Reading Mein Kampf, Misreading Education

On 21 November 2017, it was reported that The Langton Grammar School for Boys in Kent will be creating an ‘unsafe space’ forum for its sixth form students. The teacher responsible, James Soderholm, argued that this is a ‘much-needed forum for debate’. It is described as ‘an antidote to the poison of political correctness’, designed to examine ‘the most beautifully disturbed and disturbing ideas, all of them presented without trigger warnings’. ‘Beautiful’ ideas such as those articulated in Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, one of the assigned readings. It is clear from the terms, framing and rationale used that the project is an attempt for the school to participate in the wider right-wing and libertarian ‘free speech’ backlash against the alleged dominance of ‘political correctness’ (PC), ‘safe spaces’, ‘trigger warnings’ and ‘no platforming’ on university campuses, where undoubtedly, many of these sixth formers will go upon graduation.

Examples of this backlash include campaigns by Spiked! and its ‘Free Speech Now!’, ‘Free Speech University Rankings’ and ‘Down with Campus Censorship’ campaigns. In the US, there is the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and their Campus Rights initiative, as well as Campus Reform and Professor Watchlist. In the UK, the focus of such campaigns has included the National Union of Students (NUS) no-platform policy which has targeted, amongst others, Germaine Greer, Julie Bindel and Milo Yiannopoulos, as well as Rhodes Must Fall protests.

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Normalized Hate

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick and Prime Minister Theresa May were quick to call Darren Osborne’s June 19 attack in London an act of terrorism. Osborne allegedly shouted “I’m going to kill all Muslims” as he drove a van into the crowd leaving the Muslim Welfare Centre, killing Makram Ali and injuring ten others. May explained that the attack was “declared a terrorist incident within eight minutes” of the first emergency call, and Dick commented that “this was quite clearly an attack on Muslims.”

Their statements came as a relief to some. For years, people have challenged the clear double standard applied to the word terrorism. While the media and officials quickly apply it to attacks perpetrated by those identified with or identifying as Muslims, restraint usually prevails in the wake of other violent crimes, particularly those with white perpetrators.

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