2017-04-19 15:06:11 UTC
UK: War on Free Speech at the National Union of Students
by Douglas Murray
April 19, 2017 at 5:00 am
It is interesting to consider what would happen were anyone to demand the
same standards of these campaigners against free speech as they demand of
others. The people who make such claims rarely if ever exercise the same
civic hygiene they demand of everybody else.
If it furthered their political and other goals then Malia Bouattia and the
National Union of Students (NUS) would most likely be currently calling for
arrests and prosecutions for incitement, "hate speech" and more. Of course,
nobody could be so ill-mannered as to play this political game back at them.
But if they were to, they would certainly find far greater evidence of cause
and effect than Bouattia and her colleagues have produced to date in their
war on free speech.
It could be said that Bouattia engaged in "hate speech" as well as "racist
speech" when she said the words she did. It could further be claimed that
what Bouattia said in fact constituted "incitement" and an "open invitation
to violence". It could be argued that the words which came out of her lips
led directly to a Palestinian man thinking that a British student could be
killed on a tram in Jerusalem in a legitimate act of "resistance" against a
representative of a "Zionist outpost."
The great effort of the present-day censors on campuses across the West is
to make speech synonymous with action. Campaigners against free expression
claim that words not only "wound" people but actually "kill". They claim
that people associated with any group being criticised are not only
suffering a verbal "assault" but an actual "physical" assault. Those who
campaign against any and all criticism of Islamists, for instance, not only
claim that the attacks are "Islamophobic" and target "all Muslims". They
also claim that such words cause violence -- including violence against any
and all Muslims.
One of the notable things about their objection is that the people who make
such claims rarely if ever exercise the same civic hygiene they demand of
everybody else. It is interesting to consider what would happen were anyone
to demand the same standards of these campaigners as they demand of others.
Consider the case of one Malia Bouattia. This is the young woman who is
currently president of the National Union of Students (NUS) in Britain. The
NUS has long been a campaigning organisation less interested in standing up
for the rights and welfare of students as a whole than campaigning for the
sort of issues that preoccupy a portion of the hard-left in Britain, at the
forefront of which is anti-Zionism. Since her election as NUS president last
year, a number of British universities have sought to disaffiliate from the
organization in apparent recognition that it has taken an especially
Before she became NUS president, Bouattia had a particular track-record for
a type of militant anti-Zionism which can only endear a person to people
like the NUS. In a speech recorded in 2014 at a conference on "Gaza and the
Palestinian Revolution", Bouattia railed against "Mainstream Zionist-led
media outlets" in which, she said, "resistance is resented as an act of
terrorism." Three years earlier -- in 2011 -- Bouattia referred to the
University of Birmingham as "something of a Zionist outpost in British
A House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee which looked into
Bouattia's track-record last year concluded that:
"The current president of the National Union of Students, Malia Bouattia,
does not appear to take sufficiently seriously the issue of anti-Semitism on
campus, and has responded to Jewish students' concerns about her previous
language with defensiveness and an apparent unwillingness to listen to their
"There is of course no reason why an individual who has campaigned for the
rights of Palestinian people – a cause widely supported on university
campuses – should not serve as president of the NUS.
"But Ms Bouattia's choice of language (and ongoing defence of that language)
suggests a worrying disregard for her duty to represent all sections of the
student population and promote balanced and respectful debate. Referring to
Birmingham University as a 'Zionist outpost' (and similar comments) smacks
of outright racism, which is unacceptable, and even more so from a public
figure such as the president of the NUS."
Malia Bouattia, the president of the UK National Union of Students, refers
to acts of terrorism against Israelis as "resistance". (Image source: NUS
Now let us move from the realm of speech into the realm of action.
Last week, a British woman was travelling on a tram in Jerusalem. With no
warning, she was suddenly repeatedly stabbed in the chest by a 57-year-old
Palestinian man who was detained at the scene. The Israeli authorities
immediately described it as a terrorist incident -- yet another in the long
line of attacks which have been described as a "stabbing intifada," in which
some radical Palestinians follow the advice of radical Palestinian clerics
and assault Israelis with whatever weapons they can get their hands on,
including cars and trucks.
The murdered woman was subsequently identified as 20-year-old Hannah Bladon.
She was a student at the University of Birmingham taking part in an exchange
with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She had been taking classes in
Bible studies, archaeology and Hebrew. In a statement, her family back in
Britain expressed themselves to be "devastated" at her murder, adding that
she was "the most caring, sensitive and compassionate daughter you could
ever wish for." She was also "a talented musician, part of a serving team at
her local church and a member of her local archaeological group."
Even without making as close a link between words and actions as some
campaigners currently do, it is worth considering this:
Miss Bladon attended a university described as a "Zionist outpost" by the
person elected by the NUS to represent her interests, as well as those of
all other students. Miss Bladon was in a city and in a country where that
same woman -- Malia Bouattia -- has claimed that what is called "terrorism"
is in fact "resistance". By such lights, Hannah Bladon (from a "Zionist
outpost") was killed in an act of "resistance". That at any rate is the
logical conclusion to draw from the statements of Malia Bouattia.
If anyone were to operate by the standards that some students presently do,
then this link could be made further. It could be said that Malia Bouattia
engaged in "hate speech" as well as "racist speech" when she said the words
she did. It could further be claimed that what Bouattia said in fact
constituted "incitement" and an "open invitation to violence". It could be
argued that the words that came out of her lips led directly to a
Palestinian man thinking that a British student could be killed on a tram in
Jerusalem in a legitimate act of "resistance" against a representative of a
That is the game which Malia Bouattia and her colleagues in the NUS would
engage in if the target were any other, the victim anyone else and the
location of the slaughter anywhere but Israel. If it furthered their
political and other goals then Bouattia and the NUS would most likely be
currently calling for arrests and prosecutions for incitement, "hate speech"
and more. Of course, nobody could be so ill-mannered as to play this
political game back at them. But if they were to, they would certainly find
far greater evidence of cause and effect than Bouattia and her colleagues
have produced to date in their war on free speech. If the NUS and others are
really concerned about hate speech, they should look to their own president,
and think about Jerusalem.
Douglas Murray, British author, commentator and public affairs analyst, is
based in London, England.
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