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Do fascists have a right to free speech?
Do fascists have a right to free speech?
by Peter Tatchell - Special to the SGN

Should fascists have free speech? Or are some people so dangerous  especially to minority race, sexuality and faith communities  that it is legitimate to limit their freedom of expression?

Why should fascists be given free speech when they would, if given half a chance, deny free speech to others?

Critics argue that right-wing extremists like Nick Griffin and David Irving are either fascists or fascist sympathisers and apologists. They say these mens ideas and policies are so threatening that they should be denied public platforms in order to protect vulnerable communities and in the interests of social cohesion and solidarity.

Black, Gay, Jewish and Muslim people are the frequent victims of fascist and neo-fascist hatred and harassment. They should be spared the intimidation and fear that is often engendered by fascist ideas and campaigns. Achieving a caring, compassionate society requires restrictions on the promotion of hate and discrimination.

It is possible that if there had been no free speech and no platform for Hitler and the Nazi Party in the early 1920s  if their meetings and marches had been stopped  they may not have grown in strength and influence. The Nazis might not have come to power and the Holocaust and World War Two may not have happened.

Other people argue that the best way to defeat the far right is by challenging and debunking their ideas through education and debate. Fascist ideology doesnt stack up and can be demolished by rational, informed argument. Suppression wont make their ideas go away. They will fester underground. Open scrutiny and critique of fascist policies is the most effective way to erode public support and sympathy.

The issue has been bought to a head by the Oxford Unions decision to hold a free speech debate on 26 November 2007, headlined by Nick Griffin, leader of the neo-Nazi British National Party, and Holocaust revisionist historian, David Irving.

Nick Griffin is the leader of a far right party that has a history of promoting racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and prejudice against Muslims  and of using intimidation and violence. Griffin has a conviction for inciting racial hatred. (1)

David Irving was branded by a British judge in 2006 as a racist, an anti-Semite and an active Holocaust denier. (2)

Support for free speech does not oblige the Oxford Union or any other institution to reward these men with a prestigious public platform, which will give them an air of respectability, raise their public profile and allow them to espouse their intolerant views.

Under British law, Nick Griffin and David Irving still have the freedom to espouse their views at any public meeting they wish to organize, or in any leaflet they wish to print.

Inviting them to the Oxford Union is qualitatively different. It is helping them propagate their bigotry. No institution is required, in the name of free speech, to proactively promote the purveyors of prejudice. Not offering hate-mongers a platform is not the same as banning them.

The invitations to Griffin and Irving should be withdrawn by the Oxford Union and alternative non-bigoted speakers invited to discuss what limitations, if any, should be placed on freedom of expression.

Free speech is an important human rights issue that should not be cheapened by the sensationalism of parading of pair of right-wing extremists in the chamber of the Oxford Union.

Sources:

(1) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4670574.stm
(2) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4449948.stm

Peter Tatchell is the Green Party parliamentary candidate for Oxford East.
http://www.greenoxford.com/peter and http://www.petertatchell.net

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