“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty told Alice in Through the Looking Glass, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
What does “alt-right” mean? Some pupils at Simon Langton Grammar School in Canterbury, Kent were hoping to thrash it out with an old boy of the school, Milo Yiannopoulos, a leader of the “movement”.
But now they can’t as his invitation to speak has been withdrawn.
UK Education Department Counter-Extremism Unit blocks Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking at his old high school. https://t.co/RCEbm8U56v
— Stefan Molyneux (@StefanMolyneux) November 21, 2016
I suspect that Yiannopoulos is delighted. Part of his case against political correctness is how it encourages women and minority groups to wallow in victimhood. But he is quite canny at playing the victim card himself. He has proven adept at provoking a reaction from his critics that gives his views a frisson of excitement.
Predictably, the young will find forbidden fruits attractive. Doubtless the boys at Simon Langton will be furtively logging on to Breitbart News where Yiannopoulos’s pronouncements are published. That will be the natural response to being told they are not allowed to hear his opinions.
So far as I can gather, Yiannopoulos would not have been likely to advocate violence or incite hatred. Some of the “alt-right” supporters may well be racist or anti-semitic. There isn’t an organisation called the “alt-right” with a list of policies or a membership sub. However, the man who apparently coined the term, Richard Spencer, is a white supremacist. His “think tank” the National Policy Institute is
“dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States.”
Holy crap. The British government's Department of Education has shut down a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos. https://t.co/njGawzp3ED
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) November 21, 2016
Still, while Yiannopoulos might be in bad company, I’m not aware that he has espoused the cause of racial superiority. What does seem clear is that he is deeply hostile to Islam – not just Islamic fundamentalism but the entire religion. It follows that Muslims will find his views deeply offensive – all the more reason why the articulate and well-informed boys at the Simon Langton Grammar School should have been allowed to challenge him over his interpretation of the Koran.
Yiannopoulos will also use the technique of making some offensive comment and then when challenged to justify it say he was only joking or only saying it was to provoke. A top tip for Milo if he doesn’t want to be thought of a racist would be to desist from telling racist jokes. Another would be not to hang out with white nationalists.
Yet freedom of speech has no meaning unless it is extended to those with opinions that others find deeply offensive.
Milo is on a UK government "extremist" list as a gay man who criticizes Islam.
Let that sink in.https://t.co/R93PdYruDT
— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) November 21, 2016
It is clear that someone from the Department for Education’s counter extremism unit rang the school’s headmaster Matthew Baxter. We don’t know what was said. The Department’s spokesman told Heat Street that it was “a matter of routine to check they had considered any potential issues.”
That suggested that Yiannopoulos hadn’t been banned – and that the school was being rather feeble in cancelling the event. We don’t know how much pressure the Department placed on the school. But it would have been better if the call hadn’t been made at all.
At least the saga will prepare Simon Langton’s pupils on what to expect if they go on to university: a world of “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” where the range of thoughts they are exposed to are carefully filtered and sanitised.
Freedom of religion is of vital importance. If Yiannopoulos is seeking to deny that to Muslims, his view should be challenged. But you don’t uphold the freedom to worship by denying freedom of speech. No platform for Milo has given him acres of publicity and thus a huge boost. But it has been a depressing example of our retreat in this country from robust, self-confident open debate.