Students at the school where Milo Yiannopoulos was due to give a talk before it was shut down by the British Government have hit back in an open letter.
Sixth-form pupils at Simon Langton Grammar School in Kent (pictured above) have told Government counter-extremism experts who nixed the event that they “do not need to be protected” and can make up their own minds.
Disappointed pupils, aged 17 and 18, circulated an open letter to media including Heat Street which dubs the Department for Education’s censors “no better than the authoritarians that our liberal democratic society despises.”
The letter, reproduced in full below, also laments that they were denied the chance to challenge Milo “with reason and civil debate rather than hysterics and
Explaining the letter to Heat Street, Simon Langton head boy Charlie Mower said: “A lot of us are unhappy and think this is a missed opportunity to challenge him.
“We had 220 people coming – only about ten would have supported what he said.
“A lot of people hate this man. But they were still prepared to come along to listen – we had pre-prepared questions and wanted to force him into an intellectual corner and challenge him.”
A spokesman for the DfE repeatedly refused to explain exactly why they pressured the school into shutting down the event, only citing non-specific “concerns” raised by local people.
In another example of the Streisand Effect that follows Yiannopoulos wherever he goes, news of the ban yesterday garnered enormous media attention.
After Heat Street noticed the story in local media and confirmed it with Yiannopoulos, most of the British national press weighed in.
The Daily Telegraph and The Times of London both ran front-page stories on the ban, while the Times called the decision a “mistake”, a “blow to free speech” and “disappointing” in an editorial on the subject.
And the Telegraph https://t.co/WgQZmEXIJE
— Kieran Corcoran (@kj_corcoran) November 21, 2016
In response to the flurry of interest, Milo hailed the “national astonishment” surrounding the story, praised students at his old school and promised “more to come”.
Heat Street passed on the letter to the Department for Education, which declined to comment.
Here is the students’ letter in full:
An open letter to the wider community
In light of the cancellation of the Milo Yiannopoulos talk, we – as the students of Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys (mixed in its 500-strong Sixth Form) – respond as follows:
Our goal is not to support Milo, but to pursue the truth and interrogate rhetoric.
What we wanted from the talk was to hear all opinions, whether they are for or against Milo, and to leave with a greater understanding of his politics and the political movement he represents.
If we do not, as a society, give the unpopular opinions a chance to be expressed, we are no better than the authoritarians that our liberal democratic society despises.
We are capable of analysing an argument and we do not need to be protected from so-called ‘indoctrination’. The majority of us have been exposed to Milo’s content before, and are well aware of the incendiary nature of his work.
We wished to examine the issues behind the rhetoric and gain a deeper understanding of them. Students had formulated complicated questions to ask (as listed below), many of which directly confronted his views. As you will find, these questions are cogent and incisive.
At a time when undergraduates from the UK and the US have consistently protested and banned Milo, the Sixth Form students of our institution sought to host an event where his arguments could be laid out in the open, to stand or fall on their own merits, and to be challenged with reason and civil debate rather than hysterics and censorship.
The young men and women of our Sixth Form have been implicitly and explicitly told by outsiders that we are at risk from mere political ideas.
By doing this, not only are we more driven to prove our intellectual maturity, but the disengagement of 16-18 year olds and young people from politics is more entrenched, despite a concerted effort by successive governments to be more inclusive of young people in the political discourse.
It is our understanding that the decision to cancel the event was taken so as to ensure the safety of students. We recognise that the Department of Education have a duty of care, and that our school would have only taken this measure if the threat to our personal safety was credible.
The students of our sixth form are further alarmed that external individuals and groups with no affiliation to the school have been able to stifle the intellectual process.
It is not right that people outside of our community should dictate our activities. By attempting to silence him, those who disagree with Milo have vindicated him by giving him national press coverage and reinforcing his accusation that our society is against free speech.
Varied and controversial speakers are not alien to our sixth form. From Natalie Bennet and Douglas Carswell to Orlando Figes and A.C. Grayling, free marketeers to out-and-out Stalinists, we have invited individuals with a myriad of opinions on a range of issues to speak and debate with our students.
At no point have these events been mandatory. As such, it is not for anyone but ourselves to say whether or not we can handle having our own convictions challenged.
Questions students had prepared for Milo:
1) Given the provocative persona that you often adopt to convey your message, do you think that the underlying message of your politics is lost when it might have otherwise been taken seriously?
2) What is the future for left-wing student activism in the Trump era?
3) The Trump supporter and ‘men’s rights activist’ Daryush Valizadeh, known online as “Roosh V”, has begun a campaign for the legalisation of rape on all private property in America. He explicitly awards his confidence to Donald Trump’s election, saying that Trump’s ‘presence automatically legitimises masculine behaviours that were previously labelled sexist or misogynistic’. Do you agree that rape is an unacceptable evil that must be stamped out? If so, will you now, on record, condemn this campaign and, furthermore, will you now call on President-Elect Trump to publicly and officially do the same?
4) If Bernie Sanders were elected as the Democrat candidate, how do you think the Trump campaign would have had to respond? Would the Trump campaign have had as much success as it did without Hillary Clinton as opposition?
5) You are a strong supporter of freedom of speech as a mechanism to empower “good” ideas, and discredit “bad” ideas in a free, unregulated “marketplace of ideas”. Considering this, do you not fin d it inconsistent to support authoritarian state action in regards to Islam (banning Muslim immigration, mosque surveillance etc.) – as under your own terms – free speech and free debate would expose and weaken Islam without the need for direct state action?
6) Can Modern Feminism rightly defend the tenets of Islam given its more conservative objection to women’s rights?
7) Why are you in denial of the existence of climate change when there is overwhelming evidence in support of it? The warmest 10 years have been in the last 12 years and 93% of the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached as a result of increased ocean acidification due to the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere.
Signed by 221 Langton students