Free speech…

Are the students of the Oxford University Union wrong to invite convicted Holocaust denier David Irving and BNP leader Nick Griffin to speak?

Certainly, there are some who think they are wrong. The Guardian reports that “Trevor Phillips, the chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, yesterday branded the invitation a disgrace, and anti-fascism campaigners who fear members of the far right will also come to the city, claimed the safety of students could be at risk.”

In the same article, the report reveals: “…a senior Tory MP resigned his life membership of the 184-year-old debating society, accusing organisers of “naive publicity seeking”.

Max Hastings, historian and newspaper editor, takes the view that students need to know ‘what sort of dangerous people are out there’ : “It seems good for Oxford students to be exposed to the views of Griffin and his BNP, rather than spend their educational lives in a warm bath of Guardian decency. Members of the Union Society must be a sorry lot indeed if they are likely to catch the plague of intolerance and racism from a single evening’s exposure to Griffin”

For my part, frankly, I would rather see Irving and Griffin face a public audience and be allowed to speak at the Union than that they should win a victory through resignations and the refusal of others, who take a very different view, to stand up to them and put those opposing views.

Max Hastings ends his piece with: “Student debating societies have always been foolish, self-indulgent and irresponsible. We should cherish their right to remain so. Tonight’s Oxford audience has things to learn from listening to Griffin and Irving. We should possess sufficient faith in its intelligence to believe that they will be the right ones.”

***

The Telegraph reports: The Defence Secretary Des Browne, June Sarpong, the television presenter, Austin Mitchell, the Labour MP, and other speakers have pulled out of engagements at the union as a result of the invitation.

***

UPDATE: 27 November
The uprising against fascism: Students storm Oxford Union debate (Independent)

Victorian Maiden of Ruthie’s Law has an acerbic take on this.   

27 thoughts on “Free speech…

  1. “For my part, frankly, I would rather see Irving and Griffin face a public audience and be allowed to speak at the Union than that they should win a victory through resignations and the refusal of others, who take a very different view, to stand up to them and put those opposing views”.

    I am in agreement with you on this. I had a rather lively debate at dinner last night with a judge and his wife, both of whom went to Oxford, and their son is there now. It is remarkable how advocates of free speech suddenly decide it does not extend to the likes of Irving and Griffin. I don’t agree with their views, but they should be allowed to air them provided that what they say does not contravene the laws of the land on racism and incitement etc.

  2. Might’s not right, where
    argument’s not treason,
    Treason’s his who’s Might,
    denies good reason. (Questor(c))
    Why are people afraid, Surely someone has a cogent arguement in rebuttal? And this one above; if understood, said 5 yrs ago, shows Might in abuse if he cannot speak freely ad be rebutted cogently.
    All it requires is pure logic, sound reason, and a small amount of moral courage.

  3. I know (or think I know) what Nick Griffin stands for-I do not know too much re David Irvine. However, when we have three political leaders, whose sworn Oath of Allegiance is to the Crown and THIS Country, continue to take our money for allegedly instigating our laws, the very generous allowances and ask us to vote for them, yet THEY continue to want to remain in what they know is eventually going to become a political State of European Union. I know exactly who-if there is ever another general election after the Reform Treaty is ratified-who I will vote for. I have a choice of two political parties. UKIP or BNP. For thirty-four years I have voted for a Party that wants to remain in a European Union that I want out of, a Party that continues to tell me untruths about the Reform Treaty, that wants to be at the “Heart” of Europe, etc if they haven’t managed it in thirty odd years, they will not do it now. The Union is planning for the next 50 years. The loss of our territorial waters (EU’s Motorway in the sea) means World Map changes and, for the first time in our history we will not have control of our own NATIONAL SECURITY (See EU’s protection of Critical Infrastructure). Nick Griffin perhaps tells an unpleasant truth but truth it is. We can at this moment in time repudiate the Treaties (see Denning) after, when we have a new EU Government which has control over-all, it will be too late to pull out.

    This present Government has done its best to suppress freedom of speech, our civil liberties and freedoms others before us have fought and DIED in youth for. Should WE so casually allow them to have died for nothing? The Politicians of Today do not even have the guts to tell people the truth, they hide behind, “its only a tidying up Exercise”, Like the Beano Comic etc.

    Fight for Freedom of Speech or die a slow death afraid to speak at all. Many will continue to die fighting for freedom, and freedom of speech, more if the people of this Country are taken into a political European Union.

