Student Voice: Macer Gifford speaks at UCL

Student Rights was pleased to report last month that University College London Union (UCLU) had reversed a decision to ban Macer Gifford from speaking on campus. Last night an event with Gifford went ahead, and he was able tell students about his experiences fighting Islamic State in Syria.

Here, Kavar Kurda, the Head of UCL Kurdish Society, reports on the event. All views are his own, and do not necessarily represent those of Student Rights…

On Wednesday the 2nd of December Macer Gifford, a former YPG fighter, was granted a platform at UCL to the euphoria of many students.

Initially no-platformed by the union for various reasons shrouded in controversy in November, the following weeks subsequently saw a huge media campaign, a popular petition, and an enormous amount of support from the public to overturn the decision.

Although the union caved in the end, the lack of willingness to talk about ISIS was an incredible shock. The union showed very little empathy towards the society or myself, and were almost unresponsive during the whole saga.

University is the last bastion of academic and enlightenment thought, and to censor an individual, who should be heralded, on such an important issue, puzzled me.

Nevertheless, while the disapproval by UCLU poses numerous questions into the growing trend of university censorship, freedom of speech and the purposes of universities, this evening the only issue at hand was ISIS.

It’s one thing to hear from an academic or a journalist, but to hear from an actual fighter who battled against the barbaric group paints the whole fight in a new light – and taking place only a few hours before the parliamentary vote in Syria made the talk all the more symbolic.

Macer was very calm and collected in his approach displaying an eloquent manner with a few light-hearted anecdotes here and there which on the whole contributed to a lecture which was intriguing and fresh.

His talk focused on his experiences in northern Syria, along with his journey, the other foreign volunteers and the political climate.

Macer made clear the savagery of ISIS, such as the ease with which they behead innocent people and he constantly praised the bravery of the YPG and the need for secularism in the region.

Not once did he glorify his decision to fight, but showed this was a personal choice.

The lecture gave everyone who attended a rare opportunity to hear from someone who was on the frontline and frankly speaking, in warfare of this magnitude, we need to be listening to such individuals to gain a more rounded perspective.

An informative Q&A session followed, and when posed with the infamous question of British involvement in Syria, Macer opted for ‘Yes’.

Although controversial, he explained this in an astute manner which left many feeling intervention to some level was plausible.

On the whole, it was a fantastic and insightful talk. Macer had a refreshing take and was such a nice chap that even now it still amazes me how the union disapproved of him.

Questions will continue about the union’s comments and some may have not agreed with everything Macer said, but in a liberal society that is truly the beauty of opinions and free speech, because if we don’t believe in free speech for those we disagree with, then we don’t believe in it at all.

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