Written by Student Rights on 26 October 2012 at 7pm

Student Rights debate on freedom of speech at King's College London

Last night Student Rights Researcher Rupert Sutton took part in a panel debate at King’s College London (KCLorganised by the KCL Ahlul Bayt Society

On the subject of freedom of speech, the debate panel also included Abdullah Al-Andalusi of the Muslim Debate Initiative and Miqdaad Versi, a community activist and writer.

A good-natured discussion with some excellent engagement from students in the audience, the debate covered a number of topics including extremism on university campuses, perceived bias in the media, the politicisation of religion, the role of the Muslim community, and even terrorism.

Rupert Sutton focused on the fact that, as a counter-extremism campaigner, it would be hypocritical to argue for absolute freedom of speech, and that inciting hatred or attacking the rights of others should be restricted, particularly on university campuses.

However, he also pointed out that whilst the personal rights of religious adherents should be respected and protected, religions themselves should not be excused from satire, and that people do not have the right to impose their religious sensibilities on others.

He finished by suggesting that the main issue was that of common decency, and that this should dictate how we go about dealing with contentious issues related to freedom of expression.

In response, Abdullah Al-Andalusi argued that unrestricted freedom to express an intellectual opinion, regardless of how abhorrent, should be granted to everyone, and highlighted his own attempts to engage even the English Defence League leader Stephen Lennon in debate.

Despite his support for this though, he did also state that no-one should have the right to insult others or their beliefs in a gratuitous manner, as insult has no academic or intellectual purpose and only entrenches differences.

Miqdaad Versi approached the issue from a similar angle, but had the misfortune to speak last and find that much of his points had been covered by the previous speakers; particularly on the issue that there should be red-lines of what is acceptable speech. 

He therefore focused his argument on dealing with a perceived double standard that he felt exists, which allows insult of Muslims and their beliefs but not insult of other faiths or minority groups.

At Student Rights we feel that engaging in debate in this way is key, and that events such as this should be commended for opening up dialogue and encouraging pluralism. Extremism on UK campuses is still a serious issue that needs to be challenged, but it is only right that when events are done in the right way, as this one was, that it should be highlighted.