3. The Case For or Against “Safe Spaces”

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Hello and welcome to readers and friends.. (25 – 40 minute read)

[Please skip to part a) if you want to get to the main article immediately]

Firstly, I’d like to thank everyone so far for supporting this blog by reading or liking this blog. Reading and typing gives me a sense of restorative serenity. It’s my bread and butter. When random strangers and people (especially friends) take the time to read my posts, I feel like I do matter.

Although I realized that it is unseemly for a blogger to express one’s own personal feelings in order to feel professional, somehow, I have to get this off my chest before I continue. For that, I won’t be unapologetic about being who I am as a person and expressing my views or feelings.

I’d like you to read this quote before I continue..

“Curious that we spend more time congratulating people who have succeeded than encouraging people who have not.”
~ Neil deGrasse Tyson

Much of what I write comes from personal experience in my life.I have no qualms about being who I am and saying what matters without sugar-coating it. It has made me unpopular socially but much of popular society are so shallow-minded, I’d rather be my own person than conform to popular society.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

You may not know, I’ve spent a lot of my life being  neglected and discouraged even by people that I thought were my friends. Many of them don’t have the time to listen or help. Some even insulted me for asking for help whether on a practical matter or even to address something deep in my mind. Some were just using me for their own ends.

Simply put, most people become friends with those that they feel can augment their lives. They see their “friends” as someone valuable to be, thus enhancing their own value by association or through deeds. Although I see the sense from their angle, I cannot fully condone it.

Take for example, Albert Einstein. To people of our modern time, most who are typical men and women from everyday society, should the man be alive today, he would be considered practically worthless to be with, despite his scientific insights that made the world what it is today. Few would truly recognize his inherent worth to humanity’s scientific progress.

Another example would be a child. Again, a child is considered worthless at that moment because he or she knows nothing, can’t do nothing and is worth nothing. Would you consider him or her valueless? Of course not. People only see the surface of what is rather than what could be. That’s what I see, fellow readers and friends.

The most pertinent example I give is.. you. What if one day, you would lose practically much of what defines your worth. Your beauty, intelligence, social status, wealth, health, strength, talent, artistry and more. Then what is then left? Wouldn’t you now grudgingly agree that you are considered “useless” and “valueless” to others? How do you think a huge majority of the people you know would treat you at that moment comparatively..? You can see where I’m leading. You can imagine the rest. That’s the point I present and as you can understand now, I cannot condone it.

The worst part was I treated them as real friends. For a long time, I couldn’t reconcile it. Was it because I was worthless? Was it because I was not as popular, talented, handsome and rich as others were? Was it because I did not fit in?

I later realized (thanks to a few good and real friends, old and new) that how we act onto others was a measure and reflection of who we are as individuals. I realized that people actually and truly have the freedom to choose and act. Thus, with nothing actually holding us backwards, the decisions we choose to do are a indeed reflection of our consciousness, principles and character. Evidently this quote reflects this thought in question:

“Character is how you treat those who can do nothing for you.. ”
~ Attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

So how should we respond and act..?

By the same earlier reasoning, everyone has the same unrestricted freedom to act as we please. So what is left to us..?

“The noblest kind of retribution is not to become like your enemy.”
~ Marcus Aurelius

So, yes. I aspired to be above them in principles and character by not being them. In my mind, anyone can bring down a person. It takes great strength of character and will to bring up another person. That’s what matters. That’s what I believe to be good and noble. That’s what I see in the people who have supported me thus far. For that, you’ll always have my thanks.

Let’s move on.

This post will have 5 parts:

a) Introduction – What are “Safe Spaces”?
b) Case for “Safe Spaces”
c) Case against “Safe Spaces”
d) Relevance to Malaysia
e) Conclusion

Without further adieu, let’s begin.

a) Introduction – What are “Safe Spaces” ?

According to Wikipedia’s entry on safe spaces, it says that..

Advocates for Youth states on their website that a safe-space is: “A place where anyone can relax and be fully self-expressed, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome or challenged on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, age, or physical or mental ability; a place where the rules guard each person’s self-respect, dignity and feelings and strongly encourage everyone to respect others” (1)

Sounds pretty good, don’t you think?

