Monday, 19 April 2010

Should universities be Nazi Free Zones?

Unite Against Fascism (UAF) has issued a statement defending the NUS Black Students' Officer, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, after she was censured by NUS Conference last Thursday. The censure was for her co-authorship of a letter to Durham Uni's Students Union, concerning the SU's failure to criticise Durham's debating society for inviting two BNP leaders to speak. She was upholding the national union's policy of No Platform for fascists, yet has now been attacked by a minority of the leadership and a layer of delegates.

There's a lively exchange of views in the comment thread for Counterfire's publication of the statement, much of it concerning the contested issue of No Platform. I've previously blogged about No Platform HERE and about the Durham controversy HERE. On this particular episode there's useful background, including this video of Bell addressing NUS Conference, HERE.

What follows is only slightly adapted from my comments at Counterfire:

I observed parts of NUS Conference and was at a number of fringe meetings, including a very good UAF fringe which discussed the continuing need for no platform. Wes Streeting and others have disgraced themselves and seriously undermined the student movement's commitment to no platform policy - and potentially the welfare of students.

It's worth noting that the vote was only won by 6 votes and happened first thing on Thursday morning (last day of conference), i.e. when attendance was at its lowest. There was only one round of short speeches for and against prior to the vote censuring Bell. This is shamelessly anti-democratic behaviour from Streeting and others.

A number of comments challenge the current policy of No Platform in NUS. But it's essential that NUS, like most trade unions, maintains No Platform. The reasons were discussed at the Unite Against Fascism fringe meeting on Wednesday.

Giving the BNP - a fascist organisation - a platform offers them respectability and legitimacy they don't deserve. At the fringe meeting the current Women's Officer recalled Griffin speaking at the Oxford Union when she was a student there, saying it was a breakthrough for the BNP in gaining respectability. It helped make the party seem reasonable and part of the mainstream.

When fascists get a hearing, racist violence increases. Racist thugs are emboldened and feel more confident. This is threatening to the welfare of students, which is surely a major priority for student unions and NUS. The safety and rights of minority groups are threatened by allowing fascists the 'right to speak'. Universities need to be safe spaces.

BNP members have nothing constructive to offer. Why offer them a platform, allowing them to pose as respectable while jeapordising student welfare? There is absolutely nothing to be gained. What did Durham's debating society hope to achieve? A bit of attention-grabbing controversy, I suspect.

It is vital the whole student movement re-commits to No Platform. It was welcome to hear NUS President-elect Aaron Porter, who I disagreed with on most things at the conference, stressing his commitment to this.

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