  4. One thinks everyone has the right to free speech. However I would love to have the opportunity to debate against these two. Although my views on the views of these two parties are irrelevent in this context, I would love to see how they could justify such extremist views. It is my honest opinion that they could not do it.

  5. Of course the Oxford Union should be entitled to invite Irvine and Girffin to speak. Not to do so is to subvert the concept of Free Speech. Do so and one becomes the every evil one seeks todestroy. Let them speak. Let them have an open debate. It is important that issues are debated whatever their nature so that ideas that can be shown to be empirically wrong can be challenged sensibly and properly. Irvine publishes books. Griffin makes campaign statements. None of these documents can be answered in a direct form. The views are out there. Surely the opportunity to shoot them down is too important to miss. I agree with Chomsky’s view that freedom of speech howver abhorrent the view expressed might be, is an indivisible concept. It cannot be limited and yert preserved.

  6. I say let these people speak. Has it been preordained as to what topics the speakers are going to talk about?Maybe they’ve got other ‘interesting’ interests!

    If the topics are only going to be about the holocaust’ Jewish suppression and anti Semitism, can I suggest we have two further speakers? The ardent supporters of the sub cult of Zionists; Dr Jonathan Sachs and Mark Regev also on the stage to answer questions about the penning up of a group of Palestinian Arabs for between 40 and 60 years in a non viable piece of dirt to scratch around like chickens. I’m willing to hear their justifications and attempts to convince me that it was right.
    If the Germans had won the war and occupied Gt Britain, would we still be caged similarly?

    Arguments meet in the middle; whilst suppression is onesided.

  7. Reference David Irvine, the counter argument is quite simple. Truth reLIES on correspondence theory that has integrity and high objectivity. Aristotle said:

    To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that
    it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true;

    All Mr. Irvine has to show is that what he says; corresponds with reality that does NOT vary in accordance with viewpoints or Frege’s senses and references. I doubt he can do that at all, considering the testimony, fixed meaning of words, and substantial recorded facts.

  8. I agree wholeheartedly with Charon. It is absurd, in my opinion, to deny Irving a platform and turn him into a martyr for free speech. Surely it is much better for him to explain his view that Hitler played no part in the ‘final solution’.

    It is also absolutely pathetic that speakers refuse to debate him.

    I also suspect that the banners may have another agenda, which is to establish a precedent for banning speakers.

  9. In the days when news reels could not be altered, touched up or enhanced, shown without delay, people had to go to the Picture Houses to see them. When Belson at last was opened up to the Allied Forces, the scenes that the photographers captured was sheer horror at what man does, and can do and will do again to his fellow man. (Those that think it will not happen again, you may witness the hate in certain faces at the meeting that is to take place tonight-I do pray I am wrong on that, I sincerely do).

    Piles of dead bodies, people wandering about with such a ‘vacant’ look on their faces, bumping into one another every now and then, although there did not seem to be many walking. Those that could sit, were indeed sitting there picking over piles of what looked like clothes. A Lady (I do not remember her name) accompanied the men there and she held a handkerchief up to her nose-maybe she had smelling salts to prevent her from fainting, I don’t know but those scenes stayed with me for the rest of my life.

    When I travelled to Berlin before the wall came down, I went into one building there where these horrors were continually being shown to any one that cared to stand and witness the terrible scenes being portrayed. This, I was told that no one should forget the part their Country played in the war. Perhaps it is this that David Irvine does not acknowledge actually happened.

    Perhaps he also does not acknowledge the people that were shot trying to escape to the “West” from East Berlin. I too went into East Berlin having to give an estimated time of arrival back into West Berlin and should we not have arrived back on time, a search Party would have been sent out to find us.

    I worry when I see certain Countries building up their military strength, training their Army, navy etc while our short-sighted leaders are deliberately running down our forces and armoury. To me, it is like a re-run of the 1937-8 all over again. Schools do not teach recent history as it was, none of today’s politicians saw or understand the reason to always have this Country “at the ready”. This time though, there is not a Churchill in the background.

  10. It is so important to protect the principles of free speech that all views, however repugnant and vile, are allowed to be expressed.

  11. As someone who deals in free speech issues on a daily basis (I teach media law) I will say that we do not have unbridled free speech and neither does anywhere else. Neither should we. The right to free speech is paradoxically defended by the very fact that we control it.