So, why is this blog post relevant?

A “safe space” is a new phenomenon that has recently started to grow in educational institutions such as colleges and universities, predominantly from the West. Although it is not new news, that said, it has become a topic of public discussion due to how controversial and thought-provoking it is.

Although this happens mostly in the West, I have seen how fast Asian cultures (at least from my view as a Malaysian in Malaysia) absorb Western cultures. In fact, there is a very pertinent reason why this topic must be discussed especially in Malaysia.

Thus, it is imperative that at least we know what it is, and the case for or against safe spaces.

Let’s consider the modern origins and circumstances of how safe spaces could be possibly created. An important event that sticks to mind was 9/11. Subsequently, the events past 9/11 such as the American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq have dire consequences too.

Since 9/11, America’s public and collective consciousness has been scarred with xenophobia especially in regards to Islamophobia. Then, with the occupation of countries in the Middle East, this then has spurred the Middle East to feel threatened by the West. In fact, countless more lives were lost during these occupations compared to the 9/11 bombing. It is no wonder that hate has arisen in the minds and hearts of people, both in the West and the Middle East towards one another.

Moreover, much of these societies adhere to strong religious beliefs. In fact, some of us are aware in history that Christianity and Islam have been in conflict with each other such as during the Christian Crusades from the 11th century till the 15th century etc. Although these events have long faded in the annals of time, religion and history gives a reason (even if it is irrational) and outlet (even if it is destructive) for societies to channel their collective anger and hatred against one another.

This was further aggravated when Al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization responsible for 9/11, proclaimed they did it in the name of Islam. Although rational folks would highlight the fact that Al-Qaeda believed in an extremist version of Islam, the more religious and irrational people of America (especially those who have lost families to this atrocity) would rather blame and hate Islam as a whole than understand that extremism was behind it.

Moving on, the American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, intended to root out terrorism, only spurred it on more by destabilizing the region. Take Iraq for example. Previously under Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical regime, Iraq has become even more destabilized than ever due to deadlier and even more extreme terror organizations such as ISIS having emerged.

Saddam’s Hussein’s regime, though brutal, was the necessary dictatorship to prevent organizations like ISIS from emerging. A lesser evil to prevent a greater evil from rising. Much of the Middle East seem to have similar governments. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi or Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak are other examples (though I can concede that as quality of life and education improves, the need for democracy by these societies have made these autocratic leaders unsustainable and unpopular).

Additionally, it doesn’t help when ISIS officially calls itself the “Islamic State”. The modern caliphate has attracted participants and fighters from all across the world. In that regard, it has become very global, unique and dangerous.

With horrifying bombings happening not only in Paris and Brussels, but even in countries based in the Middle East (though it seems the media have downplayed these events), Western society has been scarred once more. Essentially, hate begets hate. Thus, Western society channeled it’s repressed rage into hate-speech and racism. Donald Trump’s popularity in America’s election is a reflection of how much this is evident and true in America’s citizens. Thus, innocent people suffer from this destructively channeled rage and anger.

However, you might say I’m missing a huge point. Even before 9/11, America has always struggled with racism. Martin Luther Jr. King’s struggle to give equality to African Americans prove my point. Let’s move on.

b) Case for “Safe Spaces”

Point 1:

A safe haven for people whose identities and lives are threatened by bigotry, racism, stereotypes and political correctiveness.

Though modern society has globally embrace equality, it seems bigotry and political correctiveness is making a steady comeback. Additionally, it did not help that America had a majority who were generally pious, religious and conservative Christians. It also didn’t help that the majority of  Americans had a strong emotional and personal stake in their identity as Christians. Thus, homosexuality and transgenderism were frown and scorned upon because it clashes with the beliefs of the conservatives and religious.

Thus, with all the racism and hatred going around, one might reason it is in favour of society to create “safe spaces” for citizens that do not identify with America’s majority as a safe haven. In that, a viable reason then becomes plausible in creating safe spaces.

Point 2:

A collective place or platform for people of oppressed groups to group together while sharing and speaking out on their experiences.

Continuing from the previous point,  safe spaces not only create safe havens, but social avenues and platforms for the oppressed to speak out. Minority groups usually become more influential in a society when they have sufficient numbers and a visible public outlet or organization to convey or express themselves.

