The British defense secretary and at least three other lawmakers canceled appearances at Oxford University’s debating society because of a speaking invitation made to David Irving, a historian once jailed in Austria for denying the Holocaust.
Defense Secretary Des Browne and the other officials decided not to speak at the Oxford Union when they learned Irving and Nick Griffin, head of the far-right British National Party, were invited to a forum on free speech.
The Free Speech Forum is planned for Nov. 26. Neither Browne nor the other members of Parliament were invited to attend that event, but were scheduled to speak before the Oxford Union on other days.
An adviser to Browne, who spoke Monday on condition of anonymity in line with government policy, said the defense chief believes the debating society has the right to invite Irving and Griffin. But Browne does not consider it appropriate to speak in the same place, the adviser said.
The debating society’s president, Luke Tryl, wrote a letter to members saying he invited the men to talk about the limits of free speech not to expound their views.
“Stopping them from speaking only allows them to become free speech martyrs … groups like BNP do well if they look like they’re being censored,” he wrote.
Tryl did not respond to an e-mail and several telephone inquiries made by The Associated Press on Monday.
Denis MacShane, a Labour Party lawmaker, withdrew from a speaking engagement at the union last week.
“Inviting two notorious Jew-haters … to the most prestigious debating student forum in the world will validate today’s anti-Semitism which is a poisonous ideology emanating from the extreme right as well as the Israel-hating left and Islamist ideologues,” MacShane said in an e-mailed statement.
Irving was arrested by Austria two years ago on charges stemming from two speeches he gave there in 1989 at which he allegedly disputing that the Nazis purposely murdered 6 million Jews. Denying the Holocaust is a crime in Austria, which was occupied by Nazi Germany.
Irving, who has refused to use the term Holocaust, was convicted in February 2006 and sentenced to three years in prison. He served 13 months and was released on probation.
Griffin’s party campaigns on a fiercely anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim platform.
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