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Free speech and the Oxford Union

Eddie Mair | 17:48 UK time, Monday, 19 November 2007

What do you think?

Comments

  1. At 05:49 PM on 19 Nov 2007, Bernard Pack wrote:

    So David Irvine and the BNP are OK but Norman Finkelstein was too much of an extremist? I am very suspicious of Mr Trill

  2. At 05:51 PM on 19 Nov 2007, David Traynier wrote:

    Just heard Edwina Curry criticize the Oxford Union on the basis that, while she believes in free speech, exceptions should be made for someone like David Irving because he's a liar and hurts people's feelings. Galileo was castigated as a liar and, no doubt, hurt people's feeling but he turned out to be correct. It's by allowing people to express views and challenge orthodoxy that we discover whether they are right or wrong.

    Curry should probably stick to writing lukewarm porn rather than thinking.

  3. At 05:59 PM on 19 Nov 2007, Mr Davis wrote:

    According to the evidence from Dispatches and the reaction to the Danish Cartoons - Islam is a misogynist, homophobic, medieval death cult
    - but if I were to say this in public I would fear for my life and be investigated by West Midlands Police.
    I'm even afraid to write my full name here. Why aren't the Oxford Union discussing the lack of freedom to criticise religion - that is more pertinent than giving yet another platform to crack-pots like Irving.

  4. At 06:05 PM on 19 Nov 2007, Rachel Evans wrote:

    I think Voltaire said ' I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.' Free speech is not simply picking and choosing what we want to hear at any one time, it is allowing the most repellent and fanatical to speak alongside the measured or liberal and having the intelligence to decide which to believe or agree with. We do still have that intelligence in this country, in spite of many efforts to spoon-feed us with mental pap so that our brains rot.

  5. At 06:06 PM on 19 Nov 2007, Charles Quekett wrote:

    I am reminded of a leaflet distributed in Manchester University around 1972.
    It enjoined its readers to: "Defend Free Speech! Stop fascist Eysenk speaking."

  6. At 06:08 PM on 19 Nov 2007, Matt Taylor wrote:

    The reason for inviting people with some of most abhorrent views in the political spectrum is precisely for that reason: they are abhorrent and should be exposed as your speaker from the Oxford Union so perspicaciously stated. It is Edwina Currie who is naïve, not your Oxford speaker, in thinking that these views can be brushed under the carpet and I am disappointed that a member of the party I most to for true libertarian principles seems so willingly to ignore them.
    Matt Taylor (listening from Spain)

  7. At 06:13 PM on 19 Nov 2007, Sibyl Ruth wrote:

    This morning I looked up my first cousin once removed on the Yad Vashem website. He perished in Auschwitz.

    I feel it beggars belief that a Holocaust denier, who has been discredited as a historian can have anything intelligent to say about free speech.

    Moreover the insensitivity of this invitation to David Irving and Nick Griffin to Oxford Students who are from ethnic minority groups beggars belief.

    There's also a predictable staleness and unoriginality about such an invitation. It might be more interesting and more topical to invite a radical Imam to come and talk. Though the idea of inviting Martin Amis to debate with such a person, fills me with horror..

  8. At 06:13 PM on 19 Nov 2007, Roberto Carlos Alvarez Galloso,CPUR wrote:

    Free Speech is important to freedom

  9. At 06:15 PM on 19 Nov 2007, JimmyGiro wrote:

    When Edwina Curry calls you naive, then you know your on the right track.

  10. At 06:17 PM on 19 Nov 2007, Julie Hazelwood wrote:

    As someone famous once said: "I may disagree with what you are saying , but I will defend to the death your right to say it".

  11. At 06:17 PM on 19 Nov 2007, Barry Compton wrote:

    What about the shareholders of Northan Rock
    What own the bank. have done nothing wrong
    but lose

  12. At 06:21 PM on 19 Nov 2007, Matt Taylor wrote:

    The reason for inviting people with some of the most abhorrent views in the political spectrum is precisely for that reason: they are abhorrent and should be exposed as your speaker from the Oxford Union so perspicaciously stated. It is Edwina Currie who is naïve, not your Oxford speaker, in thinking that these views can be brushed under the carpet and I am disappointed that a member of the party I most look to for true libertarian principles seems so willingly to ignore them. The French tried Edwina’s tactic with Le Pen who made it through to the second round of their Presidential Elections in 2002.

