NUS’ londgstanding policy of ‘No Platform’ has come under fire following allegedly anti-Semitics comments made by its new leader

 

The NUS (National Union of Students), in recent weeks, has received a lot of criticism about its recent actions. Firstly, being elected as the President of the organisation, Malia Bouattia, who, despite being the first ever black Muslim female leader, something which should be commended, came under pressure after reportedly making anti-Semitic comments. Secondly, with the organisation having had the policy since 1972, 54 per cent of students who were asked said that the NUS was right to have a ‘No Platform’ policy. This is a policy which allows the NUS and individual universities to ban individuals or organisations from speaking on student union premises.

While controversial, the policy helps, in certain situations, filter those who may be seen as extreme or strongly offensive out of the NUS conversation. Despite the criticism, the overall list only includes six organisations. These are the English Defence League; Al-Muhajiroun; the British National Party; Hizb-ut-Tahrir; the Muslim Public Affairs Committee and National Action. Having done research into the aims and intentions of the organisations listed, with the exception of possibly the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, it is entirely justifiable to ban them from speaking on student union premises or NUS events.

On the other hand, it is not entirely unreasonable to make the suggestion that the policy has its flaws. In early 2016, student members of the NUS came under criticism and rightly so, for trying to No Platform ‘Hope Not Hate’, a campaign which works towards stamping out racism and fascism.

While I see that the policy has its advantages and disadvantages, for the most part, it is down to individual student unions to decide if it is necessary to No Platform certain individuals and organisations. This, while possibly being controversial, gives universities the opportunity, especially now, to rid their institutions of any onset of extremism or extremist behaviour. Of course, this might depend on your definition of ‘extremist behaviour’.

The opposing argument is that the policy itself limits one of our basic human rights: free speech. Unfortunately, anyone who tries to argue against this hasn’t really got a leg to stand on. However, with careful consideration, the policy can be implemented without limiting the voices of students who genuinely want to make a positive change. While both sides of any argument should be heard, there are limits to what many would deem appropriate in the setting of student unions. Certainly, terrorist groups, such as the two that are already on the NUS No Platform list, have no place in a university or a student union.

On the other hand, there is, with any decision made by a student union, a certain level of tolerance towards minority views that we have to have. It is my position that unless the individual is deemed dangerous to students or student debate, there is no reason to No Platform an organisation or individual. Minority views are something we should embrace in order to help widen the conversation about students and their issues. After all, we live in a democracy. It would be hypocritical for me to suggest banning a certain politician just because they don’t have the same views as myself.

My point is that NUS’ policy shouldn’t limit our right to free speech or democracy, but where I do think it becomes appropriate to implement is in situations where the individual or organisation in question may endanger the student voice or the students themselves.

One pressing concern with the No Platform policy though, especially with the new NUS President, is that though it can protect the NUS from extremist or inappropriate views coming from outside the organisation, it cannot do the same for those existing within its ranks. While I’m not suggesting that the NUS  should No Platform their own President, it is definitely hypocritical of the organisation to vote in a president with what some may call inappropriate views and then vote to keep their No Platform policy.

Nevertheless, it is progress to see the organisation voting in their first ever black female Muslim president.

Taking everything into account, while there are flaws, I think that the policy is a good way of protecting students and student democracy from corruption and extremism. As mentioned earlier, the policy is nothing new and up until this year, hasn’t seemed to have caused much controversy. One reassuring thing is that while it might at times come under question, it needs the backing of many students to successfully No Platform a person or organisation. It is good to see that, at least with these safeguards, there is more opportunity for the policy to be used in the right way.