Debate condemnation sparks a hostile reaction from BNP

YUSU has chosen to support the NUS in its condemnation of the Oxford Union Debating Society’s invitations to BNP leader Nick Griffin and discredited historian David Irving

David IrvingNick Griffin

YUSU has chosen to support the NUS in its condemnation of the Oxford Union Debating Society’s invitations to British National Party leader Nick Griffin and discredited historian David Irving. The decision was met with strong criticism from the BNP, who described the affair as “farcical”.

The Oxford Union Debating Society, famed for its controversial speakers such as disgraced former US President Richard Nixon and political activist Malcolm X, has invited Griffin and Irving to its ‘Freedom of Speech’ debate on November 26. The NUS swiftly condemned the announcement and encouraged affiliated unions to follow suit.

BNP Press Officer Simon Darby said: “Who do these small unrepresentative student unions think they are to tell other students who they can and cannot listen to? It’s ridiculous. To accuse us of being fascist and then prevent a political party from speaking is pretty ironic. In a free country you can’t stop somebody’s opinion.”

YUSU Racial Equality Officer Michael Batula defended the decision to write to Oxford Union denouncing its choice of speakers. He said: “I have nothing against freedom of speech”. Their letter describes the BNP as “a scourge on the contemporary, progressive, multicultural British society”, and claims that they “openly voice anachronistic and racist ideology.” It also calls Irving, who was recently imprisoned in Austria for Holocaust denial, and Griffin “obsolescent, bigoted, racist fascists.”

Batula and co-officer Ishmael Norris were initially asked by the NUS to sign a petition against the invitations. The letter, says Batula, “was purely our idea. Then we sought backing from YUSU Senate to get the support of the whole University. It is signed by the two of us, and was sent on behalf of YUSU, but we would have written it on our own behalf anyway. It was good to have the backing of the Union; it’s strength in numbers.”

The NUS also issued their own statement: “Freedom of speech is often cited as a reason to afford a platform to racists and fascists.” It also states that: “Our primary concern is the safety of our members” and claims “whenever the BNP is active in an area the number of racist attacks increases.”

Darby dimissed the accusation, and said that the NUS has an inherent problem with the party. “It’s like a Pavlovian response from the NUS – as soon as they hear BNP, they react. It’s a psychological illness,” he said.

According to Batula, around 25 students’ unions have written to criticise the Oxford Union. The society’s President, Luke Tryl, issued a letter in response to press coverage of the controversy. He reiterates that the debate is to “challenge and attack their views in a head to head manner.”

The coverage and criticism has, as yet, had no impact on Oxford Union’s decision to invite the speakers. Darby said Griffin still plans to attend the debate. He said: “We’re still unaware of whether the invitation is still open. If it is, then Nick will certainly go.”

7 comments

  1. Your reader might like to read a report on the recent demonstration against the BNP in Blackpool.

    http://isupporttheresistance.blogspot.com/

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  2. The NUS is either deeply impaired or is lieing when it states “whenever the BNP is active in an area the number of racist attacks increases.” because according to the Mets own figures on its website, racist crime in Barking and Dagenham (where the BNP has 12 elected cllrs)is down 15.8% in the last 12 months.

    Perhaps the NUS would like to comment on this fact or just admit they copied and pasted this comment from the labour funded anti BNP group UAF (Urinate Against Freedom)

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  3. Urinate Against Freedom? Seems an unlikely name that any group would choose and surely too childish a response from a serious poster.

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  4. ANYBODY WHO SAYS NO TO MR GRIFFIN ARE STUPID.IF HE IS WRONG ABOUT WHAT HE AND HIS PARTY STAND FOR IT WILL BE OUTED IN CLEVER DEBATE.TO RESTRICT FREEDOM OF SPEECH THROUGH DEBATE IS DANGEROUS AND NON-DEMOCRATIC.REMEMBER ONE IMPORTANT FACT.THAT THIS PRESENT LABOUR GOVERMENT HAVE KILLED MORE DECENT INNOCENT MUSLIM NON-WHITE PEOPLE THAN ANY ONE OR ALL THE MEMBERS OF THE BNP PUT TOGETHER!!!!PERHAPS THAT IS THE REAL REASON MR DES BROWNE NOW DOESN’T WANT TO DEBATE.

