Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Essays & Editorials
2008 - 2009
2007 - 2008
2006 - 2007
Freedom of Speech
"A National Treasure"
[Please note that editorials posted in this section are the sole viewpoints of the individual author and do not necessarily
represent any collective opinion of the Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team, or the University of Northampton]
On 26 November 2007 the Oxford Union debating society organised an evening debate on Free Speech, featuring David Irving, a British author tried and jailed in Austria during 2005 for denying the Holocaust and Nick Griffin, the leader of the far-right British National Party, acquitted by a British court in 2006 of inciting racial hatred.
This provoked an angry protest from fellow students and trade union groups, who planned to bus in hundreds of people in an anti-fascist protest, which the police hoped to counter with a “ring of steel” around the union building in the city centre.
The invitation to the two right-wing speakers plunged the Oxford debating society into one of the fiercest controversies in its 184 year history -critics have often accused the debating society leaders of a desire to court publicity rather than to spark genuine debate.
Luke Tryl, president of the Union, defended the invitations to Mr Irving and Mr Griffin, saying “giving them a platform was the most effective way to challenge them. “
He added, “The worst thing you can do with people like this is to force them underground. I am not giving Nick Griffin a platform to be racist, or David Irving a platform to deny the Holocaust. The only way to win the battle with these people is to show their views to be ridiculous and stupid.”
Any right-minded person would agree this is an intelligent and mature approach and upholds freedom of speech. It is difficult to conceive that Holocaust denial serves any worthwhile purpose. My personal view is that this pursuit is pointless and abhorrent to the millions of Jews and Gypsies who were either murdered or suffered at the hands of the Nazis and their supporters.
It is also an insult to the intelligence of ordinary people everywhere.
In the United Kingdom we can have this kind of debate, free speech is allowed, and for some other countries this is not so, and it is heartening that the beacon of free speech burns as brightly as ever.
You might not like what someone is saying and indeed it may be totally without substance or credibility, but the right to say it is our national treasure, and one which should be defended at all costs, providing it does not insult or promote intolerance or violence of any kind.
Thus a view could be formed that the Oxford debating society should be applauded for their stance, not criticised.
Chris Webb - UK
Copyright: 2007 Chris Webb H.E.A.R.T