St. Mary's High School, Chesterfield. He was placed third. Represented Province 15
“Freedom lies in being bold” – Robert Frost
It was twenty eight years ago when Muslims were burning copies of ‘The Satanic Verses’ in Bradford City Centre. The writer, Salman Rushdie, was forced to go into hiding like a fox fleeing its hunters. Respectable politicians (and I use that phrase loosely) remarked that this man, whose life was in danger, yes, should be protected, but probably did bring it on himself.
Now, let’s fast forward to two thousand and seventeen.
It’s not just hysterical Muslims, the favoured scapegoat for people of a certain persuasion, who are threatening our liberty. It’s your average noodle eating university student who claims to be on the hunt for freedom. Freedom to sleep with who they want, freedom to wear what they want, freedom to change whatever they want about their bodies. As Freddie Mercury sang, they want it all – just with the tiny exception of being exposed to ideas that they don’t agree with and, just for good measure, they don’t want the rest of us to be exposed to them either.
As Robert Frost so aptly put it, freedom does indeed lie in being bold. But being bold is not whining about micro aggressions and hate crime. Being bold is not moaning that somebody’s words have made you feel unsafe as if they held you to ransom. And being bold is certainly not threatening somebody who you just to happen to disagree with.
Despite our celebration of boldness, it doesn’t necessarily mean that any of us will be guaranteed freedom. Bret Weinstein, an anti-racism campaigner and professor at Evergreen State College, was unable to continue working as a result of the backlash following his rejection of a proposal that would see white teachers and students banned from campus for a day. Julie Bindel, who did more than anybody to make rape in marriage a legally punishable crime, is no-platformed by the self-aggrandised National Union of Students for a close-to-the-knuckle article she wrote about transgender people back in 2004. And the Catholic journalist Tim Stanley, who opposes access to abortion, is not allowed to debate the topic at the University of Oxford (you know, the one where the clever ones go, where our future leaders come from) because he (quote) “doesn’t have a uterus.” The words of Robert Frost, to be bold and be free, once again sound particularly relevant here, as do his thoughts that “Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can't, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.”
All of these people who stand up and say what they think, despite illiberal attempts to silence them, are bold and, because of this, they are free. They are free to hold opinions and to speak freely of them. They are free to disagree vehemently with an intellectual opponent and not let that taint their character. And they are free to sit and listen to others with content – just like we are doing today – knowing that they need not be threatened by somebody equally passionate.
Our culture, on the other hand, has forgotten what it means to be free.
Being free is about opening your mind, and then your mouth; saying what you think, and being prepared to disagree – the cornerstone of democracy itself. Freedom has been hard fought for, by Sophie Scholl and Mary Kenny; Camille Paglia, and Tony Benn, and all those countless others who stood up to, and continue to stand against, those who want to see our liberty eradicated. Freedom is too precious, too important, to be dismissed by cheap rhetoric.
In Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’, Celia remarks to Rosalind that “Now go we in content/To liberty, and not to banishment.” That was 1599, this is two thousand and seventeen, and yet our position seems startlingly similar. It’s about time we listened to Celia. It’s time to stand up and be bold and, once you do that, you will become the personification of freedom itself.