Safe spaces have been impacting free speech on universities and I am glad that it was noted by our Prime Minister Theresa May. Safe spaces have manifested into this idea that “unsafe speech” or something that does not produce ‘good feelings’ should be banned and censored. Challenging ideas through free speech is what progressing civil rights is all about – no civil right was ever won through banning. If banned, it is only a matter of time until the same ideas re-emerge on other platforms such as YouTube, so it is neither liberal nor practical. It merely reflects a lack of respect for debate and dialogue.
Bans, censorships as well as safe spaces will only create little bubbles that mollycoddle students away from the reality of contesting views. I have worked with students across the country who have been silenced because of the growing safe-space culture. Oftentimes, it is those who discuss human rights issues in a non-relativist and non-apologetic sense who are censored.
Importantly, safe spaces haven’t just affected free speech but also universities’ respect for human rights! They have created the biggest moral relativist social experiment that I have ever witnessed. It can literally be worked and exercised in the following fashion: an LGBT safe space and a religious rights safe space exist next to each other. A speaker in the religious rights safe space calls for the criminalisation of homosexuals. This would therefore be seen to be acceptable as they are speaking within the bubbled safe space. As such, challenging the ideas within the latter can actually be deemed to be violating safe space policy, which illustrates just why these safe spaces hinder constructive dialogue.
This is ideally exemplified by Maryam Namazie, who challenged Islamist extremism in Goldsmith University only to be shouted down for ‘violating’ the safe space policy by allegedly making students feel “unsafe” by her critique of Islamist theocracy. The LGBT society and Feminist society actually sided with those shouting her down in this example.
Safe spaces have thus created such a strong form of moral relativism – that of completely apologising for ideas that go against human rights ideals – so that we now see Islamist extremism being apologised for left, right and centre. This is because Islamism is becoming more legitimised throughout universities and regarded as a credible voice within student political discussions.
In fact, this form of apologia is in itself a form of racism, as it perceives Muslims to be inherently barbaric so that they must receive less scrutiny in the discussion of human rights. It further legitimises the dehumanisation of others which Islamist extremism calls for, which has correlated with a rise in discrimination of Muslim minorities and the Jewish student community. Yet, legitimising Islamist extremism is a far cry from the social justice cause that these students are so proud to trumpet. It is tragic to see a ‘leftist’ movement side with theocratic-fascism.
It is very easy to dismiss all this as student politics and just infantile student behaviour. However, what I want to reiterate is that these have real life consequences. Universities springboard political movements and if we have institutions across the country mocking free speech and our human rights values, then we can expect those hangovers to cross over into the wider political discussion.
The centre-ground is a minority in universities because of the political climate they have developed. At Quilliam, I have launched the Right2Debate project with student activists across the country, calling for bigotry to be challenged and not free speech, while simultaneously resting on the ideal of universal human rights. Right2Debate is about ideals over identities, challenge over censorship and answers over apologia. In this regard Theresa May was right in saying that safe spaces do stifle free speech.However, they also severely impact a respect for the humanist values of Britain.