Bahar Mustafa is wrong, but should be allowed to speak

By Jasper Cox

Bahar Mustafa, former welfare and diversity officer for Goldsmith University, gained notoriety in the public eye for a hashtag she allegedly used: #killallwhitemen.

Mustafa defends herself by claiming she could not be sexist or racist. She said “racism and sexism describe structures of privilege based on race and gender and therefore women of colour and minority genders cannot be racist or sexist, since we do not stand to benefit from such a system.”

Yet this is a disingenuous argument. Sexism and racism are systematic, with women and ethnic minorities as overwhelming losers, but that does not mean it is always one way, or that men and white people do not suffer as well.

Her binary approach to race and racism – where you are either a white perpetrator or a person of colour who is a victim – ignores the diversity of society. What about antisemitism against white Jews? Or xenophobia directed at Eastern Europeans? Meanwhile, gender stereotyping fails everyone: for example, high male suicide rates for men have been linked to concepts of masculinity preventing men from speaking out about depression.

Her binary approach to race and racism ignores the diversity of society

I write this as a white male: these simple two facts mean I have an easier time in life, and make it harder to see the structural discrimination others face. All the same, I find it hard to understand the benefits of excluding so-called privileged groups from debate, as Mustafa has tried to do, based on their gender or skin colour, under the pretext that people are only qualified to talk about issues that directly affect them.

It reinforces barriers and represents a massive generalisation of what it means to be a person of colour or a woman, suggesting all share a common experience of persecution that others do not. It stops others from joining your side: from a simple marketing point of view, saying vast swathes of society cannot fully participate in your movement certainly restricts the appeal of your cause.

However, while I disagree with Mustafa, I support her right to express herself. The irony is that today’s student identity politics, of which she is a part, have also veered towards censorship of offensive opinions. At the University of California in the 1960s liberal students fought in the Free Speech Movement, to overturn a ban on on-campus political activity: this was when being left-wing meant fighting against stifling conformism. Today’s liberal students seem to be going the other way.

The policies of ‘no-platforming’ and safe spaces were designed to protect students from far-right speakers and topics which would trigger traumatic memories. Today these good intentions have been perverted so that figures who stir emotions face protest when they speak. Julie Bindel, a prominent feminist, landed herself on the NUS’ ‘no platform’ list after making offensive comments about transsexuals.

What she said was deplorable. However, the idea that she now has nothing worthwhile to say on any topic is ridiculous. Just a few weeks ago she was banned from a talk at the University of Manchester’s Student Union, ironically about free speech and feminism. Maryam Namazie, an Iranian-born equality campaigner, critic of Islamism and member of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, was banned from speaking at Warwick University (although the ban was later reversed) after fears it would upset Muslims and “incite hate”.

If people are prevented from speaking because they offend others, it is unsurprising that some people will try to clamp down on Bahar Mustafa when she says something controversial. In the arms race to be offended, no one wins: instead of debate, we have censorship; instead of learning to argue against bad ideas, we are told we can shut them out.

Photograph: Goldsmithslondon via Wikimedia Commons

2 Responses

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  1. Jase G Hutsby on Facebook
    Oct 27, 2015 - 12:06 PM

    OK but, sexism and racism literally don’t go both ways. Have you ever seen a set of scales? It’s not possible to have inequality on both sides. That’s what inequality means. One side is unequal to the other. You aren’t oppressed for being a white man (though you may be a white man who is oppressed on other axes, such as disability or sexuality). Jewish people and Eastern Europeans don’t face discrimination because of their skin colour (unless they are also people of colour of course) – that’s not what anti-semitism and xenophobia mean.

    White men can want desperately to be oppressed for their skin colour and gender all they want, but it doesn’t make it so. Those barriers that exist for women and people of colour won’t just magically start appearing for white men. It’s just another way of avoiding acknowledging ones relative power in society so as to waive any responsibility to actually do anything about it.

    And if we’re going to be throwing around the word disingenuous, then it’s certainly disingenuous to suggest that patriarchy back-firing on men, its main beneficiaries, is sexism. There’s a pretty obvious analogy here. If a shooter aims a gun at a women and shoots frantically, and a nearby men gets injured by a wayward bullet, then yes he was harmed and that’s not OK, but the shooter was AIMING at the woman, who likely came off much worse, if not dead. To then claim that both people were targeted would be completely ridiculous. And yet here we are.

    If you genuinely care about sexism and you want to discuss how and why patriarchy harms men, rather than just silencing marginalised groups, the Yes All Men discussion group is open to all men.

  2. James Crickmore on Facebook
    Oct 27, 2015 - 03:34 PM

    I do wish the author would learn the meaning of the word liberal.
    Not all liberals are left-wing and a large part of the left are by no means liberal. Let’s not fall into the American usage where liberal is an insult to apply to someone on the left you politically disagree with.

    Advocating censorship and suppressing free debate is not part of a liberal philosophy and liberals should not be tarred with the same brush as the parts of the left that promote this sort of thing.


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