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October 13, 2007
Oxford to Follow in the Footsteps of Columbia
Notorious Holocaust denier David Irving, who has been jailed in Austria for his despicable beliefs, has been approached by the famous Oxford Union debating society to address students at a future event:
The president of the Oxford Union debating society was criticized Friday night after he approached Holocaust denier David Irving, British National party chairman Nick Griffin and the Belarusian dictator, Alexander Lukoshenko, to speak at forthcoming events, the British Guardian reported Saturday morning. Is it "free speech" that the Oxford Union wishes to promote by ridiculing Irving and the equally reprehensible Griffin? Or is it something a little more prosaic - perhaps a simple means of garnering international attention?
Luke Tryl said he had asked Irving and Griffin to speak at the union's Free Speech Forum, due to take place at the end of November, adding that Lukoshenko, accused of a string of human rights abuses, had been approached to address students later in the term.
"The Oxford Union is famous for is commitment to free speech and although I do think these people have awful and abhorrent views I do think Oxford students are intelligent enough to challenge and ridicule them," he told the Guardian, adding that no formal decision on who would be invited had been made.
It certainly is a far cry from the the kinds of debates sponsored in the past by Oxford. In 1984, then Secretary of Defense Cap Weinberger held a memorable debate with Marxist historian E.P. Thompson that addressed the question of whether there was a moral difference between the foreign policy of the United States and the Soviet Union. Weiberger's stirring defense of democracy ended up winning the day as students voted decisively that Weinberger won the argument.
This trend at academic institutions to generate controversy for what appears to be controversy's sake is ill advised. By giving exposure to malodorous ideas, it says little about "free speech" and everything about self promotion.
I hope someone puts their foot down to stop this ridiculous exercise by the Oxford Union.