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Ostensibly Proving a Commitment to Free Speech
rights and freedoms |
Wednesday January 18, 2012 17:35 by Cathal Larkin - Cork Against Fascism - personal capacity
From this week's UCC Express, the Newspaper of Cork University. It doesn't have an online edition.
“If we, as a modern society, don’t believe in free speech for those whom we disagree with, then perhaps it should be questioned whether we believe in free speech at all”, wrote Chair of the Government and Politics Society, Ben English, in a recent letter to the Irish Times. This was after the Society proved their uncompromising commitment to free speech by inviting British fascist Nick Griffin to a debate in UCC. Of course there are many other, far more interesting, ways the Politics Society could demonstrate that commitment. They could hold a talk on control of the media, or invite a speaker from a marginalised group. Or to understand more about fascism and the rise of far-right parties across Europe, they could host a discussion among experts in the field.
Instead, the Society decided British National Party leader, Nick Griffin, is the man to spend the university’s money on. A contributing factor was hardly the desire for an intellectually stimulating evening, but him being an idiot most people disagree with is not a reason to oppose the debate happening. Nor is the fact that he has two convictions for racial hatred, denies the holocaust and is homophobic to the point of celebrating the bombings of gay bars. Neither should he be stopped speaking because his party have likened rape to being force-fed chocolate cake. To give a platform to someone who holds such views obviously shows terrible judgement on the part of those who invited him; but if these were the only issues, it would be better to just ignore the debate. Griffin and his party, however, don't just hold racist, misogynistic and homophobic views, but are also fascist organisers and the event will be used for fascist organising. This is the key reason why we should all pressure the university to cancel it.
Since the 1930s, Ireland has been luckily free of fascist street violence; however Britain has not. There we see a direct correlation between areas of BNP strength and racially motivated attacks. If you walk a little bit camp or are not white where the BNP have a gang organised, you are at serious risk of vicious assault. A few months ago The Sunday World published two stories revealing, thanks to an undercover reporter, that the BNP are trying to get a foothold in Ireland and already have in the country a network of contacts. While we are yet to see visibly active fascist gangs, “Keep Ireland White” and other racist stickers do intermittently appear on street poles showing there is a far-right presence.
Fascist organising at the February debate of course won’t happen with Griffin passing around a sign-up sheet, or from the platform inviting any wannabe fascists to a private meeting. Rather, organisers in the crowd will approach people who seemed impressed by Griffin after the meeting. And from that the nucleus of a ‘beat the snot out anyone who’s not white or straight’ gang could be formed. Alternatively, Griffin’s presence in the city could be used online to organise a private gathering of fascists.
“No no”, the Politics Society would no doubt respond, “Griffin’s views will be robustly challenged by the other speaker and from the floor, and the strength of our rational arguments will leave him looking ridiculous.” Not to question the quality of the arguments, and their most likely brilliant delivery; but the Politics Society don’t understand how fascism attracts people. It’s not like someone comes home from work one day and says to their wife, “honey, I’m thinking of becoming a homophobic racist, tonight I'll go to the university and check out the Nick Griffin debate to see how well these ideas stand up to rational scrutiny.” When the BBC had Griffin on Question Time in 2009, he was predictably made to look like an idiot by smarter people, but the party still grows. Modern fascism is the product of severe social exclusion and a sense of total powerlessness in an alienating, subjugating world. To think it can be stopped with a well held debate is delusional, risky, and irresponsible.
Nonetheless, Society chair Ben English thinks: “Freedom of speech is not, nor should it ever be subjective”. The BNP have a website and an online TV channel, but English seems to conceptualise free speech as the right to speak at a UCC debate, and then puts his dubiously constructed conception above people’s safety. That is of course, other people’s safety, as it's probably safe to assume that not many of the Politics Society's members live in the kind of marginalised areas where fascists usually organise. It’s revealing to note how university societies so often invite fascists to debates but never invite, for example, a supporter of a group like Al Qaeda. Obviously the threat that a small group of ruthless and organised terrorists pose to innocent people is recognised. To which innocent people is quite unpredictable, unlike with the group assaults delivered by fascists. The predictable victims of their attacks pay the price for the Government and Politics Society's irresponsibility.