Nick Griffin and David Irving were invited to speak at the Oxford Union about the limits of free speech. The Union voted 2-1 in favour of their invitation. Despite this, some people attempted to prevent them from being able to speak. That is when it became an issue of free speech.
Firstly, it’s ridiculous to claim to be anti-fascist when you’re blocking a public right of way, and stopping people from getting to a legal meeting, however much you disagree with that meeting.
Secondly, the argument we heard time and time again about the threat from BNP activists being so great that it trumped the right to free debate. I didn’t see any BNP people at all (although I’m willing to admit I wasn’t in a position to see everything that happened, and they may well have been there). What I did see was a large group of so-called anti-fascists prepared to use physical force to stop people getting to a debate, use large amounts of amplified noise to try and drown the debate out, shout abuse and intimidation at students going about their lawful business, and call for the death of a 20-year-old young man with pretty mainstream political views.
Some protesters… hit students who were trying to get into the debating chamber.
Daniel Bloch, co-president of the University of Oxford’s Jewish Society, said that his members had worked with the Islamic Society to stage a strong and united protest. He said: “My main grievance about this debate is the accusation that we want to deny people free speech. We just don’t want to give them any more platforms to air their views, which are disgraceful.”
Quite extraordinary how he and others, such as Donna Guthrie of the UAF, can reconcile supporting free speech with the notion that some people simply must be prevented from speaking, even to the point of violence.
And two men who could have otherwise been challenged therefore had their lives made easier and got a little closer to martyrdom.
Look, when we start talking about free speech for some but not for others it necessarily follows that there is going to have to be someone to judge who may and who may not speak.
And if you don’t quite get what that means, think about all the groups in this country and elsewhere, now and in the past, who disagree with your views. Suppose they got into a position where they could prevent you speaking your mind.
And if you still don’t get it, think about the Taliban, think about the Nazis, the USSR, McCarthyism, the civil rights movement in the USA, banned books, and so on.
We don’t want to go down that road, even if we find particular speakers offensive.