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Feminist author and socialist Katherine Connelly on why liberation campaigners must oppose an NUS motion to bar Tony Benn from student platforms

Leading anti-war campaigner and socialist Tony Benn will be ‘no platformed’ like Tommy Robinson of the racist EDL and Nick Griffin of the fascist BNP if a motion to the National Union of Students gets passed this week. If local student unions follow the national union then Tony Benn may be refused a platform in any student union in the country.

Refusing to allow fascists a platform has long been the policy of the left and the student movement. But in a remarkably ill-thought out move the National Executive of NUS is about to apply the same policy to Tony Benn and Respect MP George Galloway.

The reasons given for this unusual step are comments they made about the charge that Wikileaks whistleblower Julian Assange raped two women in Sweden. The motion states that Galloway ‘referred to a man inserting his penis into a sleeping woman as, “bad sexual etiquette’ and that Tony Benn said of the Assange case, “the charges are that it was a non-consensual relationship. Well that’s very different from rape”.’

Tony Benn has since, at the request of Goldsmith Students Union, of which he is the honoury president, retracted his remarks, apologised and restated his life-long commitment to women’s liberation. But still the NUS is persisting with its resolution.

The comments in both Galloway’s and Benn’s cases are of course wrong.  It is wrong to state that non-consensual sex is not rape, and it was wrong to try to defend Assange from extradition by dismissing the claims of the women involved.

But beyond this, there is a fundamental problem by responding to these comments by trying to no platform Benn and Galloway. 'No platform' is an exceptional position that the Left has typically campaigned for Unions and other organisations to adopt in the fight against Fascism.

It is an unprecedented departure from the left’s defence of freedom of speech on the grounds that there can be no free speech for those who would deny such freedoms to others. There can be no democracy for those who would use genocide and extermination to end democracy.

These conditions clearly do not apply in this case. It is the exceptional danger posed by Fascism that prompted the tactic of no platform to be applied exclusively to fascists.  To apply it indiscriminately to other political views we oppose means fascists cannot be isolated by the no platform policy as an exceptional threat.

Backward ideas about rape are profoundly upsetting and damaging to the fight against women’s oppression.  However, the prevalence of these ideas (which the motion acknowledges) points to the fact that they stem from the sexist society in which we live.  Therefore it is within society that we have to fight these ideas.

Surely it is much better to have Tony Benn, a figure that many people look up to as an inspiration, apologise and restate his commitment to women’s liberation as he has done, than to let damaging remarks remain unretracted where they can continue to damage and distract our movement.  This is a fight we can win – we can change people’s minds, we can challenge sexism in our movement.

Astoundingly, if the writers of the motion genuinely believe these remarks have put Benn and Galloway beyond the pale, then there are a lot of people missing who should be named in this motion.

While the motion makes brief reference to Roger Helmer (UKIP MEP) and Andrew Brons (an MEP for the fascist BNP and a former leader of the fascist National Front), why are the members of the Coalition government who are overseeing massive cuts to rape crisis and domestic violence services not in this motion?

Why not the whole of the Cambridge Union Society who invited Dominique Strauss-Kahn to speak there earlier this year?  Why not those government ministers whose refusal to demand that Assange will not be extradited from Sweden to the US is effectively prolonging the injustice to the women involved?  All these people have gone far further than to make an offensive remark.

What’s more, the NUS would not dream of no platforming war criminal Tony Blair. And the NUS quite regularly opens its platforms to Zionists. In this context the attempt to no platform Tony Benn and Galloway looks absurd.

And why is the NUS, which has let its members down so badly over the fight against fees and cuts, not organising against the closure of rape crisis centres? Where are the leaflets, the posters, the protests, the pickets and the demos?

Tony Benn was a wholehearted supporter of the student movement of 2010. Which is more than the NUS executive can claim. It would be better if the NUS spent less time either censuring or no platforming Tony Benn and George Galloway and more time actually defending its members.