  13. At 06:32 PM on 19 Nov 2007, Dave Halls wrote:

    This isn't just about offending some people but whether you think its OK to allow racists and fascists to propagate their views. This has been shown to lead directly to an increase in brutal racist attacks on minorities because it gives legitimacy to fascist views.

    Its naive to think this is just a cosy academic debate where the racists will lose the argument. The people they appeal to are often dispossessed and desperate and looking for easy sounding solutions.

    The people inviting well known and proven racists to debate have to take responsibility for the increase in racist attacks that would inevitably result.

    The rest of us should turn out in numbers to ensure the fascists do not get a platform to spread their race hatred.

  14. At 06:35 PM on 19 Nov 2007, MAtthew Brandwood wrote:

    One of the key principles of liberalism is that "good" ideas will displace "bad" ones, through rational argument and debate. Without an oppourtunity for this debate to take place, bad ideas remain "underground", and are given oppourtunity to spread and multiply unchecked.

    I think the oppourtunity to bring out such ideas into the open in such a public forum should be embraced with welcomed arms. It's a golden oppourtunity to debunk them.

  15. At 06:36 PM on 19 Nov 2007, Leon Sadler wrote:

    The points Edwina Curry made were absolutely on the money, although she skated over a couple of points, especially the fact that there is no indigeonous English people we are all imigrant.

    Just an evil thought, but why not do a "who do they think they are" analysis of the senior members of the BNP because I bet none of them are more than a couple of generations from an imigrant of some time.

    Wouldn't that be fun!

    Regards

    Leon

  16. At 06:37 PM on 19 Nov 2007, John Appleyard wrote:

    I used to work with some one who I will describe as a Nazi, he would only disagree with that description on technicalities. In my experience debating with with such extremists is, at best, a waste of energy.

    I am sure others taking part in the debate will be more skilled than I, but they will fail in all measurable terms because thier concept of reality will be so far removed from the extremists that they will not comprehend the extremists point of view, which is neccessary for debate, quite apart from the extremists lack of ability in the same department.

    Someone who was undercover with Neo Nazis described them all as "paranoid conspiracy theorists", how can anybody debate with such people?

    A noble concept, but in thier naivety they will give the extremists a platrorm, and bolster thier egos.

    What should be done is let them get old and lonely, while providing opportunity and education to those who would otherwise fall into such a miserable future.

  17. At 07:03 PM on 19 Nov 2007, Jake Anders wrote:

    The Oxford Union is now in an impossible situation. If the forum is cancelled Griffin and Irving will claim this as evidence of them being victimised, if it goes ahead the union will doubtless be criticised for giving a platform for fascists.

    I do not agree that we can simply ignore these people as John Appleyard suggests - they will find a way of getting themselves heard. However, I do agree that we should hope and opportunity to those who would otherwise be receptive to their message, but this can't be done immediately.

    I, myself, believe that we must allow free speech in this, as well as so many other, matters otherwise it just strengthens those with abhorrent views in the long term.

    This issue has been very divisive at Oxford University, but please don't make the mistake, as did happen in the interview, of confusing Oxford Union and the University as a whole: the Union is not necessarily representative of the majority student view.

    I'd also like to point out to Sibyl Ruth that there are many ethnic minority members of the Oxford Union who are supportive of the invitation. I hope they will make their voices heard on this matter.

  18. At 07:31 PM on 19 Nov 2007, Chris Ghoti wrote:

    David Hall @ 10 wrote
    'Its naive to think this is just a cosy academic debate where the racists will lose the argument. The people they appeal to are often dispossessed and desperate and looking for easy sounding solutions. '

    Well, in that case let us by all means encourage them to go to the Oxford Union, where we are told that the students are well-off and privileged, not dispossessed and desperate at all. With luck the students' intellect may also lead to their judging the debate on its merits or lack of them, rather than on the reputation of the debaters.

    'The people inviting well known and proven racists to debate have to take responsibility for the increase in racist attacks that would inevitably result.'

    In which colleges, do you suppose? Trinity, Balliol, Queen's?

    'The rest of us should turn out in numbers to ensure the fascists do not get a platform to spread their race hatred.'

