Are we losing our way in promoting British values? Take two recent test cases.
I A tale of two incidents
(a) In early November 2016, British Gymnastics suspended Louis Smith, the UK Olympian, after he appeared in an online video in October 2016 with his friend and former gymnast, Luke Carson. The video shows him pretending to pray to Allah while laughing. British Gymnastics issued a statement: “Louis Smith admitted his behaviour was in breach of the Standards of Conduct. The panel upheld the allegation and, taking into account a previous breach of the Standards of Conduct heard in June this year (where it also was made clear to Louis the consequences of any further breach), the panel determine a cumulative penalty was appropriate and order a two-month period of suspension……”
Twenty-seven-year-old Smith accepted offers to learn more about the Muslim faith after admitting he had been “ignorant to people’s religion”.
(b) Later in November 2016, a row broke out over free speech following a government ban on 32-year-old Milo Yiannopoulos, a right-wing journalist, after an invitation extended to him by sixth former pupils at his former secondary school, i.e. Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys in Canterbury, Kent. Yiannopoulos is the editor of the far-right news website, Breitbart. The Department for Education’s Counter Extremism Unit cancelled the arrangement over safety concerns and the “threat of demonstrations at the school”.
Yiannopoulos, labelled by Claire Fox, Director of the Institute of Ideas, a “notorious troll and Donald Trump supporter”, is a colourful character, to say the least, who has described feminism as a cancer, called Islam the real culprit of race culture and said women who are offended online should just “log off”.
However, the decision to cancel the journalist’s talk caused a major row over free speech. More than 200 – 220 to be precise – sixth form students had signed up for the event – with parental permission.
Yiannopoulos wrote: “My old high school has been bullied into cancelling my talk …. by the ‘counter-extremism’ unit at the UK Department of Education. Who even knew the DoE (sic) had a counter-extremism unit? And that it wasn’t set up to combat terrorism but rather to punish gays with the wrong opinions. Perhaps if I’d called the speech ‘Muslims are awesome’ they’d have left us alone. Disgusted.”
A Simon Langton student encapsulated the feelings and thoughts of many of his peers when he said, despite disagreeing with Yiannopoulos’s opinions, he felt the decision to ban his talk was “wrong”. He observed: “I feel the old adage applies: ‘I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’”
The school, which expelled Yiannopoulos when he was a student, stated that objections to his talk had come almost “entirely from people with no direct connection to Langton”.
“The staff and students of the school were overwhelmingly in favour,” said Dr Matthew Baxter, the Headteacher. “While disappointed that both, the pastoral care and intellectual preparation we offer to our students, have been called into question, we, at Langton, remain committed to the principle of free speech and open debate, and will resist, where possible, all forms of censorship.”