All today’s papers have covered the issue of Nick Griffin (leader, BNP) and David Irving (controversial historian) appearances at last nights Oxford Union Debating Society meeting. Invited to contribute on the issue of free speech, their presence was met with protests, skirmishes and demands that they be removed from the speaking roster. Any surprise? Not really, as both are perhaps the most odious characters that currently exist on the extreme right of politics. Their negative reception is therefore expected and justified.
However, the irony is that they were invited to speak on the subject of free speech, yet protestors set out to deny them the privilege. Under Griffin’s leadership of this country, protestors would be living under a regime whereby the ability to demonstrate would be punishable with probable imprisonment, if not death. By giving him the right (within boundaries) to speak openly and engage in a debate, we win the argument hands down every time. As Libby Purves states in the Times “Argument, not howling and half bricks, is the way to beat the racists”.
Yet whilst the protestors on the night were loud and in some cases violent, I can’t condemn them. As a young person I have been involved in anti racist protests, and witnessed levels of violence I never want to see again. As an older person I can see that the debate can achieve more than a fight. This is not to dismiss their conviction, beliefs and dedication on the eradication of racism; their views and attitudes are essential to a better society. At this point in their political lives, they just go about it in a different way. The same can be said of the Debating Societies decision to invite Griffin and Irving; youth courts controversy as a right of passage, nothing more, nothing less.
To throw a little bit of mirth on what is a pretty dark affair, the Times carries a classic by line comment on last nights protest. Describing how only 15 policemen were present, “nervous students waited in the bar for the debate to begin.” Yeah, of course it was nerves that kept them in the bar; it was nothing to do with drink!