Do you know what Milo Yiannopoulos would love? What would make his day? What he’d delight in announcing to the hordes who hang on his every post? Milo would love to tell people he’d been in the running to become the Rector of Glasgow University, but the coddled snowflakes of the regressive left have conspired to thwart him. Once again, they’ve silenced him. Shut him down because his ideas are too dangerous, too challenging for their narrow worldview.
Do you know what Milo Yiannopoulos would like a lot less? Having his backside handed to him in a popularity contest against Aamer Anwar. A Scottish lawyer from a Pakistani background, widely known for his left-wing views and human rights activism. That wouldn’t be great PR for the poster boy of the alt-right.
For anyone unfamiliar with Milo Yiannopoulos, he’s a prominent commentator and personality from the alt-right, itself a euphemism for the white supremacist movement. Far from holding challenging or dangerous views Yiannopoulos is a predictable bore. His tedious opinions on feminism, Islam and transgender issues could be garnered from any boorish bigot in any pub in the land. Find the most obnoxious patron of any given bar, squeeze him into skinny jeans, give him some nice scarves and an Instagram account and that’s essentially Milo Yiannopoulos.
As he’s had more than ten nominations, the former editor of Brietbart news is now one of twelve possible candidates to become the Rector of Glasgow University. On Facebook Yiannopoulos wrote “Tip for Glasgow students: Literally nothing will annoy your professors more than this.”
Milo’s recipe for success is saying controversial things then letting the outrage do the rest. Admittedly he adds a bit of flair and style to the mix, but that’s the only reason he’s become more prominent than any of the other shouty, pompus buffoons of the alt-right. Ultimately their modus operandi is all the same; generate controversy, then hope people confuse controversy with importance.
There’s currently a petition requesting Milo (and another controversial figure, Prof Jordan Peterson) be removed as candidates for Rector. This strategy of denying a platform to figures from the right is often the go-to option for many on the left, but ultimately it’s counterproductive, and yes, it is regressive.
Trolls from the alt-right regularly attack voices which dissent from their world view. Often the most vitriolic attacks are reserved for women or people of colour. The aim is to harass and intimidate the victim in the hope of silencing them, or at least to make them think twice about voicing similar views again.
On the left, such thuggish attacks are much rarer. Instead, protesters demand speakers are banned from university debates, removed from their jobs, or in this case stopped from running as Rector. It’s taking the high road, but it’s the high road to the same place – silencing opposing voices.
When we try to limit free speech by any means, we legitimise the overall tactic of silencing people we don’t agree with. And every time you reduce an opponent’s right to free speech you chip away at your own. We’ll find out what a slippery slope we’re on the day the troglodytes of the alt-right realise they too should be making polite petitions instead of spewing hatred across Twitter.
When figures like Milo are shut-down through protest it plays into their narrative of a new, illiberal left. Each time they are banned or excluded they can stoke the paranoia and rage felt by their followers . They can paint the left as the enemies for free speech. They can draw a false equivalence between the liberals protesting them, and the harassment dished out by right wing trolls.
Confronting the left on real issues would require examining facts, evidence and constructing logical arguments. But those are arguments the white supremacists and bigots will inevitable lose. So instead they move the battleground. They’ve dragged us away from where we are strong – reason, fact, evidence – and we now find ourselves in a shouting match, where the aim is simply to stop the other side from being heard. Now, both sides are evenly matched.
The only way to defeat the misogyny, bigotry and hatred of the alt-right is to prove it wrong. Expose it’s idiocy to the world. It’s tough to stand by as ill-informed loudmouth spews nonsense, but it’s an essential part of beating them. To silence them only delays the battle which is ultimately needed to defeat them.
Once bigoted ideas are defeated, they stay defeated. It’s only because the left haven’t comprehensively debunked Milo’s transphobic slurs that he gets away with presenting them as an alternative, edgy viewpoint. It’s like we’ve forgotten how to beat the bigots in a head to head debate – but that is exactly what we must do, not try to disqualify them on the grounds of taste and decency.
If Milo stands as a candidate to become the Rector and loses we’ll probably never hear about it again. But if he’s kicked off the ballot we’re giving him exactly what he wants – the chance to generate controversy and play the victim.
Last month, Milo was halted from speaking at Berkley University following violent protests by anti-fascists. Berkley was the birthplace of the free speech movement in the sixties, but fifty years on, thousands of students gathered to shut down the controversial speaker. A small group clad in black, their faces covered, smashed windows and shot fireworks at the university building. The event was cancelled and Yiannopoulos was shepherded off campus. The subsequent publicity was a unmitigated success for him. He later told fans “the Left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down.”
In the aftermath of the event Yiannopoulos’ book rocketed up the sales charts. People confusing controversy with importance.
Despite their intentions the Berkley protestors and anti-facists were helping Milo Yiannopoulos. Glasgow University students shouldn’t make the same mistake.
Let him stand, let him lose.
Those who do wish to sign the petition can find it here.