The great effort of the present-day censors on campuses across the West is to make speech synonymous with action. Campaigners against free expression claim that words not only "wound" people but actually "kill". They claim that people associated with any group being criticised are not only suffering a verbal "assault" but an actual "physical" assault. Those who campaign against any and all criticism of Islamists, for instance, not only claim that the attacks are "Islamophobic" and target "all Muslims". They also claim that such words cause violence -- including violence against any and all Muslims.
One of the notable things about their objection is that the people who make such claims rarely if ever exercise the same civic hygiene they demand of everybody else. It is interesting to consider what would happen were anyone to demand the same standards of these campaigners as they demand of others.
Consider the case of one Malia Bouattia. This is the young woman who is currently president of the National Union of Students (NUS) in Britain. The NUS has long been a campaigning organisation less interested in standing up for the rights and welfare of students as a whole than campaigning for the sort of issues that preoccupy a portion of the hard-left in Britain, at the forefront of which is anti-Zionism. Since her election as NUS president last year, a number of British universities have sought to disaffiliate from the organization in apparent recognition that it has taken an especially virulent turn.
Before she became NUS president, Bouattia had a particular track-record for a type of militant anti-Zionism which can only endear a person to people like the NUS. In a speech recorded in 2014 at a conference on "Gaza and the Palestinian Revolution", Bouattia railed against "Mainstream Zionist-led media outlets" in which, she said, "resistance is resented as an act of terrorism." Three years earlier -- in 2011 -- Bouattia referred to the University of Birmingham as "something of a Zionist outpost in British higher education."
A House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee which looked into Bouattia's track-record last year concluded that:
"The current president of the National Union of Students, Malia Bouattia, does not appear to take sufficiently seriously the issue of anti-Semitism on campus, and has responded to Jewish students' concerns about her previous language with defensiveness and an apparent unwillingness to listen to their concerns.
"There is of course no reason why an individual who has campaigned for the rights of Palestinian people – a cause widely supported on university campuses – should not serve as president of the NUS.
"But Ms Bouattia's choice of language (and ongoing defence of that language) suggests a worrying disregard for her duty to represent all sections of the student population and promote balanced and respectful debate. Referring to Birmingham University as a 'Zionist outpost' (and similar comments) smacks of outright racism, which is unacceptable, and even more so from a public figure such as the president of the NUS."
Now let us move from the realm of speech into the realm of action.
Last week, a British woman was travelling on a tram in Jerusalem. With no warning, she was suddenly repeatedly stabbed in the chest by a 57-year-old Palestinian man who was detained at the scene. The Israeli authorities immediately described it as a terrorist incident -- yet another in the long line of attacks which have been described as a "stabbing intifada," in which some radical Palestinians follow the advice of radical Palestinian clerics and assault Israelis with whatever weapons they can get their hands on, including cars and trucks.
The murdered woman was subsequently identified as 20-year-old Hannah Bladon. She was a student at the University of Birmingham taking part in an exchange with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She had been taking classes in Bible studies, archaeology and Hebrew. In a statement, her family back in Britain expressed themselves to be "devastated" at her murder, adding that she was "the most caring, sensitive and compassionate daughter you could ever wish for." She was also "a talented musician, part of a serving team at her local church and a member of her local archaeological group."
Even without making as close a link between words and actions as some campaigners currently do, it is worth considering this:
Miss Bladon attended a university described as a "Zionist outpost" by the person elected by the NUS to represent her interests, as well as those of all other students. Miss Bladon was in a city and in a country where that same woman -- Malia Bouattia -- has claimed that what is called "terrorism" is in fact "resistance". By such lights, Hannah Bladon (from a "Zionist outpost") was killed in an act of "resistance". That at any rate is the logical conclusion to draw from the statements of Malia Bouattia.
If anyone were to operate by the standards that some students presently do, then this link could be made further. It could be said that Malia Bouattia engaged in "hate speech" as well as "racist speech" when she said the words she did. It could further be claimed that what Bouattia said in fact constituted "incitement" and an "open invitation to violence". It could be argued that the words that came out of her lips led directly to a Palestinian man thinking that a British student could be killed on a tram in Jerusalem in a legitimate act of "resistance" against a representative of a "Zionist outpost."
That is the game which Malia Bouattia and her colleagues in the NUS would engage in if the target were any other, the victim anyone else and the location of the slaughter anywhere but Israel. If it furthered their political and other goals then Bouattia and the NUS would most likely be currently calling for arrests and prosecutions for incitement, "hate speech" and more. Of course, nobody could be so ill-mannered as to play this political game back at them. But if they were to, they would certainly find far greater evidence of cause and effect than Bouattia and her colleagues have produced to date in their war on free speech. If the NUS and others are really concerned about hate speech, they should look to their own president, and think about Jerusalem.
Douglas Murray, British author, commentator and public affairs analyst, is based in London, England.