    In the case of Irving and Griffin however they should be allowed to speak so that all can see the disgraceful moral bankruptcy of what they believe in. Let them speak to allow the counter argument to ring out loud. Irving is an apologist for mass murderers, Griffin is a proponent of politics based on race. The same politics that led to the mass murders in the first place. They are both relics of a bygone age. If people get to listen to their absurd theories they will be undermeined not strengthened

  12. As someone who deals in free speech issues on a daily basis (I teach media law) I will say that we do not have unbridled free speech and neither does anywhere else. Neither should we. The right to free speech is paradoxically defended by the very fact that we control it.

    In the case of Irving and Griffin however they should be allowed to speak so that all can see the disgraceful moral bankruptcy of what they believe in. Let them speak to allow the counter argument to ring out loud. Irving is an apologist for mass murderers, Griffin is a proponent of politics based on race. The same politics that led to the mass murders in the first place. They are both relics of a bygone age. If people get to listen to their absurd theories they will be undermined not strengthened

  13. In my opinion the controversy over tonights debate at the Oxford Union reflects the hypocrisy that is so very close to the hearts of all ‘liberals’.
    For them freedom of speech is all about freedom of THEIR speech. Anybody who dares to disagree with their world view they want to immediately shut down. If you were to turn on the news or watch Question Time on any given day, you would think that there is only one political viewpoint. How did we ever reach the point where politicians freely boasted about how they were more middle of the ground (dull) than their rivals?? It beggers belief!
    I’m white, protestant, straight and working class and without wishing to upset anybody, Nick Griffin is bang in tune with what I feel about my country and defends me and mine at a time when other politicans seem almost embarrassed that I exisist at all!
    Please tell me when the legislation was introduced that allowed smug, liberal, middle class liberals to have final approval on my opinions?
    As a mature (in years anyway) law student I can’t wait to qualify as a Solicitor and start defending people like Nick Griffin from the real fascists.
    PS In reply to Anne Palmers point, I think Churchill made war inevitable and shouldn’t be regarded as the hero that he appears to be…guess I’d better check my front door for protestors now!
    Thanks
    Ian

  14. D’you know, I rather expected this blog to be of an “Adult” variety. So I am wrong and let down once again, Or perhaps I just expect too much of people? You Ian, probably wouldn’t be here today if it had not been for the likes of Churchill. Perhaps you did not know what Hitler had in mind for the men that were left here in this Country, had we have lost that war. Of course, that could have been the kind of propaganda in the same way that David Irving thought the Holocaust was.

    You could leave your door wide open for me, you certainly have nothing to fear from me except for a lashing from my tongue perhaps. It needs an airing me thinks!

  15. Good to see that I’m ‘immature’ because I disagree with Anne. Oh the irony!! Sorry to disagree Anne, but Churchill’s entire political career was based on war. He pulled strings as a young man to get to the front line in the Boer War in order to publicise himself, he was personally responsible for the disaster of the Gallipoli landings in 1915 and he spread fear and paranoia amongst the British people in the 1930’s, regarding Hitlers intentions, in order that he could benefit when the war he so craved happened.
    Hitler was a great admirer of the British and, like most of Europe had for 500 years, shuddered at the prospect of taking on the Royal Navy in combat. Churchill allowed the British people to be bombed and near starved to further his own political agenda. When the Russians and Americans joined the war he became less and less relevant, something that the British people recognised when they booted him out of office in 1945.
    It seems Anne that the war against freedom of speech isn’t just confined to the ‘rent-a-mob’ left. I wonder how people who criticise Churchill or the Royal family or even the church would fair in an open debate?
    Lets start taking on these sacred cows and creating a more democratic and honest society.
    America has its first Amendment and I don’t see society collapsing over there just yet. Are the British so politically immature that that level of political freedom would blow our minds and lead to civil disturbances? I think not Anne.
    Please remember, it isn’t the issue thats the problem its peoples right to express THEIR view on the issue thats the problem.
    Ian

  16. Your last paragraph, “Please remember, it isn’t the issue thats the problem its peoples right to express THEIR view on the issue thats the problem”.

    Views? Criticise Churchill, the Royal Family, America, in fact criticise anyone you wish to, you have that freedom today because of other people’s ‘yesterdays’. They are your views and you are entitled to them, but do not get history mixed up with ‘your views’, and do not expect me to make them mine.

    I suggest you read Mein Kampf, the real version (still held in certain reference libraries), and Hitler was indeed reputed to admire ‘England’, (I cannot confirm of course) and I repeat, as you appear to have ignored it, he put many people, innocent people to death in death camps.

    Churchill would not allow himself to be ‘held back’ he appeared to hurry through life and at a very late age saved this Country. He was a great Leader and unfortunately, true leaders do not take kindly to being led. He warned people, or he tried to warn people of the dangers that were to come, and come they did for world war two most certainly came.

