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Monday, November 26, 2007 

The fear of freedom of speech.

There's something truly depressing about witnessing the massive hoo-hah over Nick Griffin and David Irving being invited to address the Oxford Union, especially when much of the noise is being made by those supposedly on the left. One is a discredited and ignorant politician; the other is a discredited and prejudiced historian who has in the past offered something towards the historical debate, whilst also grossly exaggerating that which he has submitted. There ought to be very little that either could offer up that could convince a child, let alone a debating society of students.

Instead then we have according to the Guardian the usual braindead anti-fascists, the same ones no doubt that protested outside the National Theatre back in January over the
"BNP ballerina" gatecrashing the event and making their opinions heard. There's the usual nonsense about fears for the safety of students, when it seems if anything that the protesters and media presence will impose more on those wanting to go out than any BNP thugs.

The whole situation only highlights the hypocrisy at the very centre of the "no platform" orthodoxy. Both Griffin and Irving claim to be stifled by political correctness and those who deny them the opportunity to put their views across; the solution to which is to do the very thing that they most want. The BNP and Holocaust deniers feed off their victim and outsider status, making their message to those it does appeal to only more attractive, and their fundamental supporters only more embittered and angry. If their views were truly beyond the pale it would be more palatable, yet Griffin's racism is far toned down from that which previously fired the National Front, even if the foot-soldiers are still as knuckle-dragging and Hitler obsessed as ever, while Irving admits the Holocaust happened but like many others of a similar ilk disputes the figures. Both of their positions are eminently spurious, and also easy to attack and defeat through open argument. Even if the Oxford Union's reasons are publicity seeking and looking for controversy for the sake of it, to take on their views ought to be one of the obligations of any generally democratic society.


My admiration for
Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP who unlike others has said he will stand up and debate both then only grows, especially after his demolition of the scientific illiteracy of Nadine Dorries and the faith-based prejudices of those who gave evidence to the parliamentary committee on abortion. Trevor Phillips, on the other hand, who for a head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission has said some questionable things himself, bizarrely invokes those who died for freedom of speech while suggesting that they didn't do so for the sake of a "silly parlour game", as though debating two prominent figures, even if controversial ones was somehow akin to playing charades.

The most obvious question which arises is: what on earth are they so scared of? Anyone would think that Griffin and Irving's oratory and rhetoric was so revelatory and convincing that those who so much as heard it would be straight off to Germany to buy some jackboots. The opposite is nearer the truth. At best, the majority of the anti-fascist left and their no platform ideology are doing the far-right's work for them, while at worst they're evoking the McCarthyism of 50s in America in their virulence in denying fascists any speaking engagements, and in some cases even work. You could almost accept it if the far-right were in a position of strength: yet even in an age of unprecedented immigration their incompetence once in council seats shines through, and although the vagaries of the electoral system count against them as it does the far left, they can't so much as come near winning a single seat in parliament. Compared to movements in mainland Europe, the BNP is a grim rump of true believers.


It is a cliche, but Voltaire's famous quote,
which he naturally never actually wrote or said, sums up the attitude that ought to taken to almost all figures as long as they're not advocating imminent violence: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." The cowardice displayed by those who pulled out of tonight, and those stopping the event from going ahead, even if highly principled, makes a mockery of a sentiment that should be at the centre of our stance on freedom of speech.

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I always thought the correct response to people like that, was not to run around hyserically, point to point at them while laughing at their jokes.

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