Sunday, November 25, 2007

Oxford University's eggheads and freedom of speech

Not to be outdone by the ACLU Oxford University's student run Debating Society has invited two fascists to speak during a free speech event at Oxford University tomorrow.
Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, was convicted by UK courts for materials inciting racial hatred for producing materials denying the holocaust.
Similarly, David Irving, a discredited historian who was sentenced to three years in jail by Austrian courts for his holocaust denials.
The argument seems to be that an event debating the question of freedom of speech has to rely on fascists' contributions in order to be suitably credible. In fact, dear Oxford Debating Society why not also invite a couple of pedophiles feeling violated in their freedom of speech, because they're unable to advertise child sex brothels in Asia and elsewhere? Or a representative of the KKK who is upset about limitations in his (usually his) freedom of speech, because he is unable to rave about getting rid of all African Americans? Surely there is an infinite number of lunatics out there that could valuably contribute to your important debate...
What these students have clearly missed is that a debate about reasonable limits (or none) on freedom of speech can be had without inviting Griffin and Irving or similarly shady character, and without violating these characters' right to express themselves. After all, it is not their entitlement or legal right to be invited by the Debating Society to express their views. They can simply go to Hyde Park's Speakers' Corner and rave about ethnic minorities, gays and the EU - in the rain.
This is why Trevor Phillips, chair person of the UK's Commission for Equalities and Human Rights is right when he said, 'this is not a question of freedom of speech, this is a juvenile provocation.'

14 comments:

  1. Thanks for the information on topics.I was excited by this article.
    Thank you again.

    College online for good ideas.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Emmm... it is not entirely self-evident how a debate about free speech, cannot be 'a question of freedom of speech'? Such statements actually exposes the reservations Mr Philips has about our freedoms and liberty.

    Freedom of speech is not about the liberty of Griffin or Irving to say what they like, no - it's about our liberty, and right, to listen to, or read anything we see fit.

    As far as Philips is concerned, it is precisely our right to listen to such people which he perceives to be nothing more than a 'juvenile provocation'.

    And besides, when it comes to developing arguments against right wing extremism - how can you expect our society to have a truly open, frank and democratic debate about racism and its faults without racists putting forward their arguments?

    And your point about pedophiles is not a valid argument against this particular event - you are not comparing like with like. Active pedophiles in the UK are criminals, discredited historians and political party leaders are not - there is a big difference.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Even IF I agreed with your libertarian take on this matter - and I am anything but a libertarian - it would still not follow that the Oxford Union was under any obligation to give a platform to fascists.
    If you are particularly keen to have an argument with fascists about why you should be permitted to stick around in the UK, I say, feel free to organise an event with them yourself. Oxford's debating society doesn't owe this to you or to them. It is that simple.
    I made quite clear that by not giving them a platform at Oxford, their right to express themselves and your right to enjoy their valuable contributions have not been violated at all.
    I have to say, I do find your assumption that racism is kind of the result of lack of rational arguments painfully naive (but then, hey, you're a libertarian). If racism could really be sorted out by means of rational argument, it would not exist any longer today, you better stop kidding yourself on that front.
    Your last point is the result of a flawed analysis. You see, you can't discuss freedom of speech in the context of particular legislations. Say, the views expressed by Irving make him a criminal in Germany and Austria. This is not so in the UK. Are you saying that therefore inviting them to a similar event in Germany or Austria would have been wrong? Surely freedom of speech for you libertarians is indivisible, so don't stop short, embrace the pedophiles... accept the consequences :0). As a libertarian you can't really consistently accept that the acceptable limitations on freedoms of speech are legitimately defined by different national legislations. Surely the same content should be acceptable across nations...

    ReplyDelete
  4. Well, even pedophiles should have the absolute right to say whatever they like too - that right, free speech is not divisable. Just because I support real freedom of speech for pedophiles, doesn't mean I support pedophiles, which is what you are trying to imply.

    As for Germany and Austria, they have systematically and institutionally attacked freedom of speech and expression - so no, it would be right to invite them to a similar debate in those countries in order to challenge head-on the illiberal censorious climate in those countries.

    The Oxford debating society should be absolutely free to invite and give a platform to whoever they see fit, period. They should also feel free to make such decisions against the current censorious climate we are now witnessing.

    I, unlike yourself, believe in the absolute right to free speech for everyone. That simply means that the right to speak freely is not some negotiable commodity. The truth is, those who oppose Irving or Griffin's right to speak freely at Oxford debating society are devaluing freedom of speech, they are transforming an absolute right into a relative right - and relative rights are a privilege.

    "I made quite clear that by not giving them a platform at Oxford, their right to express themselves and your right to enjoy their valuable contributions have not been violated at all."