Comments   

 
#1 RE: NUS vs Tony Benn: when to say no to ‘No Platform’Tom 2012-09-25 13:51
When it's explained that Benn apologised fully conference might amend the no platform motion to withdraw his name. Galloway faces greater risk. Socialists should approach him and ask him to clarify what he said and offer a full apology. I think it is arrogance that has stopped him listeninng to critics. He needs to be made aware of how serious this is, for his own good. Galloway gave the impression that one partner could unilaterally determine when both had entered the sex game. That's nonsense. Having said that, an interpretation could be placed on his words that is not the one most assume. What Galloway said has been taken as evidence he justifies rape. However, what he said is not so outrageous if we limit its meaning to what two people agree to. If both accept Galloway's idea of the sex game, then who are we to tell them this is beyond the pale. Galloway seems to think that his attitude is the majority one. It's not. But I know for a fact, from personal experience, that relationships exist like the one he seems to be describing. What Galloway needs to do is accept that these are not that common, and most of us don't give permission to be penetrated while we are unconscious.
 
 
#2 RE: NUS vs Tony Benn: when to say no to ‘No Platform’Sue 2012-09-25 13:52
I read the statements from the women concerned and actually it wasnt even "non consensual sex"? It was consensual from the point that the lady awoke (and the inference was that this was quite quickly)and decided something along the lines of ----- might as well carry on then? My view is that the waters here are muddy and the NUS need to be careful. I'd also like to say that sometimes it is hard to phrase things the way we mean to. I have heard of some violent, terrifying rapes and this is what most people think of as soon as the "rape" word is used. Therefore there are many people who probably think that Julian Assange is accused of something similar and to my mind this was the intent.
 
 
#3 RE: NUS vs Tony Benn: when to say no to ‘No Platform’Sandra 2012-09-25 15:54
I agree with Sue that what is or is not rape can in some circumstances be a very muddy area and you certainly cannot clarify it or persuade people to change their opinions without being free to debate. Freedom of speach is very precious and we deny it to fascists because they deny it to others and will use violence instead of debate whenever they are powerful enough to do so.
 
 
#4 RE: NUS vs Tony Benn: when to say no to ‘No Platform’James 2012-09-25 16:06
There is nothing 'muddy' about what is or is not rape: no means no. That's not the point here.

The point is that to respond to these comments on rape with no platform - banning speakers from public platforms - is the wrong thing to do and weakens the fight against these ideas.
 
 
#5 RE: NUS vs Tony Benn: when to say no to ‘No Platform’Tom 2012-09-25 16:18
Galloway has allowed himself to be turned into a hate figure. I think it's important to save him from himself. One of the reasons I think we have to do this is because

he intends to use parliament to help accelerate the end of British soldiers dying for a lost cause, one which sacrifices British lives to prop up a corrupt dictator

who legalizes rape within marriage. That point should be put to NUS conference to expose how ludicrous and hypocritical the no-platforming of him is. Galloway isn't

beyond the pale, but he has screwed up big-time. I don't think the way to defend him is by downplaying what he got wrong. The reality is that no does means no, and

there is no ambiguity on that as far as democrats are concerned. Galloway seemed to imply that if the lack of a no was due to a rape victim being unconscious, that's

an acceptable loophole. But it's not. Without permission, you are in trouble. You are a rapist. Everyone who wants to defend Galloway from the mess he's got himself

into must concede this point, and persuade him to join us in this. The NUS and others want to make this an issue because rape victims are not believed. Galloway has to

accept why what he said was so wrong. I think we can persuade him.
 
 
#6 RE: NUS vs Tony Benn: when to say no to ‘No Platform’Sue 2012-09-25 16:22
Hi James. The muddy part creeps in because no one said "no" in this case. I expect that Tony Benn will have read the same stuff I have and been as confused as I am. One lady is accusing him of damaging a condom deliberately but she didnt keep it as evidence and didnt actually examine it herself at the time. Another is saying that she awoke as the sex act was getting started but kind of thought she may as well let it carry on. This is what I call "muddy waters" concerning "rape".
 
