Respectful Insolence

Max Hastings apparently disagrees with the disgust that I and many others expressed over Holocaust denier David Irving’s recent appearance at the Oxford Union.

I’d almost agree with him, except that (1) I highly doubt, from reading the accounts, that any real “debate” occurred and (2) I don’t think the Oxford Union exercise did anything to show students that there are “dangerous people” out there. If anything, Irving may have succeeded in making himself look like less of a threat to many. Actually, Hastings was correct to liken the Irving/Griffin appearance to that of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad at Columbia recently, just not in the way he seems to think. In actuality, both events were very obvious stunts designed to garner publicity, and neither did any good that I can now detect in furthering the cause of free speech.

Comments

  1. #1 Thony C.
    November 28, 2007

    An excellent comment from Max Hasting, thanks for the tip.

  2. #2 DLC
    November 28, 2007

    This doesn’t surprise me. All too many people have such an open mind that their brain has fallen out. I don’t need to hear about the first amendment from an egregious abuser of that right. These people are not constitutional scholars.
    For that matter, the common or garden-variety holocaust denier is no sort of scholar at all.

  3. #3 Jonathan Hoffman
    November 28, 2007

    The Oxford Union’s naive self-aggrandising teenagers have allowed the BNP to claim that it is mainstream and have caused untold grief to Jewish and other minority students – all in the interests of a publicity-seeking freakshow. Shame on them. On this showing the only careers they can look forward to are as Reality TV hosts.

  4. #4 Acleron
    November 28, 2007

    Perhaps we should dissociate Irving and Griffin.

    Irving has a view on past events which is wrong. In court he has been exposed as a manipulator of facts. Do I think he should have been imprisoned for his tactics? No! Let him expose his nonsense if he wants. The OU debate was not arena for such a minor player, let him play about with his ‘facts’ by himself, he doesn’t require anyone to support him.
    Griffin is a totally different kettle of fish. Hastings tries to condemn him as only appealing to mostly the working-classes in the UK. Even by using that epithet ‘the working-classes’ he exposes his lack of knowledge. Many in the UK have a deep suspicion of both the level of immigration into the UK and the accuracy of its reporting by the government. Griffin’s arguments are powerful and to prevent us sliding into a nationalistic/racialist turmoil his arguments must be answered. Hastings applies the media yardstick, ‘is this sensational?’, he doesn’t address the real fears of the populace, in this as with most of the printed and televised media, he has a podium to express himself but not much to express.

  5. #5 wfjag
    November 28, 2007

    Unfortunately, Mr. Hastings missed the other side of the reporting on Ahmedinejad at Columbia — the way it was presented in places like the Islamic Republic News Agency. By giving Ahmedinejad a public forum under the banner of a distinguished institution like Columbia, IRNA spun it as acceptance of his “message” by the people of the US. His meeting with a small group of “Jewish leaders” in New York City was spun the same way. The criticims of him in the US press were explained away as the US media (controlled by “guess who?”) lying to the American people.

    While Hastings may believe that people will see that the Oxford Union’s giving Irving and Griffin a forum isn’t an endorsement, Orac’s and Justin Hoffman’s analyses are right on — Irving and Griffin and their BS were given credibility they wouldn’t otherwise have, and don’t deserve. While freedom of speech grants people like Irving and Griffin the right to rent a hall and see if anyone comes to listen, when a respected institution (or a group sharing that institution’s name) invites people to speak, there’s an implied endorsement that they have something worthwhile to say. Their supporters will spin the story that way — and there will be some people who be convinced of that.

  6. #6 DLC
    November 28, 2007

    Something often overlooked by groups like the Oxford Union and Columbia is that the right to free speech does not come with the right to an audience, or to an air of legitimacy.

  7. #7 PJ
    November 29, 2007

    DLC, that is exactly why the discussions about events like this (which come around with an inevitable periodicity) are so frustrating. It seems that a goodly proportion of those commenting on this are completely unable to distinguish between free speech and a no-platform policy – they are absolutely compatible.

    If free speech was the absolute some people seem to think it is I want to know when my opportunity to give a speech to the Oxford Union is? I think I’ll speak on the motion “This house believes the Oxford Union is an irrelevant sub-student union drinking club filled with posh twats and wannabees.”

  8. #8 tristero
    November 29, 2007

    I very much disagree.

    The last I heard, Ahmanidejad was the president of a large country which had lots and lots of oil. Said country may also be the target of another (illegal, unnecessary, etc.) war from George W. Bush and friends. That makes it imperative to listen to anything he has to say when he visits this country. And that made the event at Columbia a vitally important one.

    Irving, otoh, is a nobody whose “scholarship” has been decisively discredited in a court of law – during a libel lawsuit of his own instigation and which he lost. He has been caught numerous other times lying through his teeth, all in the service of excusing Nazi crimes. He also is a serial dissembler. He is, furthermore, a known associate of neo-Nazis and other anti-Semites. There is nothing to be gained, outside of a class in psychopathology, by inviting him to speak.

    The moment Ahmanidejad is out of office he becomes as unimportant as Irving. Until then, you may not like what he says – I certainly loathe it – but any university community is acting entirely appropriately by inviting him onto campus to give a lecture. Irving, on the other hand, has no business being anywhere near a university.

    The issue with Ahmanidejad was not a free speech issue, but simple common sense. When powerful people speak, it is vitally important that a university community have the opportunity to listen. Even if they are racist, odious and obnoxious? Especially if they are racist, odious and obnoxious. For reasons that should be obvious but here’s one: More knowledge of a potential foe can only lead to more effective confrontation so that they can join Irving in loser obscurity.

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