Op-ed: ‘UKrant “no-platformed” Lenz’

If the discussion around Martin Lenz and Paul Cliteur isn’t represented properly, it’s all too easy to say that ‘everyone should be heard’, says philosophy student Thomas Krabbenbos.  He focuses on the heart of the matter.
By Thomas Krabbenbos

The UKrant has no-platformed Martin Lenz. That’s to say, they accomplished the same thing that rescinding Cliteur’s invitation would have. Lenz’s arguments didn’t get the same audience because they weren’t repeated. Of course, the UKrant doesn’t have to repeat them, and the Groninger Forum gets to invite any and all qualified speakers they want. Just like anyone is free to doubt the qualifications of those speakers.

But without any representation of what’s at stake between Lenz and Cliteur, and by ignoring the voices of those who object, it’s all too easy to conclude that all voices should be listened to in the name of freedom of speech. That is what Elma Drayer does in her column in De Volkskrant, all because UKrant blew several of Lenz’ characterisations out of proportion.

No-platforming

We all too quickly assume that people forming an opinion will read both Lenz’ and Cliteur’s blogs we just provide links to them. The fact that this doesn’t happen is because Lenz doesn’t call for any kind of no-platforming at all; he is simply disappointed that Cliteur was invited and tells us why. In the meantime, Martin Lenz has written a second blog post about how he was portrayed. People should be concerned about how quickly the essence of discussions is lost. Let me serve as an example and summarise the content.

What Cliteur potentially means with ‘theoterrorism’ is that a belief in God lies at the root of terrorism. Religion, it follows, is sufficient reason for violence. We’re all familiar with this narrative; it’s what the terrorists say, as it implies that every Muslim should follow them. Should we take their word for it and repeat their arguments? Not everyone who does so deserves a platform, for several reasons.

Legitimise

First off, what you do can be more important than what you say. You have to be careful not to implicitly legitimise the call to violence. No matter how much you disapprove of terrorists, the moment you tell people they have to choose between violence and abandoning their faith, you’re only helping the terrorists.

Secondly, you practically deny millions of Muslims their experience with their religion as one of peace, as well as the academic consensus on terrorism. In order to do this, both terrorists and Islamophobes try to poison the well from which the criticism springs. Muslims are deluded souls and academics are all part of a leftist conspiracy.

Third, even if this is correct, our attempts to prevent terrorism wouldn’t work.  Apart from the fact that it looks like they might be working, our alternatives would have to suppress faith in a certain god. There is no peaceful way to do this. At best we’re assailing freedom of religion, at worst we decide that some people should be removed violently.

The final question is whether this frame can be consistent when it comes to extreme right terrorism. Read more about this in dequalia.nl/open-brief-aan-paul-cliteur/

Charitable

Let’s be charitable, though, and assume that Cliteur is neither Islamophobic nor a conspiracy theorist, doesn’t mean or say what I’ve laid out above, and actually has interesting things to say about Islamism. Cliteur does distinguish between Islam in general and Islamism, the political movement that strategically uses terrorism and legitimises the same. This would prevent the objections above,

but only if there’s a substantive or causal difference. As Martin Lenz says it, there should be a more specific ‘factor X’ that explains the belief in violent interpretations. This is a legitimate research area for social scientists who should be given every single platform. That’s because we can actually influence these factors in a constructive manner.

Parry

Paul Cliteur could have easily parried Lenz’ criticism, although it would have been easier if UKrant had published that criticism. This whole discussion about platforming will become superfluous as soon as Cliteur can prove that he’s part of an established research project that can come up with a clarifying factor and substantiating proof. Perhaps it can be found somewhere in his books?

The writer himself should be able to find them quickly and save us the task from going through all of them, preventing culture wars from breaking out before we’ve had a chance to ask any critical questions. If he would do this himself, either on an online or an offline platform, no one would have to interpret or debate what he truly means. He could simply tell what the elusive ‘factor X’ is.

But he hasn’t. Neither does he address Lenz’s criticism in his letter or in his interview with the UKrant. Instead, he once again poisons the wellspring of academic criticism and pretends to be the victim. It might cause one to be disappointed, like Lenz, that we’ve not invited a more interesting speaker.

Thomas Krabbenbos is a philosophy student at the RUG.

03 April 2019