considered as â€œoffensiveâ€ and â€œhatefulâ€ to the UK’s Christian society and tradition. If we apply the same philosophy of censoring â€hate speechâ€ shared by the KCLSU or the KCL Intersectional Feminist Society throughout human history, we would still be living in a draconian culture, where members of LGBT communities would fear for their lives. It is ironic that those who encourage theÂ silencing of “hate speech” would not be able to safeguard the LGBT+ rights that they value so much if not for total free speech.
It is only through free speech that we can allow ideas to flourish and further social progress â€“ and if the signatories feel so strongly against Dr Williamsâ€™ stances, they should debate and facilitate a civil discourse with Williams. The KCL Intersectional Feminist Societyâ€™s protest against the â€œEndangered Speechesâ€ event only reflects their intellectual cowardice. Both the signatories and the KCLSU should be ashamed of their actions.
The Kingâ€™s Libertarian Society has issued multiple statements and began a petition to deposeÂ the KCLSU president, Ahad Mahmood, for his failure to demonstrate support for free speech â€“ a petition that should be signed by those who desire to put an end to this tradition of censorship at Kingâ€™s.
Written by Ryan Chan