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Proud to be town, not gown

November 27, 2007

It’s not often I talk about news or politics, but as a proud Oxfordian, I felt it necessary to give my two bob’s worth to the whole Oxford Union/Racism saga.

This rather funny website here, seems to be saying that, no matter how hard you protest, or argue, or discuss, racists are racists and they’re never going to change their minds or ways. I can see its point, but that’s no reason not to protest, not to argue and not to debate.

If I was still living in Oxford I’d be pretty disgusted that Nick Clegg and David Irving had been invited to talk. Hell, I *am* disgusted! Not only because I’m Jewish, but also because this sort of thing is blatantly a publicity stunt for both the union and the two ‘speakers’. As someone said on the news last night, the BNP are great at waving their free speech/political correctness gone mad card, and of course, had they not been allowed to speak, they’d have waved it frantically again.

The president of the Oxford Union Debating Society, Luke Tryl, said: “The way to take fascism on is through debate and that’s how we’re going to defeat them. David Irving came across looking pathetic. He looked weak. The flaws in his arguments about free speech were exposed and I’m pleased that that happened.”

I agree with you, Luke. Debating and intelligent arguing is much better than shouty demonstrations. You also state in you letter to the union members that they’re not being given a platform for their views, merely they’re there to discuss the limits of free speech. But by inviting two known racists down, you’re giving them the privilege of talking at the Oxford Union (effectively putting them on the same level as Ghandi and Mother Teresa). Don’t you see? That’s just too far. It’s condoning all their views – not only those they have on the limits of free speech – making them valid opinions (and in my view, they’re absolutely not). I’m all for freedom of speech but I do think a line has to be drawn where we can’t allow such public platforms to be freely given. The whole thing turned into a media stunt, thus ignoring the intended reasons for inviting them in the first place.

I said on a forum a while ago that I thought racists should be sterilised because if they had kids, it’d be tantamount to child abuse to bring them up absorbing such views, and seeing such violence and hate. So many people slated me for saying it, arguing ‘where do you draw the line? The Monster Raving Looney party? People with blue eyes?’ but that wasn’t my point. Giving these ‘men’ a stand – no, *inviting* them to have such a prestigious (public) platform to peddle their views makes it acceptable. Reasonable. OK.

And it’s not OK. It’s never OK. But to be honest, I wouldn’t expect a body such as the Oxford Union to understand, braying and privileged as they are. When I was at uni, I was the general secretary of my union. We used to argue over: Should we have Nestle products in the union shop; Should we officially support the troops in Iraq?; Should we sign a petition supporting such and such? You wouldn’t believe the arguments and passion that these issues would raise, sometimes long into the night. I don’t believe the decision over inviting these two was debated by the union members. Had it been, I’m sure (as happened frequently in my union) those passionate students would have won the few media hungry union members over.

No, this reeks of arrogance, of ego and PR. Those involved obviously don’t care about running a democratic union. They’re only interested in politics and making a name for themselves. I think it’s clear what the presidents’ (both of the union and debating society) intentions were, and I for one am proud that my ‘lowly’ Welsh university would never have stood for this. And I’m also so proud to be town not gown.

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