To Irving or not to Irving

Yet more free speech troubles, this time at Oxford:

The head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission asked Oxford University’s debating society on Sunday to review its decision to invite holocaust denier David Irving to speak at a free speech forum.

Historian Irving will be a speaker at Monday’s event, which has been organised by the Oxford Union’s inner debating chamber, as will National Party leader Nick Griffin.

“People have died for freedom of speech,” the EHRC’s head Trevor Phillips, told the BBC on Sunday. “They didn’t fight and die for it so it could be used as a silly parlour game.”

“Nobody needs to invite these people to deny the holocaust. The issues are too serious. I would say to the Oxford Union — think again. If this goes ahead I hope the Oxford students will turn their backs on this shabby exhibition.”

Irving is undoubtedly a repugnant figure and is probably best ignored. Giving him airtime only increases his sense of importance. But who decides the limits of free speech? Should denying the Holocaust be a crime? I don’t think so. Should it be discussed at Oxford? Overall, I don’t see the harm. Foul views exist – and Irving’s co-speaker, Nick Griffin, leads a racist but increasingly popular political movement – and pretending they do not is both intellectually lazy and dangerous.

Text and images ©2023 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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