Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Those who fail to defend the freedom of speech do not deserve the right to protest
By Brendan O'Neill
Students in London and Sussex are outraged that their right to protest is under attack. And well they might be. Management at both the University of London and Sussex University have been extremely heavy-handed in their dealings with student protesters over the past week. In Sussex, five students who occupied a building in protest at the privatisation of certain university services were suspended. Their suspensions have now been lifted but they've been told they will still face "disciplinary processes". Things are even worse at the University of London (ULU), where management has outlawed protests on its campuses for the next six months. ULU students have nonetheless promised to protest against this "erosion" of their right to protest.
It is refreshing to see students standing up for their rights. And yet, something about modern students' demand for the right to protest, for the right to express their political views and grievances as they see fit, rings hollow. For over the past decade and more, students – or at least their representatives in the National Union of Students and various student unions – have become addicted to censorship, thinking nothing of expelling from their campuses views, newspapers and music they feel offended by. They've become extraordinarily cavalier about the value and importance of freedom of speech, denying it to far-right groups, Zionists, sexists and others with strong or offensive views. And the right to protest, which they now demand, is but the offspring of the far more important right to freedom of speech. Students who fail to defend freedom of speech don't have a leg, or foot, or even a toe to stand on when it comes to challenging restrictions on their right to protest.
It is astonishing how detached modern students have become from the great democratic and enlightened ideal of freedom of speech. Every week one reads about yet another student union banning from its bars an offensive song, or removing the Sun newspaper from all union buildings on the basis that Page 3 makes female students feel uncomfortable, or, more seriously, demanding, and very often winning, the banning of a speaker whose views run counter to the generally Leftish, PC outlook of most student organisations. Everyone from BNP spokespeople to speakers who merely want to put up a robust defence of Israel will find themselves surrounded by shrill, screeching, censorious students demanding that their wicked, toxic views be "no platformed" – that is, expunged from otherwise right-on, right-thinking campuses.
Students at the two universities where the right to protest has been most explicitly undermined over the past week – Sussex and London – have a long track record of squashing political views or cultural material that offends them. Sussex students recently banned Robin Thicke's controversial ditty Blurred Lines from their radio station; when the song was accidentally played at Sussex's freshers' fair, student union bureaucrats, behaving like nuns at a school disco, switched it off. Currently Sussex is debating whether or not to ban the Sun, as many other student unions have done. Students at Sussex have voted in large majorities to maintain their union's "No Platform" policy against any hard-Right presence on campus – a policy which, for all its pretensions to niceness and fairness, amounts to intolerance, "zero tolerance" in fact, of political views considered beyond the pale.
Student reps at ULU have also acted censoriously in recent years. They recently bussed students to Cambridge to protest against its union's granting of a platform to the hard-Right French politician Marine Le Pen, arguing that politicians like her "use freedom of speech to spread [a] message of hate". Apparently free speech should only be used to ends that ULU and today's other illiberal, controversy-allergic students consider "Good". ULU student officials (alongside Sussex's) also signed a letter earlier this year chastising students at Leeds for interviewing BNP leader Nick Griffin and demanding that they "remove the interview… from their website and newspaper immediately". That is, censor it, erase it from history, on the basis that the political views expressed by Griffin in the interview were unacceptable.
And now, lo and behold, students at Sussex and London have been forbidden from expressing themselves – on the grounds that what they're saying and how they're saying it is unacceptable. This is not surprising. Freedom of speech is the father and mother of every other freedom we enjoy. All of our rights – from the right to protest to the right to vote – are dependent on having freedom of speech, the freedom to spread ideas, publish our thoughts and speak our minds. Those who fail to defend the freedom of speech do not deserve the right to protest. They have failed to learn one of the most basic lessons of freedom – which is that if you fail to defend it for others, even those you hate, then you cannot expect to enjoy it yourself. In the words of Thomas Paine, "He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself".
All migrants to Britain must pass English tests before they can claim welfare payments
All migrants will have to demonstrate a ‘reasonable standard of English’ or be barred from claiming benefits, says Iain Duncan Smith.
The Work and Pensions Secretary announced that tests applied to those who end up claiming any work-related welfare payments will be tightened.
For the first time, migrants are to be quizzed about their language skills to determine whether these are likely to prove a barrier to them finding employment.
In order to pass the more rigorous test, they will have to answer up to 100 new individually-tailored questions, and submit more evidence before they will be allowed to make a claim.
The Department for Work and Pensions said that, for the first time, migrants will be quizzed about what efforts they have made to find work before coming to the UK and whether their English language abilities are likely to affect their chances of employment.
Migrants are entitled to benefits only if they can prove that they are legally allowed to be here and have sufficient ties to this country to show they are ‘habitually resident’.
Mr Duncan Smith said a more robust system was being introduced in job centres across England, Scotland and Wales this week – and vowed to fight attempts by Brussels to overturn elements of the UK’s existing controls.
