Decision to invite Holocaust denier condemned – Irving at Oxford Union

Jessica King 18 October 2007

A storm of protest has greeted the announcement of an upcoming appearance by controversial historian and alleged holocaust-denier David Irving and BNP leader Nick Griffin at the Oxford Union, according to Cherwell, an Oxford student newspaper.

In 2006 Irving was imprisoned in Austria because of his contentious stance on the Holocaust, which he referred to as the ‘Holohoax’. He has since recanted his views and is without doubt that it did in fact take place.

Both the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) and the National Union of Students (NUS) have promised to stage demonstrations if Irving and Griffin speak on 26 November.

Oxford University Students’ Union (OUSU) president Martin McClusky vocally condemned the decision, and staged an emergency meeting of sabbatical officers in protest at the possibility of their appearance at a ‘free speech forum.’

However, it seems increasingly likely that the event will take place.

Cherwell quoted NUS president Gemma Tumelty, who also opposed the decision: “The Holocaust denier David Irving and leader of the fascist BNP Nick Griffin have no place in our multicultural society, let alone in our diverse university campuses.

“NUS utterly opposes racism and fascism wherever it arises and will certainly oppose any attempt by Oxford University’s debating society to invite Irving and Griffin to speak.”

A spokesperson for the Union of Jewish Students held similar views on the subject.

Yet Oxford Union President Luke Tryl was reported as defending his decision to invite them, declaring “It’s nothing to do with the Holocaust or racism.

“We always believe that we are the last bastion of free speech, and we want to explore where the limits of that lie through our forum.”

He confirmed that discussions are still underway and, moreover, that the forum is also to include Dr Evan Harris, Liberal MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, alongside author Anne Atkins and student debaters drawn from the Union’s members.

“I have agreed to debate the subject ‘This house believes that even extremists have the right to freedom of expression within the law’ at the Oxford Union,” the paper quoted Dr. Harris as saying.

“Extremist or offensive, but otherwise lawful speech should be ignored, ridiculed or argued against.

“It should not be shut down or driven underground. It is counter-productive to make free speech martyrs out of these people,” he added.

Jessica King