A Student of History

November 27, 2007

“This has nothing to do with free speech”??

Filed under: The Academy,The past that is still with us,The world today — John Maass @ 12:41 pm

As I noted here, two contoversial speakers were to speak at the Oxford Union yesterday, one of whom is David Irving, noted (and previously jailed) Holocaust denier.  The BBC tells us that “hundreds of protesters besieged the Union Society, furious at the decision to invite the leader of the far-right British National Party to speak there, along with a historian who has denied that the holocaust ever happened.”   Ultra right winger Nick Griffin was the other scheduled speaker, and he was “bustled in surrounded by a group of skinheads to protect him.”  As if that isn’t going to get folks ticked off, eh?

Still, where do we draw the line between unpopular opinions and preventing controversial people from speaking?  “This has nothing to do with free speech,” argued one protester, “it’s about giving credibility to fascists, making them appear to be part of the mainstream.”  Who decides that?  Its got everything to do with free speech, contrary to what this naive student shouted, but that does not mean everyone gets 30 minutes and a mike.  Leftists on American campuses routinely shout down conservatives such as David Horowitz, Jean Kirkpatrick, etc., and steal copies of right-wing student newspapers.  (Click here for example) That is surely wrong, although most of the time university officials do nothing in response.

The BBC goes on to report that “banners were draped over the walls surrounding the Union Society, bearing anti-racist slogans,” while chants reverberated through the narrow streets outside: “BNP – off the streets” and “Nazi scum – go home.”  Others, however, took a different tack:  One group supporting the event held a banner aloft bearing Voltaire’s famous dictum: “I disapprove of your views, but would fight to the death for your right to express them.”

Even then, the organisers decided to break it into two groups “for safety reasons.”  So the BNP’s Nick Griffin spoke in one room, while David Irving addressed students in another. Nonetheless, the Oxford Union Society is insisting the event was a success, albeit a qualified one.   President Luke Tryl said: “I think fascism is awful and abhorrent, but the way to take on fascism is through debate.

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