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Aisha Iqbal: Stifling debate is not the answer to winning the equality battle

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I have found myself in the midst of an unexpected crossfire this week.

Our coverage of a feminist event at Leeds Civic Hall which was cancelled at the last minute by Leeds City Council due to concerns that it was giving a platform to people with potentially transphobic views attracted criticism from someone who suggested we had ignored the trans community and given further space to a hateful organisation.

Let me be clear. That is simply not the case.

I won’t detail the full conversation - and the resolution to it - here in this column, as that discussion belongs in another forum and channel.

But, through dialogue, I believe a resolution will be found.

However the fact that this even became an issue was surprising and disappointing to me, as someone who strives constantly to champion equality and fairness in all its forms.

And what it highlighted to me, again, was the increasing ‘divide and rule’ nature of our public discourse - and the sheer lack of nuance that we have in our current social media driven, echo-chamber infested world.

Someone suggested to me this week that some issues were not up for debate.

When did we become the kind of society where that is ok?

In a society where we pride ourselves on free speech, we can’t have it both ways - we can’t have our free speech cake and eat it.

That applies equally to people on any side of a particular argument.
For me, it even applies to those who may not hold the same views that I do.

Their views might be abhorrent to me personally, but I’d much rather sit down and discuss them over a cup of tea than across a police line or a shouty Twitter rant.

But maybe that’s just me.

This year especially, in the year that we mark 100 years since women were first granted the vote, it’s ludicrous that women - both those who were born into their gender, and those who weren’t - are fighting with each other and resorting, as I have seen on some social media threads this week, to insults.

That definitely doesn’t help the cause.

In amongst all this, we had the Prime Minister dancing onto the stage to deliver her closing speech at the Conservative party conference.

Whatever you think of her politics, it was a brave - I THINK that’s the word I want to use - move by her and her advisers to ‘humanise’ the Maybot, as the Premier has unkindly been referred to in the past.

The other resonant moment was when Mrs May condemned the abuse that had been directed at black MP Diane Abbot (although not, it has to be said, the abuse that came from within her own party).

This again got me thinking about conciliation and its key role in the journey to resolution.

It’s such a simple, common sense concept but it seems to have been pushed to the back of the queue in recent times.

We are always being asked to pick sides. There is no such thing as debate anymore - everything is black and white.

But what happened to grey? I’ve always liked grey. It’s always been unfairly maligned as a colour but it’s back in fashion on the catwalks.

It’s time to bring it back into fashion in the public sphere too.

Don’t get me wrong. That doesn’t mean we should resort to the mundane, the platitudinous and the patronising.

But there is no “them” and “us” when it comes to the issue of women and womanhood.

Let’s not get caught up inthe trap.

We are all queens and goddesses - so let’s dance together towards our common goals.

GOODBYE, AND THANK YOU

This is my final column for the Yorkshire Evening Post, as I depart the company for a new job covering politics a few miles up the road in Bradford.

Thanks to everyone who has read, commented on and contributed to the column over the past year and a bit.

It’s been great fun to share my thoughts and observations on the Leeds political scene with you, regardless of whether you agree with them or not!

If you are inclined to read any more of my musings, you can follow me on Twitter @AishaIqbalKhan or find my Facebook page Aisha Iqbal Khan.