 
#7 RE: NUS vs Tony Benn: when to say no to ‘No Platform’Paul Hanes 2012-09-25 19:03
Thanks to Sue above for providing some reasonable rational questioning of the situation which the left has forgone in favor of hysteria on this matter. In fact if the left bothered to read more on the matter they would realise that to say that Assange has been accused of anything in the absence of a signed statement by either of the victims makes this the most unusual police investigation of all time. Instead the courts allowed a foreign government to have an extradition warrant upheld on an account by a police officer of the conversation she had with the victims who had approached her for advice on compelling Assange to have a std test to put their minds at ease after unprotected sex. One of the women has also expressed her suprise that the police were targeting Assange for Rap saying nothing that he did was violent in any way. Read (this will take more than 5 minutes) his Legal briefs full statement to Australian MP's here http://wlcentral.org/node/1418
 
 
#8 Benn is not going to be No PlatformedKate Harris 2012-09-25 21:40
This article is factually inaccurate.
Because of his retraction, Benn was removed from the list of people to be No Platformed.

In my view, though, his 'apology' was not enough. He has hurt many people with his remarks and has barely done anything to address it. He was asked to write a retraction by Goldsmiths.

I am completely disgusted by his comments and the disrespect he's shown to rape victims, as any socialist should be.
 
 
#9 RE: NUS vs Tony Benn: when to say no to ‘No Platform’James 2012-09-26 08:34
Kate: the article was accurate when it was written, and when it was published: there was a motion presented to NUS NEC to no platform Tony Benn. It's good that this has been withdrawn.

But this misses the wider point. The comments from Benn and Galloway were wrong and damaging. That does not mean that no platform is the correct response to either, as Katherine argues.
 
 
#10 Witch-huntIan 2012-09-26 08:42
This is a feeble response to an anti-left witchhunt. That is what it is. Galloway did not in any sense condone rape by any definition, and I hope he takes legal action against anyone who says he did. He said that Assange is being framed, which is quite clearly what is happening.

There is nothing else to say about this. Any attempt to 'no platform' long established left figures like Benn and Galloway should be met with a counter-campaign to 'no platform' the people responsible.

An anti-left witchhunt is an anti-left witchhunt even if it is dressed up in phoney language about women's rights. Just as an imperialist war in Afghanistan is an imperialist war even if Blair and Bush etc talk about waging war for women's rights. Same old reactionary crap.
 
 
#11 RE: NUS vs Tony Benn: when to say no to ‘No Platform’Ian 2012-09-26 09:15
Quoting Tom:
Galloway seemed to imply that if the lack of a no was due to a rape victim being unconscious, that's an acceptable loophole.


He said nothing of the sort. He was talking about the common situation when someone (who can be of either sex or in a gay or straight relationship, for that matter) initiates a further sexual act after a previous one when one partner is initially asleep, which then carries on as they awake.

All kinds of people, in all kinds of relationships, do this from time to time.

The allegation that he condoned sex without consent with someone who is unconscious is an utter. malicious invention. I have watched his video remarks several times and he said nothing of the kind.
 
 
#12 RE: NUS vs Tony Benn: when to say no to ‘No Platform’Sue 2012-09-26 10:18
Ian I agree with you. The difficulty is that a lot of the people getting hot under the collar re people supposedly condoning rape have not read all statements by all parties in their entirety. A "moral panic" has been created, deliberately in my view, to attack Assange and now Galloway also.
 
 
#13 RE: NUS vs Tony Benn: when to say no to ‘No Platform’Ian 2012-09-26 10:54
Quoting Ian:

Fine. Except you cannot contradict a single factual point that you make.


That I make, obviously.
 
