Spotted the first of these a couple of days ago, but didn’t get around to passing comment, so figured I’d do it now after spotting the follow-up article.
Whilst I have to admit it’s not a topic I want to spend a long time writing on, the short story is that I think the Union is right (or, at least, not wrong) to invite the two people mentioned, judging by what I’ve read about the event.
I can understand perfectly well why so many people would not think it right for such an organisation as the Oxford Union to invite such speakers, but a couple of comments I spotted just didn’t tally in my head.
Stephen Altmann-Richer, co-president of the Oxford University Jewish Society, said that while freedom of speech was important it was “overshadowed in this instance”.
“I don’t think these people should be invited to the Oxford Union, by having them speak, it legitimises their views,” he said.
Sorry, but no, it doesn’t. Giving them the platform to speak specifically about Holocaust denial, for example, or any other number of ‘interesting’ topics the BNP tends to bring up, legitimizes their views. Giving them the paltform as part of a larger event incorporating many different speakers with different viewpoints does not. If anything, it encourages the debate. I simply can’t see how it can be viewed as legitimizing their views by view of the fact that they are able to speak at an event “…to talk about the limits for free speech”.
I can say that because, for me at least, if I hear such people bringing up ideas that I don’t believe in or, put more simply, are wrong, I don’t suddenly change that opinion because of the venue in which they are making such points. Similarly, their presence at such an event does not transform it into a ‘rally’ or any such nonsense. If anything the event has the potential to humiliate them, in as much as it is a free speech event, incorporating some very intelligent speakers and based in what is arguably the hub of academic and intellectual excellence in the UK (sorry, Cambridge… 🙂 ). No matter how much trash the speakers may (or may not) speak, they are doing so in an environment where even if they disagree with their opposition, they will be outclassed and defeated by simple logic. If anything, I’d love to go to the event just to see the responses if either of them were foolish enough to start extolling their views.
It. Simply. Does. Not. Legitimize. Anything.
Like I said earlier, I can accept why this has caused such controversy, but in my mind we just have to step back and take a look at the bigger picture.
I’m not a fan of the BNP or their views, nor do I believe the various theories put forward by Holocausts deniers, but – in these circumstances – I do not think it is unreasonable for such speakers to be invited. Controversial, yes, but that’s why it’s a debate.
I think we just have to be very careful in how quick otherwise ‘liberal’ people jump up to shout for bans on people with differing viewpoints. At the end of the day, the BNP still exists as a political party, legitimizing their views many more times than allowing Nick Griffin to speak at an Oxford Union debate. Trying to stop him from being invited to the event, whilst such viewpoints exist and are scarily prevalent just strikes me as being comparable to sticking your fingers in your ears whilst saying “No! No! La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!”.
The worst part of all this furore? The fact that a BNP spokesman can come out and say this:
Simon Darby, BNP spokesman, described the expected protests as “very misguided”.
“It is ironic you have got people shouting ‘fascism’ while campaigning in the face of the process of democracy,” he said.
in response to the situation and I find it hard to disagree with the sentiment, however much I might want to, and however much I might know it to be bullshit seizing-the-moment propaganda.