    I think you are also wrong here - by denying such people a platform at Oxford, you are in fact doing what you profess not to be doing. By denying someone a platform to speak, you demonstrate that you have no real commitment to genuine, free and open debate - to me, that is the antithesis of what democracy is all about.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Courtney, my friend, I begin more and more to warm up to the pedophile thing. If you support absolute freedom of speech for pedophiles you do support pedophiles. I don't think you can have your cake and eat it on this one. Absolute freedom of speech would entail the right to advertise underage sex slaves on the net and distribute pornography, that's using such kids, freely. There might be legal recriminations if they get caught producing such stuff, but the subsequent distribution should be comfortably covered by your absolute freedom of speech mantra. My point here is not that you mean to say that pedophilia is acceptable, but that your stance, if taken seriously, would assist them in facilitating the distribution of their propaganda. You might think that that "doesn't mean I support pedophiles". I beg to differ. You don't seem to accept responsibility for inevitable and predictable implications of your brave views on absolute freedom of speech my friend.
    You still confuse permitting someone to have their say with them being kind of entitled to be provided with a platform by XYZ.
    However, there seems a true, and kind of unique opportunity for your blog here. Why don't you offer it as a freedom platform to the KKK, BNP and their ilk. Write to them and offer your assistance. After all, you seem under the misguided impression that others owe them a platform to speak. Perhaps a good opportunity for you to take the next step :-). Make new friends in the process. Seems a good opportunity to make your point...

    ReplyDelete
  6. "My point here is not that you mean to say that pedophilia is acceptable, but that your stance, if taken seriously, would assist them in facilitating the distribution of their propaganda."

    Well my friend, that is a risk I am willing to take - in order to defend the very idea that all people must, at the very least, have the absolute right to speak freely. That people should freely have that right, in absolute terms, far outweighs any real risks there may or may not be from pedophilia websites or the like.

    The notion of 'one man one vote' also holds a small element of risk, but ultimately I think it is a risk that's well worth taking. Free speech as well has it's own inherent risks, but for a civilisation such as our, those risks are well worth taking. The alternative is further censorship.

    Take this conversation that we're having here for example - judging by your comments, I get a strong impression that you are more interested in critising the very ideals of free speech more than you are in boldly upholding it.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I think you got me there. I do not subscribe to the view that the ideal of absolute freedom of speech is defensible. So, your 'strong impression' is correct.
    In fact, there's not a single country on this planet in which there exists an unmitigated absolute freedom of speech. The reasons for this, despite your unreasonable remarks about Germany and Austria, is that even liberal democracies have long since understood that sensible limitations placed on our freedom to say anything we wish, make our societies better places.
    So, your factual claim that 'people should freely have that right, in absolute terms, far outweighs any real risks' has been rejected by every single society on this planet, very much as much as the underlying ideology that drives you, namely a radical kind of libertariamism.

    ReplyDelete
  8. bummer, that's meant to read 'libertarianism' :).

    ReplyDelete
  9. "In fact, there's not a single country on this planet in which there exists an unmitigated absolute freedom of speech."

    Not quite - in terms of free speech, the United States is in a league of its own. Nowhere in the 'free' world is free speech more extensive than in the U.S. Indeed, as an aspect of law, the First Amendment is the clearest expression of the absolute right to free speech.

    Not only that, it is the hallmark of a truly tolerant and open society. Despite the fact that past American administrations have not upheld this absolute right to free speech, the First Amendment sets no restrictions whatsoever on the basic liberty of free speech - it's absolutely clear about that.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Shame, I knew you'd go for the bait, and you did. For the record, there is no such a thing as absolute freedom of speech in the USA. For instance, I can't go around in Manhattan shouting 'kill all black guys with English accents'. If I do, I will be prosecuted and sentenced - rightly so. Simple as that. Limits on freedom of speech in the USA exist and they have nothing to do with the government, unless you assume that the US Supreme Court, which would have confirmed those in libertarian law suits against government imposed limitations, is the US government.
    No doubt the reason why the First Amendment is not taking literally is precisely because the negative consequences would be overwhelming if one took it literally.

    ReplyDelete
  11. my goodness, it's late... i meant '... taken literally' not '...taking literally'.

    ReplyDelete
  12. "Courtney, my friend, I begin more and more to warm up to the pedophile thing. If you support absolute freedom of speech for pedophiles you do support pedophiles. I don't think you can have your cake and eat it on this one. Absolute freedom of speech would entail the right to advertise underage sex slaves on the net and distribute pornography, that's using such kids, freely."


    I dont think that has anything to do with freedom of speech. Freedom of speech for pedophiles is the same freedom of speech that allowed gays to be an accepted group of society: that is, saying that pedophiles are not 'perverts', 'criminals' or 'child molesters', that pedophiles love children and dont want to hurt them, allowing teens and children with pedophile feelings to express themselves, etc. Overall, it would great because it would allow many people who have this sexual orientation to find help and support and express his feelings and thoughts. Just like any gay kid has the posibility to speak out about his feelings, the same right should be allowed to pedo kids and teenagers.

    ReplyDelete
  13. "In fact, dear Oxford Debating Society why not also invite a couple of pedophiles feeling violated in their freedom of speech, because they're unable to advertise child sex brothels in Asia and elsewhere? "

    I think that statement is profoundly offensive to all pedophiles. Being a pedophile doesnt mean supporting sex slavery, just like being heterosexual doesnt mean supporting rapists of women!


    Following your analogy, freedom of speech for gays would be only used to support man-man rape... Which is utterly absurd, of course, but is an example to show how utterly absurd your text was.

    A pedophile is someone attracted to children, just like an heterosexual is someone attracted to the opposite sex. Most heterosexuals love and respect women. What makes you think that most pedophiles dont love and respect children? I find your ignorance dangerous and harmful.

    ReplyDelete