IssueMarch 2010
Comment by Maya Evans

The night before, I scrolled through his Wikipedia entry to brief myself on what to expect. “Voted sixth by New Statesman readers on their list of ‘Heroes of our time’.” Holy cow, I thought. I read on: “his political life started in [Australian] high school where in 1967 he launched campaigns in support of the indigenous Aboriginal population”. What a dude: “member of the committee of the Vietnam Moratorium Campaign; also founded the inter-denominational anti-war group Christians for Peace and was elected its secretary, aged 18”. “1971, joined the London Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and quickly became a leading member”.

It rapidly became apparent that this guy is a human rights god, a modern day superhero!

I was beginning to feel intimidated. I was going to be speaking alongside Peter Tatchell, telling the story of what had led me to become a political activist from someone who was fairly nonpolitical before the Iraq war, to get to the point of committing civil disobedience and becoming the first person convicted under the Serious Organized Crime and Police Act (2005).

I’d been thinking about recent stories around the current erosion of civil liberties. The case of Geert Wilders, the Dutch MP banned from entering the country to show his anti-Islam film Fitna in the House of Lords. Should we allow someone to say what they want even if what they’re saying will be offensive? There’s a fine line between telling someone to commit a crime and inciting hate which may lead to crime.

As much as I dislike Geert Wilders, and his existence makes me feel queasy, I don’t think he should have been banned from entering the country. Only open discussion will get to the source of what the problem is, in this case the risk of stirring up angry Muslim men in this country who are already annoyed about British foreign policy towards Muslim countries.

I walked towards the British Library and was greeted by a sign on a small billboard: “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood” – Marie Curie. “Wow,” I thought, as I readied myself to speak with a group of young researchers about strategies in campaigning, and to meet a super human rights god. I turned the corner towards the biggest library in the world.

It felt calming to be in such a tranquil environment. I was met in the foyer by the learning manager who took me to meet a dozen young adults who were on the library’s learning course around the Taking Liberties exhibition. We started to do a go round of names and interests. Then, Peter Tatchell walked in. He’s exactly how he is in the pictures. Pristine, slight in figure with a beaming presence, the light made his forehead glisten like an angel. In his soft Australian accent he started talking about his history from campaigning for gay rights to attempting a citizen’s arrest on Robert Mugabe. I talked a little about my campaigning history and current abuses of law on our civil liberties and where to draw the line with free speech. We then engaged in a ping pong discussion for around an hour about human rights. It was interesting to watch young minds working and changing. It made me feel convinced more than ever that education of minds is the central way things will change.

See more of: Maya Evans diary