Monday, 26 November 2007

Controversy over Oxford Union Free speech event


The Oxford Union has decided to allow Nick Griffin, the British National Party (BNP) leader and David Irving, the historian who was jailed in Austria for ‘Holocaust denial’ to speak at a free speech event today.

This is billed as ‘examining the limits of free speech’ and should not be a platform for them to air any controversial views.

The predictable reflex protests have arisen from ‘advocates’ of free speech everywhere - including the Oxford Student Union, the university's Jewish society, Muslim society and Tory MP Julian Lewis who symbolically resigned his life membership of the union in protest.

The Muslim Societies apparent rejection of Griffin and Irving, presumably based on their views, seems promising, given the previous recent support of Islamist states for holocaust denial and genocide and certain parallels between the BNP and Islamists.

Though unfortunately their chosen means of expressing them tends to betray an authoritarian tendency and a cavalier attitude to free speech that we have unfortunately seen demonstrated so often before by their co religionists.

Also there are likely to be protestors intent on disrupting it. Weyman Bennett, National Secretary of pressure group Unite Against Fascism, showed just how much he knew about fascism when he smugly claimed:

"We are planning to have a big protest. There will be more people outside the Oxford Union than inside, and there will be more people outside the union than voted for this debate to go ahead."

He would have done better to ensure he was invited to participate and armed himself with all the arguments he needed to refute any attempt Griffin and Irving made to push their agenda and then went on to poke hole in anything else they said.

If you seek to suppress views you object to, and those who hold them, only supporting views compatible with your own – well frankly if you do not support free speech for everyone, including those you disagree with, then you do not really support free speech at all. You oppose it.

The whole point of debate is to air views and theories in the bright light of day, where they can be judged, if they are full of holes and do not hang together, it should be obvious to all - and then publicly shoot them down in metaphorical flames.

All extreme protests against these people and attempts to suppress, or silence them, does is make them look reasonable by comparison, hiding the faults in their ‘thinking’ under the fuss and demonstrate the poor thinking and authoritarian leanings of the objectors.

2 comments:

David-Barfield said...

Well said Phil.

It was not always thus. I was at university at the end of an earlier tradition when the greatest experts, on the surface at least, presented their ideas with humility and welcomed the intellectual adventure of a challenge to their thought to test its validity however eccentric this challenge might be.

Most of the authoritarian, violent students at Oxford, who behaved so disgracefully, would have had an inborn sympathy for the dissident in their childhood. They would have known who was the hero in the story of the lone voice, who cried out that the Emperor had no clothes.

Perhaps it is a tribute to our educational system or the media dominated world that such a large number the present student generation has been reduced to pre-packaged, conformist, destructive automatons, intellectually addled.

Phil A said...

David, Thanks. What I find particularly dispiriting is the barren and misguided way these students misuse their energy.

Clearly they care and enough to make an effort. But they follow an authoritarian path with an element of violent coercion, attempting to suppress anything they disagree with - very like the National Socialism they claim to be so opposed to.

And these are supposedly the crème, potential future leaders…

It betrays an appalling mental laziness that can only be bothered to take the first step and just does not follow mental processes through. They have undermined the efforts of the Union and done a disservice to free speech.

Too many are only capable of shouting down those they disagree with these days and would suppress them completely, by any means, given the chance.

Legitimise this in one case and you have a precedent that may be applied in many others, eventually to oneself.

Martin Mcluskey, of the Oxford University Students' Union, appears to erroneously imagine that having Irving and Griffin on the platform at the Oxford Union in some way lent them legitimacy, or credibility, all by itself.

Betraying the complete derailment of his mental train he said:

"It is as if we are saying that we agree with what they are saying and that we think it is valid."

He seems to completely fail to grasp the fact that (if you don’t live on planet Mclusky) it actually means you have the opportunity to very publicly say that infact you don’t agree and point out why you are right and they are completely wrong – Doh!

By all accounts Irving did not make a good showing in the debate, but the idiot protesters have effectively buried that with the negative publicity they have managed to generate, making Irving and Griffin look like the height of reasonableness by comparison.

I firmly believe that ideas and theories exposed to the clear light of day and subject to scrutiny, argument and review will either stand or fall on their own merit.