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Holocaust denier's Oxford talk sparks debate online

Material compiled by Nick Griffin, leader of the far-right British National Party (BNP) was invited to speak at the venerable Oxford Union debating society on Monday, Nov. 26, sparking protests and heated debates across the country. Nearly a thousand students turned up to demonstrate against the politician. A group of around 50 managed to break into the building where the debate was to take place and staged a sit-down protest for over an hour. Outside, the crowds chanted, "BNP – off the streets" and "Nazi scum - go home". Griffin was invited along with the controversial historian David Irving, who was imprisoned in Austria for denying the Holocaust. The event has fuelled debate in the UK, which has seen the popularity of the far-right rise since the 2005 London bombings. You can post questions about the issue to our observer , university lecturer in ethical issues surrounding free speech.

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Material compiled by Team Observers

Nick Griffin, leader of the far-right British National Party (BNP), was invited to speak at the venerable Oxford Union debating society on Monday, Nov. 26, sparking protests and heated debates across the country. Almost a thousand students turned up to demonstrate against the politician. A group of around 50 managed to break into the building where the debate was to take place and staged a sit-down protest for over an hour. Outside, the crowds chanted, "BNP – off the streets" and "Nazi scum - go home". Griffin was invited along with the controversial historian David Irving, who was imprisoned in Austria for denying the Holocaust. The event has fuelled debate in the UK, which has seen the popularity of the far-right rise since the 2005 London bombings. You can post questions about the issue to our observer David Berry, university lecturer in ethical issues surrounding free speech.

A video filmed on a mobile phone when the protestors stormed the building

Video originally posted onYoutube.

A letter from Oxford Union President sent to members before the event took place

These people are not being given a platform to extol their views, but are coming to talk about the limits of free speech. What is more, they will be speaking in the context of a forum in which there will be other speakers to challenge and attack their views in a head to head manner and with the opportunity for students to challenge them from the floor. It is my belief that pushing the views of these people underground achieves nothing. The best way to deal with these views was summed up by Home Office Minister Tony McNulty on Thursday and that is 'to crush these people in debate'. Stopping them from speaking only allows them to become free speech martyrs, and from my own experience back in Halifax, which has suffered from race relation problems in the past, groups like the BNP do well if they look like they're being censored.”

See the original letter.

Audio excerpts of Nick Griffin talking at the Oxford Union

Audio originally posted on Youtube.

That isn’t a freelance mob; it’s a mob working hand in hand with the Labour Party, with the government of this country, to stop free speech for those with whom it disagrees, which, means, to stop free speech for anyone, because free speech is either free for everybody, however repellent their views, how much you don’t like them, or it isn’t their at all.”

They [the opposing debaters] were thoroughly dishonest in terms of arguing against, in saying that I didn’t have the right to say that black people didn’t have the right to exist. That’s utter vicious nonsense.”

“Those who violently protest against those who hold these abhorrent views […] are largely missing the point.”

This blogger criticises the protesters.

The leader of the Oxford Union who invited these two to the debate wished to create a platform to highlight this [that the views of Nick Griffin and David Irving are abhorrent] but through the channels of reason and argument. In that sense I totally agree with him. In the same way I find extreme Islam or black nationalism abhorrent I would welcome debate with those who support those ideas.

Those who violently protest against those who hold these abhorrent views in a country where democracy is something often taken for granted are largely missing the point. Would you not rather have an open space where the arguments of a short sighted and hateful politic are dissected and examined using logic, reason and a well structured rebuttal or would you prefer to witness an ever increasing majority for a legal political party to go unchecked because it can and because it is clandestine?”

Commentary from lecturer in ethical issues surrounding free speech, David Berry

It’s a bit of a cliché to quote Voltaire in relation to his comments on free speech. Paul Myners, businessman and donor to Gordon Brown (Question Time Thursday 29 November 2007, BBC 1) did exactly this when asked whether it was right for the Oxford Union to invite BNP leader Nick Griffin and Holocaust denier and Historian David Irving to debate issues under the broad heading of ‘free speech’. Myners defended their right stating that Voltaire once said: ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’.

Some would argue that it should be limited if it were to cause unnecessary ‘offence’ or ‘harm’ to others; something that the Liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill would no doubt had supported. The issue of free speech is quite simple; you either have it or you don’t and if you support the latter you have to explain why it should be restricted. At the heart of this debate is a relationship between the State and the Individual; it’s a classic Liberal dilemma."