In the weeks since the events of Charlottesville, Virginia, where a Nazi murdered one peaceful counter-protester and injured 19 others, activists and allies have been confronting white supremacists across North America. But even as the far right has had to cancel dozens of rallies in the face of an outpouring of anti-fascist resistance, many centrists and liberals have roundly condemned the actions of the very people scaring racists off the streets. A slew of thinkpieces have appeared in the mainstream media, arguing that anti-fascists – or “antifa” – are just as violent as those they claim to oppose, and are actually empowering the far right by supposedly “fighting hate with hate”. On the contrary, anti-fascists are putting their bodies on the line to fight for survival, human rights, and an end to oppression, while the far right relentlessly attacks people of colour. Now more than ever, we must refuse to legitimise racism, whether it’s being expressed by torch-wielding Nazis or by groups who disguise their bigotry as mere “free speech.”
First and foremost, we as a society must recognize that racist rhetoric is a form of violence, and that as such, giving racists space to express their ideas enables violence. The idea that the public sphere becomes healthier when anti-oppressive and oppressive messages are given equal space also presumes that these two sides have the same social value, but this is plainly untrue. White supremacy has inflicted immense pain and oppression upon racialised people the world over, and should never be given room to exist and grow.
Moreover, the idea that by denying racists “free speech,” anti-fascists are setting a precedent that could backfire against oppressed communities is a fallacy. We already live in a world where Black Lives Matter is routinely met with a level of police violence rarely faced by white protesters, where environmental activists are monitored by the state, and where expressing anger at the ethnic cleansing of Palestine can get you fired. At a recent racist “free speech” rally in Boston, white supremacists were quietly escorted away in police vehicles when the event was cut short by counter-protests; meanwhile, nearby in Quebec City, police heavily tear-gassed counter-protesters before protecting a far right demonstration against immigration.
Finally, we must remember that McGill is not immune to the resurgence of violent white supremacy in the public sphere. Last year, Islamophobic, homophobic, and white supremacist flyers were posted around campus on several occasions. Titled “tired of anti-white propaganda?”, the flyers were premised on the notion that white supremacy was necessary to counterbalance progressive activism on campus. Universities can be valuable forums for political debate and social change, but only if we as a student body are uncompromising in our rejection of toxic ideas. Treating the racist far right like a legitimate political movement deserving of a public platform only makes them stronger. Fighting them in the streets does the opposite: it reminds them that every far right rally will be met with a dozen counter-protests, and every act of violence will be met with resistance.
—The McGill Daily editorial board