Are the students of the Oxford University Union wrong to invite convicted Holocaust denier David Irving and BNP leader Nick Griffin to speak?
Certainly, there are some who think they are wrong. The Guardian reports that “Trevor Phillips, the chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, yesterday branded the invitation a disgrace, and anti-fascism campaigners who fear members of the far right will also come to the city, claimed the safety of students could be at risk.”
In the same article, the report reveals: “…a senior Tory MP resigned his life membership of the 184-year-old debating society, accusing organisers of “naive publicity seeking”.
Max Hastings, historian and newspaper editor, takes the view that students need to know ‘what sort of dangerous people are out there’ : “It seems good for Oxford students to be exposed to the views of Griffin and his BNP, rather than spend their educational lives in a warm bath of Guardian decency. Members of the Union Society must be a sorry lot indeed if they are likely to catch the plague of intolerance and racism from a single evening’s exposure to Griffin”
For my part, frankly, I would rather see Irving and Griffin face a public audience and be allowed to speak at the Union than that they should win a victory through resignations and the refusal of others, who take a very different view, to stand up to them and put those opposing views.
Max Hastings ends his piece with: “Student debating societies have always been foolish, self-indulgent and irresponsible. We should cherish their right to remain so. Tonight’s Oxford audience has things to learn from listening to Griffin and Irving. We should possess sufficient faith in its intelligence to believe that they will be the right ones.”
The Telegraph reports: The Defence Secretary Des Browne, June Sarpong, the television presenter, Austin Mitchell, the Labour MP, and other speakers have pulled out of engagements at the union as a result of the invitation.
UPDATE: 27 November
The uprising against fascism: Students storm Oxford Union debate (Independent)