I rarely get angry. I think it’s usually better to be nice, and understand that sometimes people make mistakes and do stupid things. I do enough of them myself to know how often it happens. But I’m angry today, and I have been for a couple of days. Really, really angry.
On Wednesday night OUSU voted to condemn the Oxford Union for inviting Marine Le Pen to speak. To repeat that: we voted to condemn the Oxford Union, for inviting Marine Le Pen, to speak. We voted to condemn an organisation whose sole purpose is to encourage free speech and debate, for literally doing their job. We also asked them to check with OUSU in future before inviting possibly controversial speakers. But that isn’t what’s made me angry. I’m angry because I was the only person in the room who stood up against it.
The debate went basically as follows:
Proposer: Marine Le Pen is leader of an organisation which is Islamophobic. They have members who are Holocaust deniers, and are generally xenophobic and bad people. Fascists, even. We should protest against them speaking at the Union.
Me: We can disagree – and protest against – what Marine Le Pen and her party stand for without protesting against her right to speak. Doing that amounts to censorship and is an attack on free speech.
Proposer: This isn’t about free speech (yes, she actually said this). This is about not giving her a platform.
Me: What gives you the right to decide who should have “a platform”? (I got no answer to this. I think the answer is that some people think that their views are self-evidently true, should not be open to question, and that these people think they have the right to decide what others can and cannot hear).
Anna Bradshaw (Vice President for Women): This isn’t censorship because only governments can censor things.
I really like Anna. She’s done a lot of good things for women while she’s been in office, and moreover she’s an extremely kind person. But this is an idiotic argument. It is exactly the kind of thing that was used to justify the motion put to us. We also heard that free speech was something only governments need concern themselves about, and that us as regular people need not worry ourselves about it.
An amendment to include a blanket ‘no platform for fascists’ policy in OUSU was only just defeated by the Council.
In the end we mandated Louis – OUSU’s president – to email every student to inform them of the protests taking place against Marine Le Pen’s visit to Oxford, and mandated the OUSU Exec to send a strongly worded open letter to the Union. We’ve recieved cutting replies from some of the standing committee, and quite right too. Today’s Times – the actual Times, has picked up our letter and written an equally sassy editorial against us. These things are some comfort, but they are not enough.
During the debate I wanted to scream at them, ‘this is why everyone hates you!’
I still do.