    The rest of us should mind our own business and allow a very small group of students to hear what these people have to say about themselves and their views. We should at least find out which way the debate goes, before we assume that the members of a university are a bunch of easily-swayed morons with no brain to speak of and a predeliction for banning free speech.

    We certainly shouldn't play into the fascists' hands by trying to ban free speech ourselves!

  19. At 07:48 PM on 19 Nov 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    Yo Chris!
    Salaam/Shalom/Shanthi/Dorood/Peace
    Namaste -ed

    You will win success in whatever calling you adopt.

  20. At 08:01 PM on 19 Nov 2007, David wrote:

    I think Luke Trill (or whatever his name was - he will make sure we know precisely soon enough) has done a brilliant bit of self-publicity. Getting an interview on PM is well worth having to put up with Irving and Griffin from his point of view, and the poll is a masterstroke, since either it'll never happen or he can pass all the blame onto the Union after having taken the initial blaze of publicity for himself.

    I think he deserves his exposure, though I think from a strict Glass Box point of view you might have asked him if it was just a stunt. He would have denied it, of course, but he would have been made aware we were all onto his game.

    I'm sure we haven't heard the last of him.

  21. At 09:03 PM on 19 Nov 2007, IanMckendrick wrote:

    The Oxford Union should be ashamed trying to pass of defending free speech for fascists as a defence of everyone else's right to free speech. Tthe invitation can only damage freedom of speech by assisting fascism to take a step forward - Griffin and Irving want this for a reason.
    If the debate goes ahead two holocaust deniers will have gained the prestige of having been accepted as suitable candidates for an Oxford Union debate.
    the debate will allow Griffin and Irving to pose as defenders of speech at the expense of those trying defend democracy from their fascist politics.

  22. At 09:37 PM on 19 Nov 2007, Sibyl Ruth wrote:

    In reply to Jake Anders, I would point out that some members of minority groups feel that 'safety' consists in identifying yourself with a dominant group, and not sticking your head above a parapet. Of course, this may not be where their - and our - long-term safety actually lies....

    I'm reminded of the piece by Pastor Niemoller which begins

    First they came for the communists,
    and I did not speak out,
    Because I was not a communist....

  23. At 09:51 PM on 19 Nov 2007, jayne hill wrote:

    Edwina Currie was wrong to say that the BNP have the opportunity to spread their message in the media in general. They have never been allowed to appear on say, Question Time, nor are they allowed party political broadcasts, although they are a properly constituted political party.
    The media have latched on to this racist tag because the BNP advocate re-patriation of foreign nationals and are anti Islamic fundamentalist views. They also say, very sensibly, that the UK is full, we are unable to accomodate any more immigrants- are they wrong in this?
    How many of your commentors, or people in the media who condemn the BNP, know anything about the rest of their policies?
    I suggest that in order to be able to speak as an authority on any subject, those who denigrate the BNP should obtain a copy of their manifesto, which contains a comprehensive plan to tackle unemployment, lack of skills, the NHS, our economy, the export of live food animals, child-care, climate change....I could go on.
    I think those who are most rabid about so- called "abhorrent" views are simply mis- informed.
    I am a member of no political party, I am a vegetarian with many ethnic and Jewish friends, but I certainly think it is time this country had a full debate anywhere, and at every opportunity, involving as many of the population as possible on the issue of immigration, without a lot of "politically correct" ill- informed rhetoric

  24. At 12:53 AM on 20 Nov 2007, Jonathan Hoffman wrote:

    I agree with Edwina Currie - it's a bad idea for the Oxford Union to invite David Irving and Nick Griffin to its Forum on Free Speech. I hope Union members will vote against it in Oxford on Friday. Apart from anything else, I don't think they are appropriate speakers at such a Forum. Using the analogy of a football match, Irving and Griffin are the players, whereas what 's needed for such a Forum are the referees - eg Trevor Phillips or Chris Smith (the Chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority). The referees can give examples of trangressions of free speech and - importantly - can discuss how the boundaries of free speech change over time and space, and why. The players simply cannot do that.

    Regardless of the subject of the debate, it is wrong for the Union to offer a platform to either Irving or Griffin. The BNP foments race hatred. Irving was exposed in Court by Judge Charles Gray to be a deliberately fraudulent academic whose purpose was to rehabilitate the Nazis. Here is an extract from his judgment: Irving's "falsification of the historical record was deliberate and ... motivated by a desire to present events in a manner consistent with his own ideological beliefs even if that involved distortion and manipulation of historical evidence." Judge Gray declared it "incontrovertible that Irving qualifies as a Holocaust denier".

