Monday, 26 November 2007

Oxford protests are counterproductive

I find the hysteria over allowing Nick Griffin and David Irving to speak at the Oxford Union puzzling. It seems to me that creating a controversy over their appearance affords them much greater publicity than simply allowing them to speak and ensuring that their unpalatable views are robustly challenged.

Griffin and Irving’s opinions on politics and history respectively are abhorrent. If however they remain within certain legal confines it is not possible or desirable to stifle their right to expound them. Both men already have media through which to express their views and therefore it is important that they should be scrutinised and should be subject to open debate. By this means their poison will be exposed and countered.

What exactly heightens the risk of these men attracting more sympathy? Is it the address that they are making to 450 invited students or the sight of them being barracked by10 busloads of various “anti-fascism protesters” who are to converge outside the Oxford Union tonight?

Freedom of speech will always, even in a free and liberal society, be subject to certain legal strictures. It is important however, that we are not afraid of marginal and unpleasant opinions, but that we see in our toleration of their expression an indictment of the very things they propose. A liberal society should have confidence in its values and in the value of open debate.

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