The fact that safe havens have arisen in colleges and universities provokes an interesting question. America and other developed countries already have established organizations that fulfill these roles on a nationwide level. So why have safe spaces emerged?

It could be that a majority of those in the said organizations are of a different generation compared to those who started the safe spaces, thus having different life experiences that become unrelatable. It could also be that these organizations are seen as relatively inaccessible while safe spaces are free for anyone to join. Another possibility is the fact that the younger generation have a distrust towards said authority or institutions, thus feeling more comfortable with peers and friends of the same generation. Lastly, it’s possible the said organizations are unable to currently assist those being oppressed due to the different circumstances that afflict them.

Regardless of the reasons, safe spaces are beginning to grow as a reflection of the growing bigotry and racial tension present in society.

 Point 3:

Safe spaces in educational institutions are necessary to bridge the gap between larger institutions and the public particularly the younger generation.

Safe spaces are evidently here to stay. Thus, it is reasonable to suggest that safe spaces in educational institutions should be channeled as an intermediate between students and more established organizations.

Most safe spaces in educational institutions are organized by student activists with good intentions but without the much needed organizational talents, tact and experience needed to propel safe spaces forward while not stamping out the voices of others (which will be explained below).

Meanwhile, established civil rights organizations possess the infrastructure, maturity, experience and resources to uphold the rights of minorities and the oppressed. Thus, a joint effort would prove more than beneficial to all.

c) Case against “Safe Spaces”

Point 1:

Safe spaces actually are detrimental to the freedom of speech and thought of other groups or in general.

Even though safe spaces were created with good intentions, the fact remains that safe spaces have actually encroached and infringed upon freedom of speech and thought. Though student activists mean well, in their drive to defend the rights and freedoms of the oppressed, they have actually aggravated bigotry by clamping or ousting views that do not coincide with their own, claiming to be sensitive to the sufferings of the oppressed and defend them.

In an article by the Guardian (2), it reports the worrying trend at campuses in the UK by special interest groups to block invited speakers to speak due to touching upon sensitive issues such as religious beliefs, LGBT rights, race-based issues and many more. In the article, it was specifically concerning conservative feminist ideas. This has also happened in universities in the United States.

Point 2:

Without freedom of speech and thought, positive and constructive criticism alongside interactive dialogues or forums among all people regardless of identity, race, religion or affiliation and nationality would stagnate and be severely reduced. Thus, a progressive and civil society would be impeded.

The very foundation of a diversified, egalitarian, liberal and progressive society is freedom of speech and thought. A society sans freedom of speech and thought would not only stagnant but be regressive and conservative. Freedom of speech and thought is necessary to test ideas. Without them, bad ideas would be allowed to flourish without criticism and scrutiny. You can imagine what sort of nonsense would emerge.

A good example is the anti-vaccination campaigns emerging in the United States due to political or religious beliefs. As a result, people who simply believe them would harm not only themselves but their children too. Imagine the damage similar-minded politicians would do (Here’s looking at you, Trump). In this article (3), Michael Bloomberg even warns against “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings”. He does have a valid point (though it does suffer from criticism too, but what idea doesn’t?)

Point 3:

On the basis of invoking “safe spaces” , this allows special interests group to silence critics and dissenters of opposing views and groups, while using it as a tool to further their political agendas on issues that may or may not be related without proper discussion, possibly abusing it. This then jeopardizes the overall integrity of civil rights, democracy and freedom in society.

In my opinion, I would say this point is utterly vital. In an article by the Telegraph (4), Imogen Wilson was issued a complain on the pretense that she violated “safe space” rules. As mentioned, allowing “safe spaces” allows for freedom of speech and thought alongside the exchange of ideas and debating them to be negated. Already, the usage of “safe spaces” is a problem in educational institutions because students cannot even bear to listen to contrasting ideas that go against their own.