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  5. anti British propaganda is allowed a voice in England, so why not pro British patiotism?

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  6. 26 Nov ’07 at 11:32 pm

    Yorker representative

    This isn’t an issue of freedom of speech (freedom of expression as it should more properly be called, in line with the Bill of Human Rights), this is an issue of a decision about who to give a platform, whose views to endorse, what way to present them, and who to invite into our universities. Griffin and Irving are still free to say whatever they like, but when we decide who to give a platform we make a decision about the kind of world we want to live in.

    If this were truly, as Tryl pretends, about ‘challenging and attacking their views in a head to head manner’, then Irving would be speaking on the holocaust, and Griffin on immigration. The fact is that there is no room for dircet confrontation on the subject of free speech – the argument has already been won for them by the very process of their invitation. They have been handed, not only a platform, but an automatic victory, and an automatic credibility.

    You might argue that the fact that Irving and Griffin will be unalbe to voice their most controversial views without straying off their remit is a sensible precaution. The problem is that though you will only hear, and be able to interact with, the speakers’ thoughts on ‘free speech’, they carry the rest of their views onto the platform with them, and any credibility, any victory, cannot help but be transfered. There will be no space for the accademic refutation of these obnoxious views, but they will still be there, and will still benefit from the shared publicity of a debate that they cannot lose. their argument on freedom of speech has already been endorsed before they begin, and so, by proxy, have the rest of their arguments.

    Part of the reason for this is, on top of the fact that the Oxford Union has already won them the debate of course, that they are unopposed. There is no counter speaker in place to argue against them. The biggest challenge they get will be from the floor, in the form of short questions, and ultimately they will have the dominant voice of the platform, and of course the last word.

    It has also been argued that there is no real link between Griffin and Irving’s ideologies – Irving’s words are only likely to ferment anti-semitism, Griffin’s aim is fixed far more squarely on the Muslim population, and so between them they don’t provide any fixed political direction. The problem with that is that far-right politics isn’t really an ideology, but a state of neurotic xenophobia, and this combination is perfectly designed to promote it.

    The reason it is the role of SUs and the NUS to intervene in ways like this is that there are many other human rights being put on the line for the sake of this talk. For many students, this talk will represent a serious threat to their sense of safety and security in their own homes – the University, is , after all, their home, and inviting figures like Griffin and Irving will do nothing to promote the seurity of a significant portion of the student population.

    The pros of any talk that does this would have to seriously outweigh the cons. I agree that freedom of expression is an immensely important issue – but there are many other speakerswho could have been invited as its exponents. Freedom of expression exists mainly for us to have the ability to compain when things aren’t right, as a tool for us to shape the world. There are so many inspiring figures that could have been invited as examples of people who have suffered for their right to freedom of expression in an attempt to make the world a better place. These people make us feel the value of freedom of expression, and encourage us to defend it. Griffin and Irving do not, they are the people who abuse freedom of expression to promote racism, bigotry and insult to millions.

    At the end of the day, a lot could potentially be lost with this talk: Griffin and Irving will score a victory; will have gained more publicity, but this time with the added bonus of the credibility afforded them by the Oxford Union; a lot of students will feel less secure in their homes and undermined by the Union; and worse still, some listners might be impressed by the pair, read their other writings (not challenged in the talks), and go on to be involved in racist activity, even violent crime. All this to extend an invitation to two of the worst arguments for freedom of expression. Whatever the motive – whether a desire to appear edgy, unafraid of controversy, a wish to bring publicity to the union, some kind of careerist ambition, or a genuine desire to defend freedom of expression – a bad decision has been made here.

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  7. 27 Nov ’07 at 2:20 am

    Yorker representative

    oh, the name Yorker representative was left over from another comment. I am in no way connected to the yorker. sorry.

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