Petition to ban Germaine Greer highlights lack of debate on campus

The petition calling for Germaine Greer to be banned from campus at Cardiff University is yet another attempt by some students to bar feminist campaigners they find offensive from speaking.

Earlier this month, student unions chose to prevent Julie Bindel from appearing at the University of Manchester and attempted to stop Maryam Namazie from attending an event at Warwick University.

Rachel Melhuish, the Cardiff University Student Union Women’s Officer who set up the petition against Greer’s lecture, has accused her of being “extremely transphobic” and says that Greer is involved in “continually misgendering Trans women and denying the existence of transphobia altogether”.

The petition goes on to say:“While debate in a university should be encouraged, hosting a speaker with such problematic and hateful views towards marginalised and vulnerable groups is dangerous”.

Greer’s recent statement that “just because you lop off your d*** and then wear a dress, doesn’t make you a f*****g woman” is certainly offensive, but it is a step too far to suggest giving her a platform would be “dangerous”.

At no point has she directly encouraged discrimination or violence against transgender people, or openly supported a political system that would punish them with death, even if there is a credible argument that transgender people are increasingly marginalised when views like Greer’s become prevalent in society.

Barring speakers from campus should be a last resort used only in the most serious cases – such as when they have a history of directly encouraging violence or hatred against minorities on the basis of protected characteristics.

Students should instead seek to challenge those they find offensive in debate – something which simply does not happen enough, either because they seek to ban them or turn a blind eye.

This has already been demonstrated at Cardiff University this year, when in February Abdullah Al-Andalusi spoke from an unchallenged platform despite a history of worrying views.

A contributor to the Islamist Hittin Institute, Al-Andalusi believes that liberal democracy is a “totalitarian system”; that the government is fighting a “war against Islam”; and that concepts such as democracy, secularism, and feminism are “blatantly un-Islamic”, with feminism also “opposed to human nature”.

In April 2013, meanwhile, he told an audience at an event on the conflict in Syria which referred to foreign fighters that “going to fight against oppression is not terrorism”.

Here at Student Rights, we hope that students at Cardiff University can find some middle ground between censorship and apathy – and ensure that people with offensive or extreme views face challenge regardless of their provenance.

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