Voltaire, or not Voltaire?

At least Luke Tryl's little stunt put the issue of free speech on the news agenda once again. Tryl, of course, is the President of the Oxford Union, who believed that inviting Holocaust deniers David Irving and Nick Griffin was a useful way of furthering the debate on free speech. It was a controversial way of doing so, at least, and that's probably what Tryl and his Union acolytes really wanted. A bit of publicity goes a long way for a university hack in need of attention.

The debate was accompanied by the usual scenes of mayhem when a controversial speaker is invited to a student venue. Some of the protesters may have been interested in opposing abhorrent views; others were clearly keen on 'chasing fascists' as one student informed me, likening the atmosphere to that of inter-war Germany. The exercise did at least provoke much debate, both on the streets around the Union, according to the BBC, and even in politics classes in Sutton.

Blogger Bill Jones view of the affair is here.
The BBC reports are here.


consultant said…
The most effective way to defeat the abhorrent views of the malignant is in free and open debate. Indeed, one might argue this is the only way. To attempt to ban them will force them underground where they will gather strength; to openly expose them as morally and intellectually bankrupt will destroy them. This is the value of free speech.

This “debate” at the Oxford Union was not an exercise in free speech. Tryl did not offer a platform to speakers who cannot be heard elsewhere. He offered a platform to speakers who have been engaged repeatedly by politicians, academics and others time and again in fora far more valuable than his own debating chamber, and who have been shown repeatedly to be a vile minority.

This was, rather, was an exercise in masturbation. Tryl can feel rather pleased with himself for successfully getting his name mentioned in every national broadsheet this week, and the consequences – the risks involved when the Oxford Union legitimises the fundamentally illegitimate – be damned.

It is not often that I find myself agreeing with a senior Tory MP, but Julian Lewis hit the nail on the head when he resigned his life membership of the Union; Tryl and his committee have acted naively, vainly and irresponsibly, simply to garner a little attention for what they no doubt consider to be their sparkling political futures.

Laughably, for those 250-odd attendees that did make it through the lines of anti-fascist campaigners, students and locals, no debate even took place. Griffin spoke to a group in one room, Irving spoke to a group in another. Union officials claimed this was a result of disruption and delay caused by the sane people outside, but if the whole principle of the event was to demonstrate the value of debate, they appear to have rather failed in their aims at the last vital hurdle, but found themselves splashed all over the papers nonetheless. I’m sure they’re devastated.

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