We’re gonna rip up the stands
Tear down the walls
Smash the place
Really have a ball . . .
ah, Somebody’s gonna get their head
Somebody’s gonna get their head
Somebody’s gonna get their head
KICKED IN TONIGHT!

This Fleetwood Mac original became a punk rock classic in the late 1970s before morphing into an overture for football hooligans. These days the lyrics work better as a Battle Hymn for those determining the meaning of ‘freedom of speech’ on our university campuses.

The leader of the main opposition party in Germany has had to pull out of a talk at the Oxford Union because she is concerned about her safety. Although the invitation stands, Alice Weidel is not willing to take the risk of getting her particular head kicked in for the purpose of explaining the views of her Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and answering questions about it. 

Her decision is a victory for academia’s version of Anarchy UK, the Chelsea Headhunters and other hooligan groups. This is ironic since the aforesaid Headhunters are more usually associated with extremists on the Right such as Combat 18 and the Ku Klux Klan. Now, it appears, our liberal intelligentsia are aping their tactics. The one commonly known as the ‘order of the boot’ can be a remarkably effective political weapon in sustaining today’s definition of freedom of speech. It is a definition that boils down to ‘no-platforming’ those with whom you disagree or, if they turn up anyway, they have to be beaten up.

Our government bangs on and on, fruitlessly, about its promotion of ‘British Values’ which, according to Ofsted, are:

The democratically elected leader of Germany’s official opposition surely has as much right to speak here as anyone else, provided she does so within the constraints of UK law. The Oxford Union, to give it credit, has left open her invitation. What a disgrace, though, that we now live in a country in which this politician feels in physical danger if she speaks at one of our great institutions of learning.

How would her opponents react if Jeremy Corbyn found himself, for example, unable to speak at the University of Heidelberg on the grounds of threats to his personal safety?

Weidel is not, of course, the first casualty in the battle over freedom of speech. Academia’s Eye of Sauron has now fallen on Christianity. As though the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and in Pakistan were not enough, Oxford University’s Lady Margaret Hall, alma mater of former Education Secretary Michael Gove, has decided, metaphorically, to join in the casting of stones.

Christianity, it seems, is too controversial for students at the college. Around 90 per cent have voted to ban the religious group Christian Concern from holding its tenth annual Wilberforce Academy, a four-day summer school for young people, at the college. The aim of the conference is to ‘train and equip the invited students on what it means to proclaim Christ in public life’.

The college authorities have yet to make a final decision but have informed Christian Concern that members of the college community, including staff, would be likely to express ‘vehement disagreement’ and engage in ‘sustained’ and ‘very noticeable’ protest. Christian Concern sees this as a threat of violence. It says: 

. . . if students or staff members were to act in violent or aggressive ways towards visitors to the college, then this would be covered under the college’s normal code of conduct for staff and students and the usual disciplinary measures could be taken against such action.

It adds:

We are perplexed as to how the historic Christian view of marriage, gender and sanctity of life would constitute a threat to students’ ‘physical and mental safety’.

It is disappointing that the college and its students would appear to feel so threatened by an event promoting the same Christian values as Oxford University has so clearly been shaped by.

As with the Alice Weidel case, a perceived threat of violence is undermining and suppressing liberty. In terms of freedom of speech we have now gone well beyond its restriction being the ‘thin end of the wedge’.

Newton’s law of physics taught us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. What applies to physics also applies to freedom of speech. The current atmosphere of threat and intimidation will, surely, let slip the dogs of war. The murder of Jo Cox MP should have served as a warning of where intolerance leads, regardless of political affiliation. To function for the good of all, societies need some common ground. Freedom of speech within the law must be the foundation. The alternative pathway, along which we are certainly heading, means:

We’re gonna rip up the stands
Tear down the walls
Smash the place
Really have a ball . . .
ah, Somebody’s gonna get their head
Somebody’s gonna get their head
Somebody’s gonna get their head
KICKED IN TONIGHT!