UKC Liberty Union has invited the 39-year-old youtuber Carl Benjamin to deliver his talk on ‘Populism in a Changing West’. The scheduled visit of the figure has created substantial amount of turmoil on campus over the past week. Opinions have remained divisive over his ‘hateful’ ideologies projected by his racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic, and Islamophobic remarks from past appearances. Question was raised whether the University and the student society should platform his views on a university campus that must ensure safe and tolerant environment to all students.
The UKC Liberty has stood by the value of ‘free speech’ which was also the ground the University has granted the society’s request upon (Education Act No.2 of the University Charter), as opposed to the concern and objection expressed by Kent Union and various groups of students. To investigate further into student opinion that opposes the Liberty Union’s commitment to bringing the speaker to its members, InQuire has asked UKC Marxist and UKC Feminist society respectively over Benjamin’s visit to campus and the concepts of ‘free speech’ and ‘platforming radical ideologies’.
UKC Marxist Society
The Marxist Society has expressed deep regret over the Liberty Union’s invite of Carl Benjamin. The members extended their apprehension over the fact that the backlash and voice of concern coming from the students against Benjamin’s visit have been “ultimately futile”. They identified the character as “religiously intolerant” and someone who “uses and defences racial slur”, linking to his previous statement towards the Labour MP Jess Philips, ‘I wouldn’t even rape you’, and predicted his talk at the University will “will simply reinforce him and his right wing supporters’ narratives of victimhood- their free speech being under threat from “politically correct” popular opinion at the university”.
One of the core questions UKC Marxist society has raised over the issue is, “What are students supposed to do when the far right come knocking at their campus?”. The society underlined the fact that the University allowing platforms to not only Benjamin, but those “who disseminate intolerance gives out a veneer of acceptability” and send out an implication that their academic respect is given to racially, culturally, and politically intolerable views.
The society then linked such negative connotation of platforming to the importance of the student-led action standing up against bigotry and intolerance. Marxist Society has assessed the recent Kent Union’s response to the situation as “seemingly well-intentioned but entirely superficial”. They said that Kent Union’s action taken upon accommodating an inappropriate speaker on campus has set an “example to other student unions on how not to rise to the occasion”, and that the body “should take a stronger stance in opposing the presence of far right speakers to the university’s administration”. Emphasising the rather lukewarm and ineffective response of the student representation, the society suggested the Union to “coordinate an organised and peaceful opposition if not flat-out ban talks of these nature” in future occasions. The society added saying, “The union is capitulating to the will of administrators. This represents a failure of the union and surrender to the very intolerance it has a mandate to oppose. This is not the best Kent Union could do, but let it be a lesson to all student unions; next time the far right come knocking, open the door, and tell them to go away.”
UKC Feminist Society
In interview with Editor-in-Chief Molly Hope
UKC Feminist Society is one of the student groups that have expressed their concerns very initially along with multiple student/non-student communities in Kent including UKC Jewish Society and Kent Anti-Racism network. They have recognised Benjamin as threat to specifically women, Muslims, Jews, and other minor identities. The society referred to Benjamin’s previous renditions such as his “GamerGate harassment campaign that targeted women, particularly women of colour”, and his “anti-Semitic conspiracy theories”. Because the figure stands at the forefront of emerging bond between the far-right and social media platforms like Youtube, the society conveyed its concern over the figure spreading controversial and politically ‘incorrect’ ideas to “young and mostly undiscerning audience”.
The Feminist Society has stressed the difference between free speech and right to platform, and highlighted there’s a responsibility to any discourse, or any idea that people ‘choose’ to platform. Liberty Union ultimately holds the responsibility to Benjamin’s words being delivered on campus, because people are held accountable of “who [they] invite on [their] platform while they are inviting the speaker down to a potentially wider audience”, says Feminist Society. They have also mentioned that Liberty Union neglects their responsibility to comply with making the campus a safe space for all students regardless of their identities. The society believes Liberty Union’s decision to invite Benjamin Is “completely reductive and they remove any sense of care from their decisions”. They further mentioned this event does not take Jewish students into account considering the recent painting of Neo-Nazi graffiti on campus and inviting an “anti-Semite who holds the same view point as what was up there on the wall of Eliot”. The society believes in freedom of speech, and that a good balance of left- and right-wing opinions is healthy; however, hate speech cannot be protected under the value of free speech because they are threatening and simply “cannot be tolerated within the law”.
The society has lastly condemned Kent Union’s response as they believed they seemed to be “more worried about protecting their image than protecting welfare of the students” and the University itself not being responsive to valid concerns expressed by the students.