Students protest Holocaust denier's appearance at Oxford debate

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Protesters opposed to Nick Griffin and David Irving.
Image: Shimgray.

A group of about 500 demonstrators protested the presence of David Irving, an English historian and convicted Holocaust denier, at a debate at Oxford University on Monday. The students broke into the Oxford Union building where the debate was being held and delayed the debate for over an hour.

British riot police were on the scene to maintain the peace. The demonstrators gathered in front of the building hours before the debate was to begin and later staged a sit-down protest in the building's halls. Only half of the people who had tickets to the debate were able to enter the building due to the protests. David Irving and Nick Griffin, a leader of the far-right British National Party who also participated in the debate, were forced to be separated and placed in different rooms. One protester was reportedly injured after a blow to the head.

The Oxford Union building where the debate was held.

The topic of the debate was free speech. It was organized by the Oxford Union, who voted Friday to allow Irving to speak, amid controversy. The protest was organized by the activist group Unite Against Fascism, as well as members of the Oxford University Student Union and Oxford's Jewish and Muslim societies.

Luke Tryl, president of the Oxford Union, defended the decision to allow Irving to speak, saying that the purpose of the debate was to discuss the limits of free speech, not to give the speakers a platform from which to endorse their views. Ned Temko, chief political correspondent of The Observer, disagreed, saying, "It's not a question about giving them a platform, it's about giving them credibility."

From February to December 2006, David Irving was jailed in Austria after being convicted of identifying with the Nazi Party. He has written several books which deny the Holocaust and support the views of Adolf Hitler. In 1998, an English court found that he is "an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-Semitic and racist and that he associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism." Nick Griffin is the National Chairman of the British National Party, a nationalist group known for its anti-immigration and anti-Muslim policies. In 1998, he was also convicted of denying the Holocaust.