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Image courtesy of UKC Student Solidarity in Action/ Facebook
Last Thursday a quote attributed libertarian socialist Noam Chomsky was printed on stickers and placed across campus: “Freedom of speech is worthless without freedom to offend.” There is no source, but Chomsky made a similar statement in a 1992 BBC interview. The point is a simple yet effective call to open-mindedness. The problem is that the group advertising their social media accounts below the quote are fascists.
The Hundred Handers describe themselves as ‘an entirely anonymous international network of activists, each one a printing press in their own right.’ They spread slogans such as ‘They have to go back’, ‘Nationalism is nurture’ and ‘We will be a minority in OUR homeland by 2066!’ I must have missed the memo telling us to all to be insecure wimps lacking in the most basic human decency and seems everyone at Kent did too. Students here are liberal, left-leaning individuals who elected a Labour candidate in the largest Tory landslide of our lifetimes.
I’m not worried about such blatantly offensive messages that everyone will condemn. When we openly condemn an innocuous quote about free speech however, we make ourselves look like the bad guys. I applaud UKC Student Solidarity in Action’s antifascist mission, but their Facebook post about this incident, which compares the members of the now defunct Liberty Union to the Christchurch shooter, is inaccurate and will hinder their cause.
We at Kent are not dealing with Fascist violence, we are dealing with Fascist anti-intellectualism. To be effective anti-fascists we must understand the difference and respond appropriately.
Fascism’s anti-intellectualism is anti- the liberal establishment. They want to be seen as the underdogs. They don’t gain support by making outrageous claims, they do so by twisting words of those who oppose them. If we were in Hungary, where prime minister Victor Orban openly condemns liberalism, I would support an open retaliation. But I’m not worried about fascists at the UKC; I’m worried that over-reactions to cretins with printers will escalate tensions unnecessarily. Fuelling the fascist’s propaganda machine in this way helps them get off the ground, and that’s the last thing we want to do.
The antifascist mission here is not big and political, it’s finicky and social. The best way to fight fascist propaganda is with decorum, not alarmism. When the fascists rile people up over trivialities, they gain sympathy and support. Martin Luther King Jr once said that “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend”; that concept is key to bringing about positive social change. I don’t see the so-called ‘fascists’ at Kent as any threat. I feel sorry for them. It’s sad that anyone feels the need to adopt an ideology of hate, it betrays a lack of love in their lives. They don’t need to be antagonised, that’s what they want. They need friends and hobbies.
It’s easy to hit back, but it takes real courage to be kind. For Dr King it meant death. For us it means trading alarmism for openness. All things considered, we’ve got it easy; we combat fascism by choosing not to feed their propaganda machine.