We mustn't gag the BNP

3rd July 2009 at 01:00

When I decided to enter further education in September 2007, I was not aware how much my working life would involve politics. While I am reconciled to the edicts about continuing professional development, paper- chasing and so on, I was surprised to discover how much it would enter the classroom.

As a lecturer, I found it is expected of me to be the voice of all wisdom concerning thorny issues, but I have been very taken aback by my students' echoing of clamours for the silencing of the British National Party and Nick Griffin, its leader.

No matter how abhorrent or repellent we might feel about his policies or the election of two BNP members to the European parliament, I cannot find in favour of demands for gagging. The fact that these two were democratically elected expresses not so much a rise in extremist views but that a small - and growing - fraction of the British community feels they have no other means of having their voices heard.

I consider that I, as a lecturer, have an important part to play in fostering open discussion among students. As a profession, we must seize this opportunity, as we have done with the related issues of knife crime, religious intolerance, homophobia and so on. We need to encourage the kind of free speech that would enable young people to make up their own minds, see things from every side and realise they have a voice, rather than be sidelined into one political avenue - whatever that affiliation should be.

A free and democratic society is not one in which any section of the community can be silenced. I was disturbed to read a news article quoting Donna Guthrie, of Unite Against Fascism (UAF), saying: "(Mr Griffin) is not a person who should be given any coverage by a legitimate free press." For the press to be legitimate, it must, by its very nature, be free. Furthermore, any organisation that stands on an anti-fascism platform yet advocates denying free speech to one part of the community is, at a fundamental level, hypocritical and naive.

When I decided to write to the UAF, I discovered it is supported by the University and College Union. I have now withdrawn my membership in protest as I feel that free speech is the one right above all others that I must promote in my classrooms.

Han Dunsterville, Kent.

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