    Now THAT was pure and real terrorism with bombs raining down night after night.

    Perhaps in the same way that I see history repeating itself now and the mistakes that today’s generation of Members of Parliament are ignoring certain signs. They seem to think there will be no more wars. See last paragraph of my first entry.

    You seem to think I might protest at your door. For the record, I do not belong to any Political Party or Organisation, never have done and never will.

  17. I agree with those who have supported the Union’s decision to invite the gentlemen in question to speak. It isn’t ‘free speech’ if it is available only for those who speak what we want to hear. Although, Max Hastings’ rationale really fails to impress me; ought students be made witness to horrible crimes and terrorism and torture before they will acknowledge and believe that there are peoples and governments in the world that seek only their crazed personal interests or who have lost all semblance of sanity?
    Needless to say, such forums contribute to one’s understanding of contentious issues, but I truly hope the English education system is capable of, at the very least, communicating the message that dangerous people do exist in the world without resorting to ‘witness excursions’.
    For is that not the reason we have recorded history in innumerable volumes of books?
    Let David Irving and Nick Griffin show up at the Union, let them defend themselves and don’t miss a single opportunity to question their views.
    History was not written by them, nor by those who have the luxury to deny reality, and they surely won’t go down in history as martyrs of any sort-the world knows too much to believe them.

  18. Pingback: Freedom is a word I rarely use without thinking. Ho hum. « Consilio blog

  19. Should Nick Griffin and David Irving have been invited to speak at the Oxford Union? Everyone who is anyone and a lot of people who are not have offered their opinion on the issue. Even Charon got involved. And a lot of readers of his blog took advantage of the freedom to express their views.

    ‘Martin’ got the ball rolling by taking time off work to tell us that he agreed with Charon.

    Fascinating stuff, Martin. Thanks for letting us know. That’s freedom of speech in action.

    ‘Tony’ then advised us:

    “And this one above; if understood, said 5 yrs ago, shows Might in abuse if he cannot speak freely ad be rebutted cogently.”

    I don’t agree with your opinion Tony but I defend your write to say it.

    [Tony returned to apologise for his typos but, regrettably, not for the full frontal assault on the English language]

    ‘Anne’ – a staunch believer in the right to free speech and the right to waste her vote – lamented the fact that “for thirty-four years I have voted for a Party that wants to remain in a European Union that I want out of, a Party that continues to tell me untruths about the Reform Treaty, that wants to be at the “Heart” of Europe, etc”.

    34 years! Anne – let go. They are not worth it.

    ‘Christopher’, taking freedom of speech to a transcendental level, took the time out from his lunch break to tell us: “ my views on the views of Griffin and Irving are irrelevent”.

    All ‘Tim’ wanted to say was that he believed that people should be able to say what they wanted to say.

    Thought provoking stuff.

    ‘Mark’ took advantage of the right to free speech to ask “If the Germans had won the war and occupied Gt Britain, would we still be caged? ”

    Possibly, Mark, but we can’t know for certain. Controversially, David Irving thinks that we would have been raised ‘free range’ or in barns.

    Tony returned and without any sense of irony offered his opinion on ‘truth’. This time, without the decency of an apology, he wrote –

    “All Mr. Irvine has to show is that what he says; corresponds with reality that does NOT vary in accordance with viewpoints or Frege’s senses and references. I doubt he can do that at all, considering the testimony, fixed meaning of words, and substantial recorded facts.”

    As before, Tony, I don’t understand a word of what you are saying but I defend your right etc…

    ‘Anne’ returned lamenting (yet again) .

    This time she reminisced about the second world war, regretted the lack of a Churchill, and feared that the country was not ready.

    We are ready, Anne. Believe me. Next time we will play 5 in midfield.

    Peter thought that all views should be allowed but enigmatically kept his reasons for thinking that to himself.

    Then at 7.02 pm ( and again at 7.04pm), the tone of the debate was raised by the appropriately named “Barry Turner” – who – would you know –

    ‘deals in free speech issues on a DAILY basis (I teach media law)’.

    An expert on freedom of speech. This was just what the blog was looking for.

    Although his schedule is presumably very busy (dealing with free speech issues on a daily basis) he made time to tell us (twice) that ‘the right to free speech is paradoxically defended by the very fact that we control it.’

    Thanks Barry. I am always impressed how experts can spot paradoxes better than the rest of us.

