It is increasingly fashionable among self-identified progressives and left-wingers, particularly within academic environments, to promote the idea of “safe spaces” – places where the normal right to free speech is heavily curtailed in order to protect designated minorities and victim groups from encountering words and ideas that might cause them mental discomfort.
This blog finds the idea of such “safe spaces” utterly repellent, and a prime symptom of the infantilisation of many students in Britain and America – a generation of cosseted idealists who interpret any political disagreement as a sinister attempt to “invalidate their experiences”, who are unable to tolerate even polite dissent and who are lightning-quick to call for authority figures to come crashing down upon the heads of those who question their “dearly and closely held beliefs”.
But put aside the childishness of the “safe space” and the potentially chilling implication of such policies on the fundamental right to freedom of expression. Put aside the fact that protecting certain ideas from scrutiny, however noble they may be, leads to intellectual atrophy and erodes our democracy in just the same way it undermines the core purpose of a university.
What is really shocking is the double-standard at play. Those designated victim groups and their advocates on the left are free to say and do anything they please, empowered and protected by the perceived righteousness of their cause, while those outside this bien pensant collective have no right to hold their own opinions, let alone to express them or to campaign for them politically.
It is this double-standard which allows a mob of young anti-UKIP protesters to invade a London pub far from the campaign trail where UKIP leader Nigel Farage was quietly enjoying lunch with his family, to harass and intimidate Farage’s family to the extent that his young children fled and were separated from their parents, and to jump on the bonnet of his car as he attempted to drive away – and still come away feeling as though it were they, the mob, who had taken a stand for freedom, tolerance and decency.
From the Telegraph’s report:
Nigel Farage and his family have been chased out of a pub in Kent and had their car attacked by protesters demonstrating against the UK Independence Party (Ukip).
The Ukip leader labelled the demonstrators “scum” on Sunday afternoon and said his two children had yet to return after the family got split amid the hostility.
Mr Farage said his children were so scared they had to hide from the protesters and criticised them for using force to make their point.
The protestors, who dressed as migrants and breastfeeding mothers to express their opposition to Ukpi, sent messages to journalists boasting of jumping on Mr Farage’s car bonnet.
(It is ironic that recent anti-UKIP television programmes have all included footage of far-right racist mobs on the rampage when conjuring their dystopian vision of a UKIP-governed Britain, yet the only mobs connected with UKIP in real life have been the baying crowds that chased Nigel Farage in Edinburgh, pelted him with eggs in Nottingham, and now chased his young family out of a pub in London).
No doubt the protesters went home feeling very satisfied with themselves after chasing a man, his wife and their two young children away from the pub where they were having lunch, simply because they held different political views. The type of person who takes joy in hounding a family trying to enjoy a meal together probably also lacks the mental faculties to appreciate that people may have markedly different political opinions, but that this does not make them any less valid.
Look at the faces of these young protesters – smiling and taking selfies together as they hounded a man and his frightened family away from the place where they were enjoying a quiet lunch. The costumes worn by the activists were quirky and bright, but the primal human emotion that motivated them was dark, and ageless. This is not a new phenomenon – they were a mob in the classic sense of the word, and they did what mobs always do.
When the anti-UKIP protesters decided to take their opposition to Nigel Farage’s policies and confront him in an aggressive manner in a context and environment far removed from the campaign trail, they crossed a line. They are little better than the mob in Telford who bayed for a suicidal man to “get on with it and jump” while filming the tragic spectacle on their smartphones.
If you disagree with UKIP’s stance on immigration, taxes, healthcare or anything else, you can go to any party meeting or campaign event and air your dissent. You can heckle Nigel Farage when he speaks. You can ask questions, shout insults, mail bricks to UKIP’s campaign headquarters, create a fake political party and stand for election to ridicule their beliefs, or engage in any other number of stunts. But you don’t get to storm into the restaurant where an unguarded politician is eating with his family, away from the campaign trail, and force them to flee just because you don’t like their politics.
And this goes to the heart of the hypocrisy at work on the left: those who enjoy designated “victim” status are coddled by policies designed to ensure that they never have to face dissenting opinion, while those who hold ideas and opinions outside the approved orthodoxy are fair game for any manner of insults, personal attacks and harassment.
Where were the outraged student activists standing up for Nigel Farage’s right to peacefully enjoy a family dinner without being “shamed” and “invalidated” by the dissenting opinions of the protesters?
Where was the concern that by coming after a politician with this callous stunt, the protesters were effectively sending a message that it is now open season for the public humiliation of anyone with a “vote UKIP” sign in their window, or a purple bumper sticker on their car?
Or to put it in a way that the protesters might actually understand: where was Nigel Farage’s safe space?