Irving and Griffin at the Oxford Union (3)

This is the last. Managed to watch Tatchell interviewing Tryl and O’Neill at 18 Doughty St (nod to Spiked.) Both advocate free speech with minimal restrictions.Tryl is practical. He points to the BNP’s 50 seats as evidence that the no-platform policy isn’t working. He thinks that they become stronger when they can say they are being gagged. He also thinks that extremists have a place in a debate about free speech. I wasn’t convinced by his contention that not inviting Irving and Griffin would constitute ‘latent censorship’ and that the distinction between not inviting them and banning them is false. This clearly isn’t true – people are entitled to set up their own meetings and speak at these, but there is a limited number of slots at the Oxford Union and an active choice to fill two of them with active racists. And if not inviting somebody is effectively censoring them then what is the role of the chair in the debate? I accept the point that we have to oppose people whose ideas threaten us in the open – but Tryl also dropped in that it had been difficult to find heavy-weight speakers to oppose Irving and Griffin because so many of them refused to share a platform. Like Peter Sanderson, I would only invite those two to my debate if I were pretty sure they weren’t going to get the upper hand.

O’Neill is theoretical. As any reader of that strange astygmatic ‘phenomenon’ that is Spiked would expect, he is very concerned about free speech and very laid back about the threat of violence*. And as usual he is not without a point. He criticises the ‘flabby’ incitement laws which have diverged from their origins where there had to be a close relationship between words and something violent happening as a result. He argues against organising our legislation round a disordered minority of people who we fear would be verbally persuaded to act irrationally. He criticises the wholesale abandonment of principles of free speech by the left, leaving them to be appropriated by the far right, people like Griffin who have no love or commitment to free speech but who have no scruples about presenting themselves as free speech martyrs. He also points out the habit of fascists for bursting onto the scene without respect for legalities, and then without foundation surmised that stringent holocaust-denial law in Austria and Germany was responsible for the high number of neo-nazis there.

Other than the film, Peter Sanderson, writing yesterday, differentiates between Stop the War Coalition’s invitation to Mousawi and the Oxford Union’s invitation to Griffin and Irving. He makes some good points – I’d add that the nature of the platform at the two events is very different. Nobody from StWC has taken the opportunity to reassure us that Mousawi will be opposed on his. And StWC’s boycott of Israel will make it hard for them to use the free speech argument for inviting Mousawi. Sanderson is waiting for responses to his inquiries about who paid for his ticket and whether there will be opportunities to oppose him at the conference.

In the event, Tryl says:

“At the end of that David Irving came out looking pathetic … I said in my introduction that I found his views repugnant and abhorrent because I wanted that on record … I think the principle has been proved,”

OK, that’s enough about Irving and Griffin now. Maybe I dare take a look at Annapolis. In my feed reader I can see among other things Annapolis pieces from Tabsir, The Arabist, OpenDemocracy, Jerusalem Post, the Palestine Chronicle, Ha’artez, and Philosemitism, which presents another of Ben Heine’s droppings – Abbas squatting at the buttocks of a naked Olmert with his tongue out.

*Interestingly, O’Neill brings up the Living Marxism trial in which Mick Hume et al were sued for their insistence in the face of all evidence that concentration camps in Bosnia were a media fabrication. I think this sheds some light on Spiked, the current home of Hume and O’Neill. Spiked writers like to come across as a super-rational bunch and are violently allergic to anything emotional, moving, relating to sentiment. With the exception of scorn and derision, emotion seems to be the one thing Spiked absolutely cannot stand. My 2p – maybe Hume recoiled from the emaciated figures behind barbed wire and undertook to find an explanation which would allow his faith in human nature, the crux of his libertarian politics, to remain intact.

Campbell, D. (2002). Atrocity, memory, photography: imaging the concentration camps of Bosnia – the case of ITN versus Living Marxism, Part 1. Journal of Human Rights;1(1)1-33.)

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