Monday, November 26, 2007

Oxford Union Debate

This story about BNP leader Nick Griffin and Holocaust denier David Irving speaking at the Oxford Union has troubled me. It gets to the very heart of the limitations of free speech. Just because people's views are abhorrent - and blatantly wrong - does this mean they shouldn't be allowed to express them?

Generally I would say I come down on the side of freedom of speech, but I have real mixed emotions with this one. Partly because while I think anyone should be able to express an opinion I think there has to be limitations on being able to insult other people. Holocaust denial, for example, is not a matter of opinion. The Holocaust happened and to deny it is not simply to challenge historical wisdom but is a form of particularly nasty anti-semitism. We shouldn't stand by and allow people to be blatantly racist or offensive.

Of course, freedom of speech and allowing someone to be able to voice their opinions is not the same as inviting them to do so or engaging in debate with them. Nick Griffin and David Irving do have the right of freedom of speech but I have the right not to listen to them or take part in debate with them. This is the right the silly little boys of the Oxford Union should have exercised when considering who to invite to speak at their debate. To invite one Holocaust denier to your debate is bordering on distasteful, to invite two is opening yourself up to queries about the reasons behind your invitations.

Oxford Union should be ashamed of themselves today - as should everyone who legitimises the opinions of these men by taking part in debate with them.

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