Archive for February 7th, 2011


No Platform is for ostriches

I’ve never been a big fan of the whole ‘keep busy and think of more cheerful things’ idea when in troubled times. I’m more in favour of facing problems head on, out in the open. That way, I know what I’m dealing with and it gets sorted as soon as possible. That’s part of the reason why I oppose the NUS’ ‘No Platform’ policy. I don’t like pretending that racists and fascists don’t exist by refusing to debate with them. I think they’ve reason enough to be discredited that debating them isn’t a great threat, either. And if people are in their right minds, they won’t agree with them anyway.

People in favour of no platform have often argued to me that it’s not a principle, it’s a strategy. I have to question whether it is actually a good strategy. Going on from the point above, would you rather defeat a racist in debate or let people feel sorry for them because they weren’t allowed to speak? I’m sure there are plenty of people who might feel sympathetic to racist organisations but if they were allowed to hear them speak would go off of them pretty quickly. If someone is not allowed a platform, perhaps it even martyrizes them to those who may be sympathetic to them. This is especially the case when you consider the followers of that organisation itself. Wouldn’t you be enraged if your leader was told they couldn’t debate in public? Wouldn’t it make you feel even more passionate about your cause?

And I happen to think principle is quite important. The point of having principles is that they – in some way – have a concrete impact upon the world. If they didn’t, then what would be the point in them? The principle I perceive as being at the heart of anti- (top down) no platform is liberty – freedom of expression.  If you begin by saying racists and fascists aren’t allowed a platform, it’s not long until other people are told they cannot talk. Let’s see… gay rights organisation Stonewall and feminist writer Germaine Greer, to name but two. No platform could potentially be used against far-left groups as well, perhaps those that campaigned for no platform policy in the first place! Every idea gets a chance. Just one is enough. If it’s rejected – and rightly so with anything even vaguely racist or fascist – then that’s fair enough. But not allowing an idea a chance in the first place? The progression of society rests on ideas coming to light and being accepted or rejected, so let’s fight the fascists fair and square and let’s have it out in debate and win, so that anyone in their right mind can see that they are plain stupid.

Some people in support of no platform say that racist attacks go up in areas that do not have a no platform policy. Are the attacks really going up? What if they were already at a high rate? That would explain why extremist groups have moved in – because they know they can get support there. It would be a lot more difficult for them to set up camp in areas in which they would have less support, it wouldn’t make sense.

Let’s talk about the BNP. They have fewer seats than a bicycle after the most recent general election. This was relatively shortly after Question Time featured Nick Griffin. He was thoroughly destroyed by the rest of the panel. What also happened around election time was that a metric fuck-load of anti-fascist activists descended upon Barking to campaign against him, engaging with residents about what is so wrong about the BNP. The racists were given a platform and they were debated with. They lost, abominably.

This is what I advocate: Freedom of expression, openness, intellectual freedom and progress. Debates are all well and good. However, when hateful extremists descend on an area, people have a right to kick them straight back out. I’m not talking about intellectually smug policies that do not allow anyone to listen to certain people; policies that could result in the NUS’ own members being removed from their positions by simply arguing with a fascist, but about true no platform. Bottom-up no platform. Nobody likes a racist, and the EDL have not been allowed to march freely without every anti-fascist and his dog coming down to kick them out of town. If someone threatens your community physically, then you have every right to do whatever it takes to expel them. This is the kind of no platform I believe in.

February 2011