The far right-wing activist, Milo Yiannopoulos, is in the news again, concerning his invitation to speak at the Simon Langton Grammar School For Boys in Canterbury, Kent. Like ourselves, he is a former pupil at the school. We remember Yiannopoulos as a young man and have seen his public profile grow as adults. We share educational roots, but finally have felt compelled to make a statement on the subject.
Milo Yiannopoulos is not the “alt-right”; he is a twisted new incarnation of the far-right. His harassment and bullying of women, particularly black women, online is well documented, resulting in him being permanently banned from Twitter for his actions. His invective is hate speech. A man who states 'feminism is cancer' is not interested in debate or nuance.
Yiannopoulos said of his forthcoming visit, "For too long you've been able to shut down opposing points of view and the politics of the people you don't like by saying 'I'm offended'. Well, that period is over now and the Donald Trump presidency, representing as I think it does an existential threat to political correctness, is a wonderful thing."
We know what Trump is, who he represents and what he has said.
As former pupils of Simon Langton, we are extremely disappointed that Yiannopoulos has been asked to return to the school to talk to the sixth-form students there.
We are, of course, advocates of free speech, and believe people should be allowed to say what they want free from the fear of political incarceration or harassment. But inviting someone to talk is not the same thing as not censoring them. Inviting Milo to talk is not an example of 'supporting free speech' it is actively encouraging him to spout his far-right views to young men. Simon Langton School is actively permitting and encouraging a proponent of hate speech to speak in their grounds.
We could understand if Simon Langton invited a UKIP MEP to speak, despite our distaste for their views. Although ardently opposed to the Tories, having a Conservative speak at the school is fine. But Yiannopoulos is different. This is a man who helped legitimise and normalise the hatred of muslims and women online and in person.
This is a man who said of muslims, at a speech to the University of Florida, "If you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile, and rape everything inside it. And they won’t stop spreading."
He has been invited by the Simon Langton to say whatever he wants to their pupils.
Simon Langton is a boys’ school. Whether you like it or not, seventeen-year-old boys who have spent the last five years in school only with other boys from a similar background are not equipped with enough experience or knowledge to present a counter argument to someone who is rabidly anti-feminist, writes for a white supremacist organisation (Breitbart) and takes joy in spouting bigotry for the sake of upsetting so-called ‘liberals’.
Dr Matthew Baxter, the head teacher of the Langton said, "Although a few people could be dismayed by our giving a platform to a journalist who has some ultra-right views, I would remind students, parents, colleagues and the greater community that the Langton is fully committed to free speech and open debate."
Unless the head-teacher is fully committed to providing an opposing view to Yiannopoulos, this is nonsense.
As former pupils, we feel we know this school well. We know what it is like to be a pupil that considers himself intelligent and thoughtful and reasoned at seventeen, but we are now old enough to know how far you have to come before you, as a young white man, can truly see how damaging the work of Yiannopoulos and other right-wingers like him truly is.
Unless Milo is debating an adult who can provide a counterpoint to his views effectively, the school's idea that the pupils will provide a robust debate is naive and foolish.
We are not asking for Yiannopoulos to be censored, but are registering our disgust and dismay at this decision being taken by an institution that played a largely positive role in both of our lives, and would ask others to do the same.