Irony knows no limits

Submitted by AWL on 3 February, 2015 - 5:02 Author: Vincent Jaques

Manchester University's Free Speech and Secular Society were prevented from displaying Charlie Hebdo at their stall during a societies fair on 27 January.

Irony knows no limits. A representative of the group said they wanted to print copies of the cover following the massacre in order to show support for the murdered journalists right to free expression. They also stated that they did not necessarily agree with all the content of Charlie Hebdo, but wanted to defend the principle of freedom of publication.

Manchester Students' Union censored the magazine on the grounds that the cover could be potentially offensive to Muslim students. The Union General Secretary, Charlie Cook, explained that the move was in line with their Safe Space policy, and defended it in terms of her responsibility to represent students of Muslim background. 

The context here is a spiralling culture of bans in response to political issues in Students' Unions (various SUs have banned the SWP and The Sun etc.). But bans are both inadequate and dangerous as a response: the ban approach undermines political freedoms; and are a bureaucratic attempt to deal with issues which are inherently political.

Officers often cite the need to protect all students, especially vulnerable minorities. Their approach is inconsistent — what about the offence caused by UKIP or the Conservatives? And, more importantly, this does little to challenge the causes of racism and sexism.

We need to continue to develop a culture of militant feminist and antiracist grassroots campaigning, while practising political freedom on our campuses.

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