There seems plenty of room for debate as to exactly what limits should be placed on free speech, and how far the context of that speech (personal blog, workplace, newspaper, YouTube) might determine where we set the bar. I sympathise with the way Student Rights articulates this difficulty:
Here at Student Rights we are reluctant to call for speakers to be barred from campuses, as the right to freedom of expression should be extended even to those whose views we find offensive.
I expect most people will agree that the University of Derby was setting the bar way too low when they no platformed a UKIP representative recently. UKIP is a populist, right wing party, with some decidedly unpleasant elements:
At various points, Ukip elites have voiced concern over Muslim “breeding”, party organisers have referred to “Muslim nutters”; UKIP candidates have described Islam as “degenerate”, suggested Britain forcibly repatriate Muslims and endorsed Wilders’ description of Islam as a “retarded ideology”.
But these unpleasant views are not official policy, and it seems unreasonable that UKIP’s David Gale, who seems to have no form on these issues, should be banned from speaking. As a disgruntled UKIP supporter put it: “If you are going to behave in this way, why don’t you just decide which candidate you’d like to be elected and just invite them?”
By contrast, it looks as though a planned talk at Brunel University, given by Abu Usamah At-Thahabi is to go ahead. Thahabi has expressed his disdain for the ‘Kuffar’, asserted that homosexuals (whom he refers as to ‘perverted, dirty, filthy dogs’) should be thrown off a mountain, and called for the death penalty for apostates in an Islamic state.
Student Rights, while asserting the importance of freedom of speech, concludes:
[U]niversities have a duty of care to their students, and providing a platform for an individual whose beliefs will threaten and intimidate a significant part of the student population should not be tolerated.
We will be calling on Brunel University to review its decision to allow Thahabi to speak, and we would hope that should this event go ahead, it will be monitored by a member of staff to ensure that there is no opportunity for hate speech to be spread.
That seems a very reasonable request. Whether one is more or less libertarian on these matters, controversial speakers should at least be treated consistently. I hope, if this talk goes ahead, that students will protest his presence in the same way they would a BNP speaker. It’s worth noting that Warwick University’s Islamic Society cancelled a recent talk by Thahabi, and informed Student Rights that they ‘would not have invited him to talk at the University of Warwick at all’ if they had known his views beforehand.