This is our truth, tell us yours
Back when I was a student, it was fashionable, no, desirable, to not give a shit what went on in the students union. It didn’t matter, so long as the beer was cold and cheap, and the music reasonable. Universities had become industrial training locations where the minority who cared about the students union were loathed and pitied in equal part. And yes, dear reader, I was one of the minority who cared, which says a lot about me, I fear. The fact that I was elected to positions of minor significance says more about the quality of candidates than it does about me, but I was able to make a small difference on a few occasions.
Apparently the Fleet Street press think it matters if Bahar Mustafa is an officer of Goldsmiths Union, or not. I’m baffled. The idea that anyone, besides the students of Goldsmiths, gives a shit whether someone is an officer of their students union is, frankly, ludicrous.
Of course, Goldsmiths is the same college that provided hundreds of column inches when they gave Kate Smurthwaite an opportunity to seek publicity in lieu of the tickets she’d failed to sell for her gig there. It’s become a go to target for journalists seeking a bit of news that will outrage their readers as they chew their fruit and fibre.
Dare I say that I’m old enough to remember the good old days of Baa Baa Black Sheep,and all the other nonsense Fleet Street spewed out about Labour councils and the GLC in the 1980s? No story was too small, too unimportant or even, in some of the most hyped cases, too fictional for Fleet Street to reject it.
In such an environment attacks on people like Bahar Mustafa aren’t really debates about competing values. They’re assertions of power by the dominant press.The idea that the thoughts of a students union officer at one London college deserve such attention is risible. They serve only to fuel the culture wars, and there’s good reason to simply ignore such rows – this blog’s working title was ‘Leave it John, it doesn’t matter’.
However, there’s another reason not to abandon people like Bahar Mustafa, and it’s about how the culture wars are fought. I don’t have a clue if I would agree or disagree with Bahar on any given issue. I know however that people who don’t matter in the greater scheme of things, like Bahar and me are chewed up and spat out by the likes of the Daily Mail. As well as defending Bahar’s right to speak her mind, the left has a second duty, to defend her right to be wrong, if she is, without being vilified by the all powerful press.
As I say, I don’t know if Bahar and I would agree on anything. Because I am more privileged than she (white pass, straight pass, middle class job….) I would respect her right to space and time to make her case. The press don’t. The first job of the press is to police the platform, to silence anyone who might challenge their monopoly on the national conversation.
At this point I need to mention Douglas Carswell. Apparently Douglas thought a few irate lefties were threatening. If you ask what the difference is between Fleet Street monstering Bahar, and a few protesters monstering Carswell, I would refer you to this excellent primer on the difference between punching up and punching down by Jem.
Fleet Street and its acolytes aren’t protesting against Bahar Mustafa; they’re monstering her, punishing her for speaking her mind. Most important though, they’re othering her, saying that her voice should not be heard above the chorus of convention that the press daily bellows from its platforms.
That, alone, is reason enough to stand alongside Bahar Mustafa.