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The Left Must Defend David Irving’s Right to Free Speech

As I write, Nick Griffin, leader of the far-right British National Party, and David Irving, Holocaust denier-in-chief, are preparing to speak to 500-odd smartly-dressed students and a pack of hacks at the Oxford Union Debating Society. The OU's decision to … Read More

By / November 26, 2007

As I write, Nick Griffin, leader of the far-right British National Party, and David Irving, Holocaust denier-in-chief, are preparing to speak to 500-odd smartly-dressed students and a pack of hacks at the Oxford Union Debating Society.

The OU's decision to invite a racist politician and an anti-Semitic historian to its hallowed halls has caused an almighty stink. A Conservative Member of Parliament resigned his life membership of the Union, and various other British bigwigs— including Des Browne, Secretary of State for Defence, and a black TV presenter called June Sarpong—have cancelled planned appearances at the OU.

The cry goes up around Britain: "How can supposedly brainy students provide a platform for these charlatans?" For me, the most shocking thing is not that Griffin and Irving have been provided with a platform—after all, their weasel ideas are better out in the open where we can at least take potshots at them—but the issue they have been asked to pontificate about: the right to free speech!

The OU debate is titled "This house believes that even extremists have a right to freedom of expression," and Griffin and Irving are on the side of defending freedom of expression. Neither of them has a libertarian bone in his body. They wouldn't recognise free speech if it jumped them in an alley.

Irving's response to Deborah Lipstadt's book Denying the Holocaust, in which she exposed him as a fact-fiddling denier of the Nazis' extermination of half of Europe's Jews, was to demand that she pulp every copy. He then sued her for libel (and thankfully lost). So Irving supports freedom of expression for extremists, but not for American professors. Especially Jewish ones.

Griffin's British National Party (BNP) is founded on a profoundly authoritarian programme of restricting immigration into Britain. Asking these two characters to defend freedom of expression, or freedom of any kind, is a bit like asking Mark Chapman to speak on healthy hero worship.

That two fascists/fascist sympathisers can hold forth in Oxford about free speech is actually an indictment of the British left and British liberals. So-called progressives have abandoned the cause of free speech in recent years, which has allowed cranky elements on the right to pose as the true upholders of open debate.

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