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Why PPE Society should not have offered Anne Marie Waters a platform

She has labelled Islam as “evil”. She’s pro internment, wants to freeze immigration, and her best mate is Tommy Robinson. So let’s just cut the bullshit for a moment and not pretend that giving her a platform at the University of Warwick will encourage reasoned debate. Rather, it creates a whirlwind of ideological grandstanding, with generalised labels being thrown around the place like hand grenades, and the few people who believed they might partake in a reasonable discussion sit up in the flotsam of rhetorical debris rubbing their heads and wondering what the hell just happened.
Perhaps the most common argument against ‘no platforming’ – the act of denying a certain individual a platform to speak in a public forum – is that which Warwick PPE Society gave in response to calls for the event to be boycotted: “We believe that the only way of defeating ideas we disagree with is publicly beating them in debate, not by intentionally silencing them.” Yet this statement assumes that such ideas deserve a platform for debate. Waters has been filmed advocating a reduction in the Muslim birth rate, an end to Muslim immigration, and accusing the European Union of seeking to turn Europe into an Islamic State. So-called ‘pro free speech’ activists would, at this point, surely espouse that maxim that words are only words, not actions, and we should all stop being such snowflakes.
It’s about preventing those poisonous ideas, which have no place in a modern political discourse, from engendering action
But this isn’t about sparing your feelings. It’s not even about giving you a safe space. It’s about preventing those poisonous ideas, which have no place in a modern political discourse, from engendering action. When Waters tweeted, “the only ‘evil’ we have legalised is Islam”, she follows down a decades old track carved by bigots and fascists alike: ‘For Britain; against the other’. In this case, the ‘other’ being Islam and Muslims. Her exclusively anti-Islam political party (which, thankfully, is a fledging failure of an organisation) is named “For Britain” – as if the Muslim community is separate from the country they were born in, work in, and call home. She alienates an entire religion, generalises a community, and introduces a wholly unacceptable angle to political discourse.
Even Tommy Robinson, who heads the anti-Islam group Pegida UK, alongside Anne Marie Waters and Paul Weston (who once described immigration as the ‘ethnic cleansing of the English’), now states he only opposes “radical Islam.” He’s lying through his teeth, of course, and his recent prosecution for contempt of court testifies that behind the suit lies the jackbooted fascist there always was. But Waters doesn’t even do that. Her focus is not on extremism, but on religion. And whilst religion is a subject that can and should be debated, that discussion should not occur with a woman who has called for mosque closures and mass deportations. In short, a woman not driven by rationality, but by hatred.
But ideas like hers, if given a platform, fester like weeping sores upon the popular consciousness
You may be wondering: “if Waters is as much of an irrational, fringe lunatic as you are suggesting, why do we care about her? Let her speak, we can shout her down, and we can all go home feeling pleased with ourselves.” But ideas like hers, if given a platform, fester like weeping sores upon the popular consciousness. Islamophobic attacks rose by 26% in 2017 from the previous year, with women being disproportionately targeted. At the same time, support for far-right movements has grown across Europe and the United States.
Universities should be places of discussion, places where theories and ideas should be freely exchanged and dissected. Subjects such as immigration, religion, and extremism are such subjects which can and should be examined by any academic community. But these subjects should be approached with respect and discussed in inclusive environments in which every member of the university has a right to participate. They should not be approached via a failed leadership contender turned flag-bearer for a nasty and divisive brand of ultra-nationalistic politics spouting her bigotry. Frankly, we can do better.


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