    Oxford is a place of careful scholarship where racism has no place. Giving a platform to fraudulent historians or racists is therefore entirely inappropriate and insulting to the ethos of the University and to those who strive to uphold it. It also sets a dreadful precedent. There is no doubt that both Irving and Griffin will try to use their invitations to the Union to give respectability to their causes.

  25. At 09:40 AM on 20 Nov 2007, pippop wrote:

    I am all for this Oxford debate. It seems to me to be a sensible place to contain and examine these extreme views; far better than the years and years that MET allowed Abu Hamsa to spout his filthy ideological views openly on the streets of North Finchley.

    By the way will HE be attending before we deport him?

  26. At 09:51 AM on 20 Nov 2007, Sibyl Ruth wrote:

    Mr Tryl does appear to have rather a penchant for inviting speakers with 'controversial', but not particularly scholarly views on Jewish issues. It's only a few months ago that he invited the writer Norman Finkelstein to take part in a debate at the Union. For further information on this author's attitudes, the folllowing link may be informative.

    http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/alan_dershowitz/2007/06/finkelstein_the_case_against.html

  27. At 10:45 AM on 20 Nov 2007, Phil Chamberlain wrote:

    An Oxford student with eye for PR and an ex-Oxford student and has-been politician debate free speech. yawn. This debate is so closed and inward looking it references nothing. If we had someone from Cambridge adding their two-penneth woudl that have counted as a plurality of voices? Instead, why not ask the people at the sharp end of far right violence about free speech? Or the academics sued by Irving? Or what about a reference to Bath Univervsity where combined action earlier this year stopped Griffin speaking. Please, let's have some imagination when it comes to presenting these stories. Just because it happens at Oxford does not make it news or relevant.

  28. At 11:19 AM on 20 Nov 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    Sybil (23),

    Alan Dershowitz, the author of the piece to which you link, is no more reational and objective than Norman Finklestein. You choose your champion and believe his comfortable truths. It's easier than facing reality.

    Plus ca change,...

    Deny the Holocaust, Deny al Nakba, Deny that Israel is founded on blood and theft, deny that our lifestyle is destroying the Earth, .....

    I and the public know
    What all schoolchildren learn,
    Those to whom evil is done
    Do Evil in return.

    W.H. AUDEN, "September 1, 1939"

    Salaam/Shalom/Shanthi/Dorood/Peace
    Namaste -ed

  29. At 11:33 AM on 20 Nov 2007, Ondrej Hausenblas wrote:

    I read your debate from Prague, Czech Republic. In my country the public seems far less experienced in opposing racist views and arguments. Many share these views unconsciously. I wonder if in Britain it is or not improtant that it is a serious and respected institution who give space and publicity to the extremists and evident liars. Are you sure that the "academics" themselves would not be able to break the liars' arguments even without inviting them? I do not suppose you expect the liars to presuade you, or others. So it is probably not a question of who is wrong and whi is right.
    It may be OK that the extremists may speak in the public: that is the freedom of speech - but why should they be given time and attention among informed and respected people? The only effect this would have for the wider public would be - in the Czech Republic - that those who do not uncover the lies easily, would think "there is some true information in what the extremists say if the academics invited them..." Is this different among the Biritish subjects?

  30. At 11:37 AM on 20 Nov 2007, trodas wrote:

    I find hard to believe that freedom of speech did not apply, when come to the holohoax lie discussion. Very disturbing. Even the Polish government did better job, when they finally confirm that these alleged gas chambers was build after war by Red Army under almost exclusivelly jewish NKVD guidance. That itself explain a lot, I think. It explained why in the walls of the alleged bas chambers is no trace of exposure to the lethal substance, as proven on many tests. And it, of course, put the whole fairytale in question.
    There is no question that the caps did exist and that many people died there, but the idea of organized mass killings of jews is lie. After all, before war there was only half of million jews in Palestine. After war there is almost five millions of them.
    Case closed, I think.

    Why do the UK folks want to deny people speaking the truth? Just because the truth is awfully inconvinient?

