I actually had thought the debate with holocaust denier David Irving and racist Nick Griffin at the Oxford Union had been canceled, but via Deborah Lipstadt’s blog it turns out they made the mistake of giving the man an outlet for his nonsense. An account is offered by attendee Jonny Wright that I think supports our contention that denialists should not be debated.
Wright takes the side that free speech is always the best way to go, but the mistake here is thinking that free speech means inviting a holocaust denier to use your loudspeaker to spout nonsense. It never should have even been considered. All this does is give Irving a patina of legitimacy, and an opportunity to once again deny the truth, which he clearly does throughout the debate. The deniers will use this as an example of their fake historian being taken seriously, and legitimize the idea that there is an actual debate to be had over whether or not the holocaust happened. The other supporters of the invitation had similarly inane things to say, such as this nonsense
But participant Ms Atkins said controversial views should not be silenced but exposed.
“When you say that the majority view is always right I think that is a deeply dangerous and disturbing thing to say.
“I am not for a moment saying that I agree with David Irving or Nick Griffin but I am saying that once you start having truth by democracy you risk silencing some of the most important prophets we have ever had.”
This is making the false assumption that truth by democracy is what makes people like Irving and Griffin wrong. The issue isn’t what the majority approves of but having standards for honest debate. You simply can’t have that with people who lie and misrepresent science or history to serve a ideological agenda.
The tougher issue, however, is what to do when the denier got invited. The anti-fascist demonstration clearly got out of hand trying to prevent entry of anyone into the debate. Wright categorizes this as anti-free speech and hypocritical (just as hypocritical as “free speech” advocate Irving’s lawsuit against Deborah Lipstadt to silence her), and I agree with that much. But the goal of putting pressure on the Oxford Union not to have the debate in the first place was certainly correct, and protesting outside of the debate and calling the attendees useful idiots of Irving would have been just fine as well. It’s not suppression of free speech to refuse denialists access to your platform though, and that is just what should have been done. After all, the issue is not the content of what Irving discussed that night, but rather the legitimacy that a venerated debate society confers on the denier by virtue of their invitation.