Several commentators have written articles in the national press defending feminist author Germaine Greer’s right to free speech.
Simon Kelner, former Editor of The Independent, Hugo Rifkind, a columnist for The Times, and Zoe Williams of The Guardian, all expressed disappointment that she was pressurised by staff and students at Cardiff University into not giving an address.
Greer had been invited to give a lecture on women’s rights next month, but after receiving abuse from students for her view that ‘transsexual men are not women’, she backed out of attending.
Simon Kelner stressed that Greer was simply offering her own point of view, expressed in a “characteristically forthright style”.
He said he was alarmed by the speed in which disagreement changed into offence and spiralled into a “full-blown protest campaign”. He said this is “both frightening and injurious to proper debate”.
There is such a risk-averse mentality among those in public life these days that we are in danger of not hearing anything meaningful.Simon Kelner
Kelner added: “There is such a risk-averse mentality among those in public life these days that we are in danger of not hearing anything meaningful.”
Writing in The Times, Hugo Rifkind criticised the students involved as the truly “intolerant ones”.
He posed the question: “How has free speech itself come under threat from the institutions that were once proud bastions of it?”
Rifkind said the “no-platforming of Germaine Greer is madness” and argued that it “points to bigger problems when this generation rules the world”.
In a comment piece for The Guardian, Zoe Williams pointed out that Greer cancelled the debate herself after being “put off by the spectre of unpleasantness”.
The columnist also highlighted Home Secretary Theresa May’s “drive to counter ‘non-violent extremism’”, demonstrating that it is a serious threat to freedom of expression in British society.
The government has awarded itself the power to redraw the map of political dissent. It can broaden at any point the definition of ‘extreme’.Zoe Williams
She questioned how “anyone in government or beyond” could believe it’s possible to “kill an idea by making it illegal to express it”.
Williams said: “The government has awarded itself the power to redraw the map of political dissent. It can broaden at any point the definition of ‘extreme’.
“The government has arrogated to itself the job not just of protecting its citizenry from terrorism, but also of determining which ideas can exist within the boundaries of moderation.”
She concluded by warning that, “whenever you erect a barrier around the realm of the sayable, you put the power in the hands of the already powerful”.
Defend Free Speech
The Christian Institute, the National Secular Society, the Peter Tatchell Foundation and other organisations are supporting the Defend Free Speech campaign.
They are concerned that legitimate freedom of expression could be criminalised by the Government’s counter-extremism strategy, especially controversial Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs).