Trigger warning: This blog discusses rape.
Redefining NUS’ No Platform Policy would weaken the fight against fascism & how it is possible to support women’s rights and Wikileaks
NUS has a proud tradition of giving "no platform to fascists". This policy is rooted in the fact that fascism stands for the annihilation of whole groups of people, the elimination of democracy and all freedoms. Given this, there is no logical debate to be had with fascists. Providing them with a space to air their views strengthens them and in turn endangers many – Black, Jewish, LGBT, disabled people, women and all targeted by fascism across the decades.
We should always remember that the millions of people who died at the hands of Nazis’ slaughter did not die because their debating skills or arguments were not powerful enough. They died because once fascism had abused the democratic system to get its grip on power it soon closed down any freedoms to prevent any resistance. That’s why I have always and will always defend NUS’ No Platform policy.
Next week NUS will be debating a motion that seeks to extend the no platform policy to George Galloway and to one of the greatest progressive political figures of the past century, Tony Benn.
The basis of this attempt to ban George Galloway and Tony Benn is the wrong and offensive remarks both have made on rape in discussing the Julian Assange case.
I disagree with their remarks. But I will be amending the motion to reject the section that seeks to apply no platform to them. That’s not to say we should be silent on the matter. And that is why I’m proposing that NUS “reject and condemn any attempts to undermine what constitutes rape, including disgraceful claims that non-consensual sex is not rape.”
Below I explain why. But first let's remove a few of the red herrings from this debate. This is necessary as over the next week or so I expect to get lots of political hostility from right-wing forces who have never shown much interest in justice for the victims of rape before, who back political parties carrying out cuts that will see the shutting down of rape crisis centres and which have backed leaders like General Pinochet who, as Women Against Rape recently pointed out, raped thousands of women with dogs as weapons of torture in Chile.
Of course these are often the very same forces that have sought to undermine NUS' no platform policy over the years disguised as free speech but often because they really don’t take the threat of the racist far-right very seriously.
To be honest these remarks are not really aimed at those right-wingers. They will opportunistically use whatever stick they can find to undermine NUS' No Platform policy. And if that means damning someone like Tony Benn and the causes of peace, justice and equality that he has served for half a century then all the better.
I want to address the progressive majority of students who have backed NUS No Platform policy and who no doubt objected, quite rightly, to George Galloway’s recent comments. Hopefully I can add some light to what is likely to be a heated debate.
So firstly let me point out that I totally disagree with George Galloway’s original remarks on rape. I am glad he has since pointed out that “non-consensual sex is rape – and no never means yes. No equivocations”. But his original remarks were totally wrong. I fully reject them.
Also, especially for those who don't understand NUS procedure, it’s important to point out that my amendment is an "add amendment". This means that I am voting for all the sections of the original motion - including those sections which oppose those seeking to redefine rape as well as in support of all the practical measures that the motion outlines to tackle rape.
The only bits I am opposing are those lines relating to extending NUS’ no platform policy.
That’s because no platform is a policy we reserve for fascists because they uniquely threaten democracy for all and stand for the annihilation of entire groups for people. NUS’s No Platform policy has never, and should never, be about banning people whose views we find offensive or disagree with. And it’s very important to understand the implications of diluting the policy in this way. To extend no platform beyond fascists, blurs and undermines the policy. This is especially dangerous when fascists are seeking to overturn this on campuses as they have done in recent years.
Of course, the No Platform policy will be subject to all kinds of other disputes if widened to people who have made offensive remarks. If NUS’s no platform policy is applied to George Galloway and Tony Benn for their wrong views on rape then surely the policy should also be applied to those whose have engaged in actual actions that have led to the death, rape and torture and denial of basic human rights?
Will NUS soon be “no platforming” all those politicians who voted for, and even organised, the war on Iraq that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of women?
Can we soon expect the banning of those MPs, politicians and others who support the illegal occupation of Palestine and blockade of Gaza which was recently described by United Nations Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator as “an open air prison”. If not, why not?
It is to stand in the tradition of NUS’ No Platform policy to oppose it being extended in the way some are advocating.
It is certainly not to be reactionary or even a “rape apologist” to oppose the no-platform policy being widened. Such labels add no light to the discussion. I would never allege that NUS has been racist or homophobic by not having applied a ban to politicians such as Tory Mayor Boris Johnson who said referred to Black people as 'piccaninnies' with 'watermelon smiles' and compared gay marriage to the marriage of “three men and a dog.”
And why stop there? A couple of former NUS Presidents, Jack Straw and Phil Woolas, have made Islamophobic remarks. They haven’t been banned and nor should they. But they should be robustly challenged for their reactionary views. If the motion is passed against George Galloway and Tony Benn, I assume the honorary life membership of NUS of these MPs will soon be removed too?