  31. At 12:21 PM on 20 Nov 2007, Steve Potter wrote:

    An interesting dilemma, I’m all for the freedom of speech when it can be used productively to debate and deliberate over social and economic issues. When those who have, what I would perceive to be, extreme fixed views which are not open to any other consideration than ‘I’m right and you MUST agree’ then I feel that this is counter productive.

    I think Luke, has a tight-rope to walk and I think he’s right to put it to the vote and let the democratic process take place.

    If they are invited, then I hope that they have very strong advocates to put their views across to counter this group.

    Having seen this group in action previously, I fear that no good will come out of it.

  32. At 12:45 PM on 20 Nov 2007, Dr Hackenbush wrote:

    Is it in Oxford?

  33. At 12:54 PM on 20 Nov 2007, Chris Ghoti wrote:

    If we refuse to hear anything we dislike, we may miss the reasons for which anyone can agree with it, I would have thought. And if we don't know why someone agrees with a thing we find abhorrent, we have no chance to put any other view that shows up their fallacies -- not to them, if they are so entrenched they won't hear it, but to others who might go the same way if all they are exposed to is the view we dislike, but who may benefit by having other possibilities put before them.

    If the case against holocaust denial can be said by its opponents to be so 'poor' that it isn't put forward, that strengthens the case *for* holocaust denial.

    Besides, didn't someone once say 'Know your enemy'? If all you do about your enemy is stand there with your fingers in your ears shouting 'na-na, na-na, I can't hear you!' you will look infantile and worthy of no respect, while s/he entirely by contrast seems adult and respectable.

  34. At 06:05 PM on 20 Nov 2007, Phil wrote:

    I am consistently amazed that we are supposed to live in a nation which respects free speech, yet we have people who attack others for merely speaking out.

    Shame on those who do not let others air their views in a calm and rational manner.

  35. At 07:36 PM on 20 Nov 2007, Chris Ghoti wrote:

    As a matter of interest, would anyone here be likely (if he were not a writer in their own particular academic field) to have the faintest idea who Eysenk was or what he said thirty-plus years ago, if he hadn't been so loudly attacked and vilified? I doubt most of us would ever have heard of him at all, if the people opposed to letting him speak hadn't made sure he was notorious. If all they had done was argue with him, instead of rioting about him, the chances are he would by now have faded into obscurity completely.

  36. At 08:19 AM on 21 Nov 2007, Marek Antoszewski wrote:

    Edwina Currie was invited to the PM programme to comment on the choice of David Irving as a speaker in the proposed debate on Free Speech.

    Edwina was presented as a creditable commentator on this subject, as a former treasurer of the Oxford Union, if I'm not mistaken ?

    Edwina expressed her objection to, and indeed revulsion, at the notion that David Irving should be given a platform to voice his 'heartless and cruel' denial of the holocaust, but why ? ....

    Is her objection voiced ( indeed broadcast to, and allowed to influence a nation still to decide !) as an objective, impartial and reasoned evaluation by a former union treasurer or is it a biased, emotional and personal reaction as a Jew ?? (if Edwina Currie is Jewish, which I believe she is ? )

    Jurors are obliged to declare a conflict of interest if they are related to, or have been personally affected by the accused, as they are deemed to be impartial. Should the PM programme have not explained in what capacity Edwina Currie was expressing an opinion and should she not declare a conflict of interest ??

    Her opinion is no less valid in either capacity, but it is crucial to a listener's understanding of the matter under discussion.

  37. At 10:29 AM on 22 Nov 2007, David wrote:

    I have to aggree with Mr Davis, why cant we have people discussing and debating about religious subjects and the way "religous" poeple are acting in our society , rather than have morons like david irving and low lifes like nick griffen and the BNP

  38. At 09:56 AM on 23 Nov 2007, CB wrote:

    I think the Oxford Union is now in alose-lose situation - they will continue to be criticised which ever way the members vote today - either for debating free speech but not practicing it, or for giving a platform to facists. The thing i don't understand about all this is why it's become so much more contraversial than some of the other debates. For example, earlier this term was the hetrosexual parents motion - to my knowledge LGBT did not protest to what could easily be conceived to be a semi-homophobic debate at the union. May I remind people that they are being asked to speak on whether they should be allowed to speak, not on whether their views are informed or correct or popular.
    A vote in favour of the motion next week, whether Iriving and Griffin are there or not, is one in favour of free speech, not of facism.