    “Ian’ told us that he is ‘white, protestant, straight and working class’ and then expected us to believe that he agrees with Nick Griffin.

    Pull the other one, mate.

    ‘Anne’ returned to lament the fact that the board is not ‘adult’. She then reminisced about the Boer War and Churchill.

    Ian returned at 10.19 to argue with Anne and Anne returned at 11.40 to argue with Ian.

    But by that time I felt that I had learnt all there was to know about free speech and went to bed.

    No comments please – I’ve got work to do (on a daily basis).

    Clive C Smith

  20. I never got to the Union to see whether Irvine and Griffin turned up or to hear what they said. I’m a bit surprised that some people should take such notice of what is said in a private club in front of a presumably intelligent but perhaps immature audience. Name the evil, don’t just suppress it thinking that it will go away. That way it will only gain strength.

    Irvine was comprehensively discredited in the English trial when he so unwisely sued Penguin Books and lost resoundingly. Read the judgment. It’s long but very effective. He now lacks total credibility as an historian. Griffin I know less about but his abhorrent ideas will gain secret support if left to go underground. They must be in the open to be shown as specious. The lasting disservice of Nazism is that it inhibits serious discussion about racism as anyone who makes a point about racial matters is branded a Nazi and immediately sidelined. This is foolish as it lets racism grow.

    My wife’s father was a police officer in Denmark and was arrested and sent to concentration camps in Germany. He survived, although about a third of his colleagues did not. The Danes have a good record in saving Jews from being rounded up but they are a homogeneous society and it would be foolish to think that they should be inhibited in free speech, eg about cartoons. Gagging unpleasant views in our pluralistic society in the UK does not make them go away. It gives a spurious sympathy to the gagged and just lets the ideas build up in others until they may explode. Abominations should be seen for what they are and once that happens they can be refuted, pilloried, ridiculed and thus rendered harmless. That will not happen if they are unacknowledged. If we know our own prejudices at least we can try to deal with them. These people are in our society and, provided they commit no crimes, must be shown as erroneous, pitiable, marginalised cranks. WE should not believe everything that is said in the Oxford Union or we shall end up like Hitler, thinking that because the Union would not fight in the famous King and Country debate, that the UK would remain neutral.

    Richard

  21. It is wrong to equate ‘free speech’ with a right to speak where-ever one so chooses. I understand free speech to mean that you are allowed to say what you like without fear of punishment or repercussion. However this does not mean that you have the right to speak anywhere. As such, in denying Irving and Griffen the right to talk at the Oxford Union you are not denying them free speech; you are simply denying them both a certain platform to air their views. Irving and Griffen are still free to air their views, however the right to free speech does not give them an inherant right to speak at the Oxford union.

  22. Being allowed to stand on a box up a back street in Barnsley addressing one man and his dog is hardly democracy is it?!? This is only part of the story. The BNP have trouble getting their publications printed in the UK, have big problems having meetings in any building in the UK and their members suffer regular harressment from leftist and liberal groups with next to no police action or press interest. So Oxfords debate is merely the tip of the iceberg.
    Perhaps Luke would like Oxford University to (re) build a servants entrance, where people who really aren’t ‘our sort’ could enter and be jolly grateful to be allowed to say a few words.
    Perhaps in this atmosphere of freedom, of speech we could have Oxford University hold a debate about elitism in education? No? I thought not!
    Ian

  23. Wel, the lst two pots make a serious poinmt about free speech that was brought home to me at a SPTL conference at All Souls — now that’s elitist for you — when the late Peter Birks was secretary.

    We may think of freedom of expression as bad-mouthing Gordon Brown in the pub – we have no fear that the Secret Police are going to feel our collars suddenly, as they might in some countries. But few people have good access to the media and that’s where the likes of Rupert Murdoch score. They can not only say what they like but can get a lot of people to listen. Getting some sort of equality for that is very hard. There is no inherent right to speak at the Oxford Union, although I supose being a member would give that right. Does the Oxford Union have the right to invite them to speak? The simple answer is yes. It’s a private club and moe fuss might be appropriate if it were a London Docklands Working Men’s Club — if there are such institutions these days. It’s in places like that where Irving and Griffin might have a more welcoming audience and that might be moe worrying.

    Now elitism in education, especially legal education, is another topic altogether. Perhaps we should look at Neuberger and the City solicitors who are trying to ecourag non-Russell Group students.

    Richard

  24. Pingback: The Musings of Harry » Blog Archive » Oxford union debate

  25. Pingback: Freedom is a word I rarely use without thinking. Ho hum. « criminal law online

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