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There’s nothing safe about student ‘safe spaces’ anymore

6 December 2015

9:09 AM

6 December 2015

9:09 AM

Iranian human rights activist Maryam Namazie was harassed by members of the Goldsmiths University Islamic Society on Monday night, while speaking to the university’s Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society. Namazie, whose talk was about ‘Apostasy, blasphemy and free expression in the age of Isis’, has been branded an ‘Islamophobe’ by members of the Islamic Society for her criticism of political Islam and aspects of Islamic theology.

Footage of the talk has been posted on YouTube, and makes for depressing viewing: a group of young men in the front row aggressively interrupt Namazie throughout, shouting ‘Safe Space!’ and one of them eventually unplugs the projector when a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammed is displayed.

At one point in the video the protestors laugh when Namazie mentions the death-threats made against British-Bangladeshi secular bloggers by Islamic extremists, and later shout ‘Stop intimidating me, you’re intimidating me, you’re intimidating me, I feel intimidated.’

Ironically, Goldsmiths Feminist Society have issued a statement announcing that they ‘stand in solidarity’ with the Islamic Society over the protests: it’s a strange world in which a feminist organisation feels such affinity with a group of men who shout-down a woman discussing her ideas.

It’s particularly absurd given that Namazie has dedicated much of her career to campaigning for women’s rights in Muslim communities: her criticisms of sharia legal councils, for example, revolve around their unequal treatment of female litigants in divorce and child custody disputes.

So whether or not they agree with Namazie’s description of the niqab as ‘a flag for far-right Islam’, the Goldsmiths feminists should have engaged with this influential, if controversial, speaker. Instead, they supported the silencing of a female women’s rights activist by a group of angry young men.

As well as reminding us of the extent to which some student feminists have lost touch with reality, Monday’s events were an indication of the direction in which the no-platform brigade are heading. More open-minded student societies are gaining resilience, with the result being that attempts to pressure them into disinviting controversial speakers are no longer working: no-platformers at Warwick University found this out earlier in the year, when they tried and failed to prevent Namazie from speaking at their student union.

The Goldsmiths Islamic Society also tried to no-platform Namazie, before resorting to disrupting the event. Speaking to the Telegraph, Namazie described how Islamic Society ‘brothers’ came into the room after the talk began: ‘They shut my projector, shouted over me, threw themselves on the floor. They created a climate of fear and intimidation. I spoke as loud as I could.’

The hecklers claimed to be offended by Namazie’s stance, but their definition of an offensive speaker is phenomenally one-sided: one of the Islamic Society’s own recent speakers was Hamza Tzortzis, who once declared that ‘We as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech’, although he has since ‘clarified‘ his views.

It’s all ironic in the extreme, but yet decidedly un-funny. Student censorship has moved beyond non-platforming – there’s nothing ‘safe’ about these spaces anymore.

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