‘It is only right that we expect migrants to have a reasonable standard of English if they are to get and keep a job, and participate fully in British society,’ he told the Daily Mail.
‘It is absolutely right that we have strict rules in place to protect the British benefits system from abuse. ‘That’s why we strengthened the habitual residence test [of eligibility to benefits].
The European Commission don’t like it – and even want to take us to court over the test. I am determined to fight that court action, believing that the test is not only legal, but vital.
‘While language skills form only one element of the habitual residence test, I believe they are a crucial indicator of migrants’ commitment to playing a full role in contributing to this country.
‘The British public are rightly concerned that migrants should contribute to this country, and not be drawn here by the attractiveness of our benefits system. We are taking action to ensure that that is the case.’
The latest figures show more than 5.6million people are claiming working-age benefits. Of these, 397,000 – or 7 per cent – are thought to have been non-UK nationals when they first registered for a national insurance number. This is an increase of more than 100,000 since 2008.
Under the tightened system, migrants must provide more comprehensive evidence at the point of making a claim.
This might include what measures they have taken to establish themselves in the UK, their housing and family situation, or what ties they still have abroad.
They will also have to provide more evidence that they are doing everything they can to find a job, said Mr Duncan Smith.
Vicar tells children as young as five that Father Christmas doesn't exist - before regaling them with gory details behind legend of St Nicholas
A vicar has been forced to apologise after he told children at a primary school that Father Christmas doesn't exist and instead told them the gruesome tale of St Nicholas.
Rev Simon Tatton-Brown, 65, questioned the existence of Santa in a special Christmas assembly and then went on to add that the kindly character was in fact based on a gory legend about the saint, who brought three murdered children back to life
The Church of England vicar told shocked children at Charter Primary in Chippenham, Wiltshire, how the children were killed by an evil butcher and placed in a barrel to be pickled and sold as ham.
Parents complained when their children - aged between five and 11 - came home shell-shocked and the vicar of St Andrew's Church in Chippenham, has now apologised.
The blunder came as the reverend - who is due to retire at the end of the year after 13 Christmases at his church - delivered his annual festive address to the local school last Wednesday.
Due to a technical issue he had to abandon his prepared talk and had to 'ad lib' without notes.
It is reported he also claimed stockings exist only because of a myth about St Nicholas dropping a gift down a poor family's chimney which happened to land in a sock hung by the fire to dry.
He said his biggest concern was that he had spoilt the kids' Christmases.
Thankfully, the very youngest children from the reception class were not part of the assembly.
But some furious mothers have already pulled their little ones from the school's Christmas concert at his church later this month.
The vicar wrote to headteacher Sarah Flack to apologise. His letter said: 'I was very sorry to hear of the trouble following my assembly. I talked about St Nicholas, and the stories about him, which tells us why Santa Claus brings gifts at Christmas. 'I am sorry if this was misunderstood.
'I fully support parents who want their young children to enjoy the Christmas stories, including Father Christmas, and I had no intention of undermining their belief in the reality of Santa Claus.'
Mrs Flack said she accepted his apology. She said children had made comments to their parents at home but the school was looking forward to moving on. She said the school would still use St Andrew's for their carol service and would welcome a vicar at next year's assembly.
Parents dropping their children off have expressed their anger. Linzi Merritt, whose son Levi, nine, attends the school, said: 'We wouldn't just walk into the church during one of his services and tell everyone there that Jesus isn't real. He's a person of authority and it's not his place to be telling the children that.
'It's the older children who have suffered the most because their parents can't really talk their way out of it like the parents of younger children can.
'Loads of kids went home crying - it has ruined Christmas for them. It wasn't a nice story for children to hear, there were lots more he could have told.
'Not only has he spoiled Father Christmas for them, a lot of them are now questioning the existence of the tooth fairy as well.
'He has been coming in for years now so who know what else he has told them - he may have even been talking to them about Satan.
Australian PM Tony Abbott admits to spanking his children
Mr Abbott warns political correctness can go too far and says there is nothing wrong with gentle smacks
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has admitted he smacked his children when they were young and warned against bans that could take political correctness "to extremes".
Mr Abbott was commenting after the issue was raised in the first report submitted to parliament by the newly established National Children's Commissioner.
It highlights the United Nations' concern "that corporal punishment in the home and in some schools and alternative care settings remains lawful in Australia".
The UN Committee of the Rights of the Child document recommends "that corporal punishment be explicitly prohibited", but Mr Abbott said "a gentle smack" was fine.
"We often see political correctness taken to extremes and maybe this is another example," the conservative leader, who has three grown-up daughters, told Channel Seven television.
"I was probably one of those guilty parents who did occasionally chastise the children, a very gentle smack I've got to say. "I think that we've got to treat our kids well, but I don't think we ought to say there's no place ever for smacks.
"All parents know that occasionally the best thing we can give is a smack, but it should never be something that hurts them."
Corporal punishment of children is banned in more than 30 countries around the world, including Germany, New Zealand and Spain.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.