Now imagine this used in state and national institutions or organizations. Imagine this being used in politics and governance. It may be a huge leap to think this way, but it is not entirely impossible that the idea of “safe spaces” is a giant step towards autocracy, totalitarianism and a dictatorial government.

d) Relevance to Malaysia

“I can guarantee you freedom of speech, but I cannot guarantee you freedom after speech.”
~ Idi Amin, 3rd President of Uganda (The Butcher of Uganda)

In the past, Malaysia was once seen as an example of a modern, liberal, democratic, progressive and multi-racial country.

Today, Malaysia has become increasingly well-known, all for the wrong reasons. Foremost is the rampant corruption and money politics that has been ongoing, unprecedented in Malaysia’s history. 1MDB has become headlines on the world news, sparking outrage and dismay among financial regulators as to the unimaginable scale of corruption happening. Next is the fall in transparency and integrity alongside abrupt clampdowns on freedom of speech and thought.Citizens of Malaysia live in fear towards the safety of their lives from speaking against corruption and exploitation (though there are numerous brave souls who continue to exercise their rights to speak against the cronies governing this country).

Worse off is the increasingly totalitarian rule and administration imposed by the Najib regime. In my book, Malaysia is already a police state where the interests of the ruling elite is the rule while citizens suffer from rising costs of living, regressive taxes in the form of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), taxpayers’ funds being channeled to who knows where on accounts of embezzlement and more. It is thanks to these idiotic and greedy politicians that Malaysia is suffering so badly from so many self-inflicted problems.

“Politics have no relations to morals..”
~ Niccolo Machiavelli

That being said, that is not what I want to talk about. I feel a huge part of the problem comes from Malaysia being one huge safe space where so many topics are not for discussion. One of which is politics. Failure to debate and speak on politics or even participate in it in order to keep the pace has given rise to the current political climate Malaysia is now suffering.

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors..”
~ Plato

Remember I mentioned about Malaysia’s multi-cultural society? Behind that nice veneer, Malaysians live by unspoken societal norms. A huge part of being a tolerant Malaysia is keeping quiet and not criticizing issues related to race or religion.

Thus, it is no wonder the government cunningly uses religion and race as a political tool to silence dissenters. and circumventing real discussions by crying outrage at the intolerant and confrontational nature of the opposition or critics who they said know nothing about race or religion while framing their acts as disrespect or intolerance against Malaysian society.

Much of what is happening in Malaysia is because of the apathy (or perhaps the learned helplessness) of everyday Malaysians who refuse to speak up and act against injustice.

Perhaps it is possible to attribute the disunity of Malaysians due to the manipulative and cunning political tactics used by Najib and his band of thieves.

However, I feel the greatest reason contributing to the situation is the silence we as citizens of Malaysia perceive is needed for a tolerant and respectful society to function. Therefore, learning to speak up and think for ourselves is something Malaysians should inculcate. It doesn’t mean that we need to be people of the same race or religion are we then allowed to say something that we reason to be wrong. Freedom of speech and thought is a fundamental human right that extends to all.

“One does not need to have cancer to analyze its symptoms.”
~ Maximillian Kohler to Robert Langdon
(Angels and Demons, Dan Brown, pg 39)

Lastly, refusing to positively and constructively criticize issues on the pretense of defending or respecting a group’s sensitivities or ideas is ridiculous because it gives space for intolerance to rise, mainly from racism and religious beliefs.

Simply put, I do not advocate for safe spaces as I reason freedom of speech and thought to be the best way to ensure democracy and civil rights for all.

e) Conclusion

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it..”
~ François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire

Thus, this concludes this blog post. I hope everyone enjoyed reading it and gained something from it. I know this is one post I enjoyed writing about (though I realized I veered off to different topics). Till the next post.

Once again, thank you.

Signing off
~ Sol

Acknowledgements

  1. fqfyuaUX.jpg By 5demayo http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/917365

References

  1. Safe-space – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safe-space
  2. Attempts to ban speakers ‘ put mission of universities at risk’ – http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/13/banning-shouting-down-speakers-universities-risk
  3. Michael Bloomberg Slams ‘Safe Spaces’ And ‘Trigger Warnings’ In Speech To College Grads – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/michael-bloomberg-commencement-speech_us_57264acee4b01a5ebde5ef85
  4. Student accused of violating university ‘safe space’ by raising her hand – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/03/student-accused-of-violating-university-safe-space-by-raising-he/
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