Posted by: secretperson | November 24, 2007

Free Speech?

This just in from the BBC, the BNP’s Nick Griffin and contraversial historian David Irving are to be invited to speak at the Oxford Union following a vote of the Union’s members. They will speak in a debate on Free Speech, but more interesting is the national debate in newspapers and online about free speech this invite has produced.

The Guardian’s Comment is Free debate site had plenty of articles on the subject. It wasn’t alone. Should people such as Griffin and Irving, both convicted of holocaust denial, be allowed a platform on which to spread their views? Should they be challenged rather than pushed underground? There are plenty of opinions so I thought I’d tell you mine.

I believe in free speech. There exist laws to convict people for incitement to violence or racial hatred. If Irving or Griffin raise such views at the debate, they can be reported to the police. Their opponents have no need to worry on this account. Those at the debate (which is about free speech not race or the holocaust) can argue with these people. If their views are so obviously wrong, why not put them in their place. Therefore the Oxford Union made the right decision. It did not give in to pressure from outsiders. It was quite rightly argued that if they had chosen not to invite them, it would not be a violation of their free speech. But to give in to pressure after the invites had been given would have set a terrible precident.

What worries me is that there isn’t one oppressive law which can be argued against, but a culture which is harder to fight back against. There are many out there who feel that it is wrong for the Griffins of this world to have their say. They protested the Oxford Union trying to pressure them into withdrawing the invites, if organisations feel they will be under pressure from protests, they will take decisions for the sake of their reputation. These decisions won’t have to rely on facts, simply the loudness of the protests. Well done the Oxford Union for not backing down.

Now racism is a very damaging accusation in today’s world, easy to say, hard to refute, and almost universally looked down on. It may be racism now but how long before the complaints start on anyone who’s views contrast with the complainants. The English National Ballet faced calls to sack a ballet dancer who was a BNP member. David Coleman, a professor of demography at Oxford University, faced protestors calling for his sacking for his work with the anti-immigration pressure group Migration Watch. The inevitable cries of racism were heard. Again Oxford stood up, but there are those out there who disagreed.

So from BNP leaders speaking, to BNP members not being allowed jobs, to anyone opposing immigration. Where next? Anyone questioning religions is already at risk. Now religion is a sensitive matter which raises high emotions when people disagree. Now I’ll argue against religion another time, but I am shocked that politics is now raising the same emotions, not just that people really believe in their politics, but the emergence of political blasphemy. Things which offend some higher truth, so terrible they must not even be muttered.

But who decides? Far-left students? Religious extremists? If so I worry. I oppose immigration, the EU and support English independence. Given the prevailing political climate, it wouldn’t be hard for a deluded student to whip up protests against ‘English Nationalism’ painting it as racism. So whatever I think of Griffin or Irving, I will defend their right to speak, and argue against those who think their opinions are so important noone who disagrees should even be allowed to speak. Just think, next it could be you.

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Responses

  1. Griffin and Irving haven’t even been invited to explain their views on immigration or the holocaust; merely to talk about their thoughts and personal experiences concerning the denial of freedom of speech…yet their opponents still threaten violent protests. Do these students and their supporters not have the intellectual capacity to defeat the arguments of the two speakers by asking them awkward questions which they might not be able to adequately answer?

  2. Lee – that’s why I compared it to blasphemy, it’s not just that they see Griffin et al’s views as wrong, but so wrong that for them even to be uttured is wrong. I saw one comment that because they were wrong it’d be easy to defeat their arguments, but I think this may be harder than some imagine. The ‘racism is ignorance’ myth may fall down against two intelligent men who have vast experience talking about their subjects of interest. I think you’d need good panellists to win any argument. But as you say they may (and should) talk about free speech.

  3. I agree with you, secretperson. Above all, at the meeting, they should be challenged about what they would do, if anything, to restrict the freedom of speech and liberties of those who disagree with THEM if they were in a position of power to do so.


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