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Re: David Irving and Nick Griffin at the Oxford Union

Category: Art
Date:     29 November 2007
Time:     09:41 AM


Hey, this is almost turning into a debate. 

Pol, in 1933, the Oxford Union debated the motion 'This House would under no circumstances fight for 
its King and country'. Debates about sacred cows and apparently self evident truths are the bread 
and butter of debating societies because they force you to think about what you think you know and 
how you know it. Tautologies such as 'You're wrong because everybody knows you're wrong' are 
inadmissible and will lose you the argument even if you're, by some objectively measurable standard, 
right. A flat earthist debate would be perfect in these circumstances and I'd be surprised if a few 
debating societies haven't taken it up. As for your apparently ironic position on giving an airing to the 
views of the insane, outsider art anyone? How about the writings of Artaud? 

Unfortunately, you have so far not moved beyond tautology and unsubstantiated statements, which is 
why I can't quite say this is a debate yet. The Finkelstein/Hilberg argument I quoted at the beginning 
anticipates several of your points and debunks them, yet you go ahead and make them anyway, 
without addressing any of the ways the starting point undermined them. 

Of course if all of this was just about mental gymnastics, then giving 'a platform to fascists' would be 
too high price for it. But there's an obvious principle here: if Griffin and Irving got the society they 
dream of, it seems unlikely that they would allow free debate to the likes of us. That's my first problem 
with denying it to to them: it makes us too much like them and makes us operate according to a 
principle that is rightly, fascistically theirs: 'free' debate only for those in power or on the side of 
consensus. Already, I'm deeply uncomfortable with the too easy consensus implied by referring to us 
and them as I have above. It's a denial of the complexity to which Hilberg's comments on Irving allude: 
just because someone's mostly wrong or morally wrong doesn't mean they can't ever say anything 
valid, and sometimes their contrarianism can lead to real discoveries. 

Yes, the Oxford Union didn't have to invite them, any more than the mainstream newspapers have to 
give them editorial space or TV has to commission them to make documentaries. But again, this is 
about consensus: when everyone denies these people a voice, it amounts to censorship. Among all 
these, the Oxford Union is the perfect place to give their views an airing because it is a forum for 
debate, not a podium for pontification. A lot of the criticism of the Union seems to derive from the idea 
that an invitation to speak is somehow, in itself, an endorsement. The president of the Union has 
made it clear it was more an invitation to come and be attacked. 

You're skeptical of the value of argument with these kinds of people, though, again, you don't give 
substantive reasons for being so. My view is that these things are like mushrooms: they grow in the 
dark. Deny people like Griffin and Irving a voice completely and you make them martyrs in the eyes of 
their sympathisers and never have the chance to knock down the illogic of their views. These views 
are currently held, at least in part, but significant numbers of the UK population now, from Sun and 
Daily Mail readers to Muslims who deny the Holocaust. No one ever said debate was going to be 
easy, but what's the alternative?Assume before you even start that you're never going to change any 
of these people's minds and all you've got is a bunch of fanatics stewing in their own bile. Debate can 
make a difference. Senator Joe McCarthy ran rampant over the political landscape of the United 
States in the fifties, spreading anti-communist hysteria and ruining lives until the army's litigator Joe 
Welch exposed the fallacies in his position in live hearings on national television. The more light you 
can shed on this stuff the better. 

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