“ Free speech, exercised both individually and through a free press, is a necessity in any country where people are themselves free.”
“Free speech is intended to protect the controversial and even outrageous word; and not just comforting platitudes too mundane to need protection”
Monday, 26 November 2007
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.