Aside from deleting the lines extending the No Platform policy, most of my amendment- which I repeat adds to the original text and thus endorses its strong measures to prevent reactionary redefinitions of rape that women have fought so hard for against widespread and institutional sexism, except the section on no platform - actually takes up what NUS’ position should be on Wikileaks.
The reason for this is clear. The remarks by George Galloway, Tony Benn and others were made against the backdrop of discussions on Wikileaks and extradition requests for Julian Assange.
Yet whilst the motion is silent on these issues, the debate around the motion in NUS hasn’t been nor will it be at the coming meeting.
I think it is important to have a clear position on this issue. Not least as the fact that the British government is now engaging in all sorts of threats to violate international law by storming the Ecuadorean Embassy.
The text I add on Wikileaks is pretty straightforward. With the exception of those directly involved, no one knows what happened between Julian Assange and the women accusing him of rape. Nor should people pose themselves as experts who can unilaterally rule on this. That is a job for the courts who should be presented with all the evidence. In the meantime a number of principles of basic justice should apply: Julian Assange is innocent until proven guilty and that the women have the right for their accusations to be subject to the full judicial process.
But Julian Assange is now in the Ecuadorian Embassy. What should NUS say on the matter?
Ecuador granted asylum to Julian Assange based on its deep concern that Mr Assange may be onwardly extradited to a third country, the United States, where there is a risk of torture, or being condemned to a life sentence due to his involvement in founding Wikileaks and his role in releasing documents exposing US war crimes.
This important exposure of US war crimes included: releasing a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate killing of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad; releasing over 400,000 documents about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq which were previously not in the public domain; and publishing 779 secret files relating to prisoners detained in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
You don't have to believe in the world on Bourne Identity to think that there is a risk to him from the US authorities. You just have to remember that the US is the largest superpower to have ever existed and is responsible for initiating Guantanamo bay and has engaged in all sorts of cases of illegal rendition and torture (with the shameful complicity of British Foreign Ministers such as David Miliband).
But most similar is the case of Bradley Manning, a US Officer arrested on suspicion of having passed classified material to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Mendez, published a report saying the detention conditions had been "cruel, inhuman and degrading."
Anyone under any illusions that Julian Assange will not be subjected to this kind of treatment should read the remarks from prominent US politicians. Current U.S. Vice President Joe Biden labelled Julian Assange a “terrorist” and multiple calls for Assange’s assassination have come from U.S. political figures. Sarah Palin said “Assange is an anti-American operative with blood on his hands. Why was he not pursued with the same urgency as Al Qaeda?” whilst Mike Huckabee, recently a Republican Presidential candidate said “Anything less than execution is too kind a penalty” and Republican Senator Rick Santorum said Julian Assange should be“prosecuted as a terrorist.” Whilst Newt Gingrich said “He should be treated as an enemy combatant. WikiLeaks should be closed down.”
Over the summer, in July 2012, the US Justice Department spokesperson Dean Boyd publicly confirmed that "there continues to be an investigation into the WikiLeaks matter'' and that Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator Dianne Feinstein, renewed the call for prosecution of Julian Assange saying "Mr Assange should be prosecuted under the Espionage Act [of 1917]..I believe Mr Assange has knowingly obtained and disseminated classified information which could cause injury to the United States. He has caused serious harm to US national security, and he should be prosecuted accordingly."
No one should want to see Julian Assange subjected to abuses and injustices he could face in the United States if extradited there.
It is perfectly possible to support the rights of the women accusing Mr Assange for a full judicial process and to oppose steps that would lead to the extradition of Mr Assange to the US where he may face torture or worse. In fact this is the only position consistent with human rights for all.
Ecuador has offered such a solution making it clear in its ruling granting political asylum that "Mr. Assange must answer for the investigation in Sweden" and with the President Correa of that country saying that "We have never said that Julian Assange shouldn't have to answer to the Swedish justice system nor contribute to the investigation into these supposed crimes. What we have always asked for are guarantees that there won't be an onward extradition to a third country" if Britain extradites Assange to Sweden.
NUS should support Ecuador’s way forward by calling upon the British and Swedish governments to give written guarantees that Assange will not be onwardly extradited to the US, so that Assange can go to Sweden to face the accusations against him. We should also welcome the role that Wikileaks has played in exposing US war crimes – exposing before the entire world the US’role in the rape, torture and death of hundreds of thousands in the last decade alone.
The position that I am putting forward to the forthcoming NUS NEC proposes that NUS maintains its ‘No Platform For Fascists Policy’ – and does not extend this to people who hold offensive views we disagree with as this would weaken the fight against fascism; that we take action against attempts to roll back on rape definitions which women have fought so hard against; that we support a proper judicial process for the women accusing Assange of rape to take place as well as defending individuals against threats of US torture for whistle blowers.