 
#14 RE: NUS vs Tony Benn: when to say no to ‘No Platform’Ian 2012-09-26 11:22
Quoting Sue:
Ian I agree with you. The difficulty is that a lot of the people getting hot under the collar re people supposedly condoning rape have not read all statements by all parties in their entirety. A "moral panic" has been created, deliberately in my view, to attack Assange and now Galloway also.


Seems to me that Benn was talking nonsense (which to be fair,he often does these days on lots of things), and does not (or did not) understand the Assange case.

But Galloway clearly has read the material and there was nothing wrong with what he said. In no way did Galloway imply that it is ok to have sex with an unconscious person; no one has accused Assange of this either. Even the statement of the second supposed accuser, which was never signed by this woman and appears to have been written by a policewoman, not her, despite the spin that has been put on it, there is no suggestion that the supposed victim was unconscious or insensible and did not consent to any of the sexual activities described.
 
 
#15 RE: NUS vs Tony Benn: when to say no to ‘No Platform’Tom 2012-09-26 16:48
We need to examine the political positions of those who have denied George Galloway a platform amongst students. Are these supporters of Labour or Lib Dems who didn't like Galloway defeating their candidates in Bradford West because of the support of students on tuition fees etc? Do they deny a platform to those who send British soldiers to be blown to bits while killing Afghans, and propping up a corrupt dictator who legalises rape in marriage? These people need to be exposed as hypocrites.
 
 
#16 RE: NUS vs Tony Benn: when to say no to ‘No Platform’J 2012-09-26 17:53
Have Tony or George retracted their statements and offered full, remorseful apologies?

Because until that happens, and this pains me, I cannot endorse giving them a platform. This is not the same of taking away their ability to speak, it is simply not giving them a hand to do it.
 
 
#17 RE: NUS vs Tony Benn: when to say no to ‘No Platform’Tom 2012-09-26 18:22
Quoting J:
Have Tony or George retracted their statements and offered full, remorseful apologies?

Because until that happens, and this pains me, I cannot endorse giving them a platform. This is not the same of taking away their ability to speak, it is simply not giving them a hand to do it.


Yes, they have. Why are you ignorant of that fact. The NUS NEC majority have thrown away any credibility. They don't like the fact Galloway exploited the unpopularity of Labour and Lib Dems over tuition fees. They want to prostrate themselves before those who send British soldiers to kill and die in Afghanistan to prop up a corrupt dictator who supports rape within marriage.
 
 
#18 RE: NUS vs Tony Benn: when to say no to ‘No Platform’Ian 2012-09-26 20:12
Quoting Tom:
[quote name="J"]Ha, they have. Why are you ignorant of that fact.


I think you will find that George Galloway has not retracted anything. All he did is clarify further what he meant to remove any possible misunderstanding.

He has nothing to retract, since the allegations that he said anything wrong were at best based on misunderstanding, and at worst utterly malicious.
 
 
#19 RE: NUS vs Tony Benn: when to say no to ‘No Platform’tom 2012-09-26 21:13
Quoting Ian:
Quoting Tom:
[quote name="J"]Ha, they have. Why are you ignorant of that fact.


I think you will find that George Galloway has not retracted anything. All he did is clarify further what he meant to remove any possible misunderstanding.

He has nothing to retract, since the allegations that he said anything wrong were at best based on misunderstanding, and at worst utterly malicious.

I agree with you that there has been misunderstanding and maliciousness. I do not believe he is guilty of what he's been charged with by the NUS NEC majority and many others. I believe the email proves this. However, I do think Galloway could have cleared things up a long time ago, and had he done this he wouldn't have lost Salma Yaqoob.What Galloway said was open to two interpretations. When this was obvious, he should have simply clarified the situation. He has done that today, via his office, but so much damage was done by malicious people that it's hard to expose the maliciousness. I think it can be done by Galloway going just a little bit further. All he has to do is accept that he allowed himself to be misunderstood. That is not to be a rape apologist, but it is to accept he got it wrong. A maya culpa would help him, and all of us who want to make the malicious elements eat their words, and get the NUS NEC nonsense reversed asap.
 

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