  39. At 06:23 PM on 23 Nov 2007, Ros wrote:

    Many of your respondents appear to have a false understanding of the status of the Oxford Union. The Union is not a part of the University, nor is it a Students' Union representing the student body.

    The Union is merely a debating society for university students. Membership is by voluntary subscription, and a lot of Oxford students are not members. The Union is under no obligation to represent any minorities within the university, and its function as a debating society requires that it invite speakers whose viewpoints are not those of the majority. Inviting a person to debate in no way endorses their opinions, nor is it offensive to any member of the university. If their arguments are weak, the debate will expose them as such.

    There is no reason not to have a BNP member debating a motion at the Oxford Union.

  40. At 09:30 PM on 23 Nov 2007, Jake Anders wrote:

    While still attaching great importance to Free Speech, I do not support the forum going ahead on grounds of student safety, which I believe is in danger of being compromised, and must be a forefront consideration. I am reluctant to take this view, and am disappointed that it is the conclusion I feel must be reached.

    Continuing on the principle of this matter, I do not take the Pastor Niemoller analogy to be relevant here. This is an opportunity to speak out against their abhorrent views, in precisely the way that he says should have happened. Maybe his example should override my views on student safety - after all he was advocating putting yourself in harms way to speak out against the Nazis.

  41. At 03:06 AM on 24 Nov 2007, Jake Anders wrote:

    While still attaching great importance to Free Speech, I do not support the forum going ahead on grounds of student safety, which I believe is in danger of being compromised, and must be a forefront consideration. I am reluctant to take this view, and am disappointed that it is the conclusion I feel must be reached.

    Continuing on the principle of this matter, I do not take the Pastor Niemoller analogy to be relevant here. This is an opportunity to speak out against their abhorrent views, in precisely the way that he says should have happened. Maybe his example should override my views on student safety - after all he was advocating putting yourself in harms way to speak out against the Nazis.

  42. At 03:51 PM on 25 Nov 2007, John Heelan wrote:

    First Finkelstein gets invited and then uninvited, now Irving/Griffin's invites are being questioned. An MP (who he?) has resigned from the Oxford Union and Trevor Phillips is up in arms about the invite. Both seemed remarkably silent about the Finkelstein fiasco. I wonder why if they truly believe in free speech.

    It seems that Walt & Mearsheimer's analysis of the power of the pro-Israel lobby applies as much to the Oxford Union as elsewhere.


  43. At 11:09 AM on 26 Nov 2007, NJC wrote:

    I'd just like to point out that "free speech" and "being invited to speak at the Oxford Union" are not the same thing. Lots of people never get invited to speak at the Union. That doesn't mean they're being censored or oppressed. The Union was under no moral obligation to invite these people.

    Anyway, that is beside the point. The fact is that whenever Nick Griffin gets to speak publicly, there is a correlating increase in racially motivated crime in the area. I'm sure the Union has many fine feelings about freedom of speech, and giving people with extreme views a hearing so that they can be dealt with properly. Unfortunately, those excellent principles cannot be put before the safety of students and Oxford residents alike.

    I'd also like to add that this is not an opportunity to debunk fascist views. Irving and Griffin are speaking at a Free Speech Forum; they will be debating issues of when censorship is justified and what constitutes the right to free speech. Aside from it being quite bizarre that they have been invited for this purpose - neither is an expert on free speech issues - it is likely that many attendees will actually sympathise with their ideas about free speech. If they were standing up and saying, "The Holocaust never happened," there would be room for a proper debate and they could perhaps be effectively crushed by a sane opposition. But in fact, what will happen is that as individuals they will be lent legitimacy by "standing up for free speech".

    These individuals have not been invited because the Union values scholarship or free speech. They have been invited simply because they are controversial, and I consider the Union's actions highly irresponsible. It is not just Union members, but also Oxford citizens who are being put at risk by these people and their supporters.

  44. At 11:41 PM on 26 Nov 2007, tony wrote:

    Look at the protesters that are putting Oxford citizens in danger . are they BNP supporters?

    There is some massively warped assumptions floating around about this event - the media are sensationalist in their editing as ever, and though many valid and commendable perceptions have been made here regarding the core principles of free speech, most people have missed the point about what tonight was about.

