Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Union debates about free speech

The Oxford Union is a very old and highly respected debating society. Despite the name, it has nothing to do with Oxford University Student Union - people often get confused about this. In the past, they have had names such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Ian Paisley, William Hague and Stephen Fry. The Union covers a range of subjects and there can be input from students and academics.

Recently, there has been a huge amount of controversy about a debate on free speech which featured Nick Griffin and David Irving. The former is the chairman of the British National Party - widely regarded as racist and the latter is famous for denying the existence of the holocaust - one of the most horrifying aspects of World War II. Apart from the controversy, there has also been protests against the debate and an MP has quit the Oxford Union because the debate was going to take place.

Despite all these protests and negative media coverage, the Oxford Union insisted that the debate should still happen:
"I find the views of the BNP and David Irving awful and abhorrent but my members agreed that the best way to beat extremism is through debate."
A collection of quotes from people against the debate are on the United Against Fascism. One of the quotes is from the President of the National Union of students - Gemma Tumelty:
"The Holocaust denier, David Irving and leader of the fascist BNP, Nick Griffin have no place in our multicultural society let alone on our diverse university campuses. NUS utterly opposes racism and fascism wherever it arises and will certainly oppose any attempt by Oxford University's Debating Society to invite Irving and Griffin to speak.

The pair's racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, Islamophobic views threaten the safety of our diverse university communities. For example, wherever the BNP is active, racist attacks and other hate crimes increase."
Yes - Griffin and Irving express views that are racist and anti-semitic. However, the best way of destroying the credibility of those views is to have a group of highly intelligent people debate with them. Preventing the debate from happening makes them martyrs. Apart from that, they are not advertising political parties - that's not the subject of the debate. The subject was free speech - it would be ironic to prevent them from debating this.

"Kill Tryl" was one of the slogans in the protests outside the union building, according to this news article(the slogan is directed towards Luke Tryl - the President of the Oxford Union). This means he is getting persecuted for providing an opportunity for people to humiliate and discredit two racist and anti-semitic people. Does that make sense to you?

However, if this wasn't a debate, it would be a different matter altogether. If the British National Party were advertising their policies without any opportunity for someone to respond - for instance, an on-campus campaign - that would deserve a 'no platform'.

To conclude, I will say that I am strongly against racism. A debate featuring intelligent people discrediting and humiliating racists seems like a great way to comabat it. The Oxford Union was not organising a biased campaign platform for one political party. The death threats directed towards Luke Tryl are totally stupid.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Oxford Union, Free Speech, Nick Griffin, David Irving


Alfred Thompson said...

I agree with you. Free speech has no meaning at all if it only allows people who say the right things to speak.

AcidDrip said...

it is surely Common sense that protesting and trying to disrupt someones free speech ( so bloody what if its Nick Griffin or Abu Hamza or Samina malik)just because you dont agree with them is anti democratic and indeed smacks just a little of the Old national socialists... thats the NAZIS to those of us with History Degrees.. knew it would come in useful some time ha ha