We write to you at a paramount time where attempted censorship on campus is no longer looming in the shadows but is vividly on display in one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
This afternoon’s event entitled ‘Endangered Speeches’ is due to be hosted by the King’s College London War Studies Department, featuring a conversation between Dr. Joanna Williams, as its guest speaker, and Professor Michael Rainsborough who heads the War Studies Department. The conversation is advertised to assess the contentions surrounding the debate over free speech at university campuses. Ultimately, as outlined, the debate aims to ‘explore the dimensions of the debate’ and allow students to cultivate their own understanding and widen their perspective.
We are extremely concerned, but also unsurprised in light of recent events, that elements within the university have attempted to curtail Dr Williams’ free speech on campus and sought to pressurise the university to rescind its invitation and publicly apologise over dubious grounds. It seems that these individuals and societies would rather not have a debate at all, instead citing platitudes that they have the moral high ground, thus those who disagree with them should not be permitted to speak on campus. Disagreeing with Dr Joanna Williams is something we couldn’t encourage more, but rather than coming to the event and challenging her ideas within the Q&A, those seeking to cancel the event would rather the guest speaker not be heard at all.
In an absurd statement issued by the KCL Intersectional Feminist Society, but also backed up by 144 other students in a variety of departments across the university, the case was furthered that due to Dr Joanna Williams’ supposed opposition to women (despite, of course, being a woman herself), trans and non-binary people, students on campus will be put in danger of ‘harm’. As one line states explicitly, ‘not supporting women, trans, and non-binary people kills, and Williams knowingly endorses this.’ Without knowledge of who Dr Joanna Williams is, one could only assume after reading the statement that she believes in men ruling over women and the encouragement of the suicide of trans people. Not only is this deception, it is a vivid exemplification of a smear campaign to shut down discussion, force feed students only one given narrative and prevent them from hearing a different point of view. Make no mistake, this is no different from the procedure followed in academic institutions within the authoritarian regimes of the 20th century when an opinion that differed from the regime propaganda was espoused. In this way, those attempting to cancel this event are more in harmony with the ‘fascists’ they are supposedly trying to battle against than the supposed liberators they claim to be.
More importantly, we were extremely disappointed to learn that the Student Union, a body elected by students to represent students’ interests, came to the defence of those hell-bent on de-platforming Dr Joanna Williams. In a statement, the KCLSU expressed ‘solidarity’ with those restricting the free exchange of ideas on campus and expressed concern and disappointment at her potential presence. In truly ironic fashion, they claimed that this event ‘only serves as a platform for a harmful speaker, as opposed to truly addressing the issue of free speech on campus.’ If a Student Union doesn’t have the intellectual fortitude to fathom that harmful speech counts as free speech, we must be prepared for very dark times ahead. What kind of precedent does that set? When anything that is subjectively perceived to offend any single person becomes the litmus test for an idea to be shut down, what speech will be left to be heard? It is clear to see that the Student Union’s backing of this anti-free speech crusade will only limit the band of accepted speech, and that is severely dangerous. (To read the statement, follow this link: https://www.kclsu.org/news/article/6015/Statement-on-quotEndangered-Speechquot-event/)
In the interests of the future of students and our educational instructions that we all hold so dear, we call on the Student Union to retract its statement which aims to restrict students’ exposure to more ideas on campus. If this demand is not met, we will be forced to take further action within our rights as students by holding our representatives to account.
Whether you agree with Dr Joanna Williams or not, and we certainly do not endorse everything she stands for, free speech will soon dry up at the source if we do not stand up for the right of those who disagree with us to convey their ideas.
Join the battle to preserve free speech with our nationwide Free to Speak campaign (FaceBook, Twitter) and protect the free flow of ideas, no matter which side of the political spectrum they originate from, on university campuses. Free speech is already being curtailed on campuses, and it’s time we woke up before they come for your speech.
Danny Al-Khafaji – President of the KCL Libertarian Society and Director of Free to Speak
Georgia Leigha – Vice President of KCL Libertarian Society
Tamara Berens – Communications Director of KCL Libertarian Society
Danielle Kleinerman – Events Organiser of KCL Libertarian Society
Eberle Miller – Treasurer of KCL Libertarian Society