    Griffin and Irving are just part of a spectrum of guests at this forum, invited because they both have had their right to express their opinions in public challenged. Yes they're controversial figures. Michal Jackson spoke at he Union about Child Welfare. Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri has spoken at the union, as have countless popular, and unpopular political and religious figures. publicity is not a bad thing for the Union and seeking it is not a crime, as the Union relies on subscription membership to continue its work.

    However, the keystone of the Union is being a place where relevant, timely, controversial and useful debate can take place -and such places are few and far between.

    Tonight was supposed to be a forum for a mature discussion about free speech, - not a platform for anyones specific political views. Because of media distortion and an overreaction from under informed protesters, it has been oppressed to the point of destruction. What shred of free speech is left - except that of the protesters opinions?
    its worrying that our society does not feel confident enough to listen to and challenge extremist views, and, to quote a previous contributor - 'puts its fingers in its ears and says nah nah nah'

    Griffin and Irving are in danger of being made into martyrs and without the opposition of the debate have been left unchallenged. This is the abhoration.

    Ros is clearly also someone who understands the union and anyone reading this thread should read her comment before making an opinion.
    other contributors might benefit from researching the Unions previous guests, speaker meeting and debate subjects.

    It is partly because of the drive of young idealistic but constructive groups of intelligent people such as the members of the Oxford Union throughout History, that we have the free thinking equal and modern society that allows people to protest on the street. Trespass and violence is a different matter.

  45. At 01:47 AM on 27 Nov 2007, margaret wrote:

    Really one despairs. Surely if someone is convicted of spreading a tissue of lies and serves a prison sentence for it, he should not be permitted, let alone be invited, to speak on the subject again. Yet this man Tull has so invited Irving and if that is the way that things are, then Irving will continue, as long as he lives, to spread his vicious untruths. I could use similar objections about the BNP leader but have no doubt that my point is made.I do hope no harm comes to demonstrators against this misconceived event,who are in St Michael's Street tonight.

  46. At 11:28 AM on 27 Nov 2007, Chris Partington wrote:

    If Griffin ever got into a position where he wielded the power, then and only then would we find out his views on free speech. Too late of course. Irving's variations on the truth have already been exposed in open court and in academic debate. Nevertheless, they have the same access to free speech that we all have, as long as they stay within the law.
    Like politicians of all persuasions their entire business is self-publicity and the more of it they get the more successful they will be, especially when they are apparently defending apple pie, flowers and the values we hold dear. How can they lose? Open debate would have been better employed in having them try to defend their fascist views, but it would still have given them the platform that they crave but don't deserve.
    Defending free speech is one thing but that is not the issue here, they have their rights already to the same extent that we all have. Let them grow old and lonely in solitude, as a previous contributor has said. After all, their right is to free speech, not to prime-time TV (or radio).
    The real issue is one of political judgement. Why should the Oxford Union hand these people such an opportunity on a plate? It seems to me that Luke Trill's motive for inviting them was purely for the shock value, to attract publicity to the Union and himself. Luke Trill may feel that the creation of some sympathy for the holders of fascist views, even if he may not hold them himself, may be an acceptable price to pay for his own advancement up the political ladder, and no doubt many more people now know his name. It would be interesting to have him confirm or deny whether he would like to be a Conservative Member of Parliament one day, as so many of his predecessors have become. One hopes that in such a case, the party will remember how self-serving his role in this unfortunate mess appears to have been, and that his political judgement has been shown to be so naive. He should lose his present post for such an appalling and dangerous misjudgement. It really isn't doing the Oxford Union any good at all.

  47. At 07:30 PM on 27 Nov 2007, John Zeller wrote:

    How do I obtain a printed copy of this Oxford Union address?

  48. At 07:42 PM on 27 Nov 2007, Mohamed Kassam wrote:

    If the Muhammad cartoons were justified in the name of free speech as a pillar of Western Civilization, why then cant we talk openly about Holocaust Revisionism?

    Surely if the "facts" on the holocaust were that evident, then certainly mounting an empirically driven robust rebuttal to David Irving was a mere formality.

    Not only can i not source the transcripts of David Irving's speech but I become ever more nauseous on the Western double standards on free speech.

    Fascism exists only in the West.

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