Thoughts on an Impending Riot (or not, as the case may be)

I wish people would stop referring to the Oxford Union as providing, for example [dead link], “a prestigious public platform.” It’s neither public (being a private members’ club) nor prestigious (being run for as long as I can remember by a bunch of contemptuous contemptible attention-seeking clowns).

23 thoughts on “Thoughts on an Impending Riot (or not, as the case may be)”

  1. According to the frontpage of today’s Guardian, Dr Evan Harris MP will be attending the forum. I was under the impression that he had decided not to attend (though clearly he has gone back on that decision), and that Labour MPs (John McDonnell, I think, though I’m not certain) were planning a motion in the Commons to commend his decision and the decisions of other people who have decided not to speak at the Union this term.

    Sadly, I can’t find the Beeb article which mentioned the Commons motion, so I’m rather worried I might have dreamed it.

  2. Hmmm … Harris’ Oxford office tells me to ring Westminster, and the Westminster office can’t confirm the position that he held prior to today. Damn.

    Apparently though, if I email him he’ll eventually get back to me.

  3. Yeah, I don’t hold out much hope for a reply. It sounds like they’re inundated with letters/emails anyway over this issue, so even if Harris was normally reliable when it comes to answering queries it would be hard for him get back to everyone.

    Nevertheless, thanks for your help!

  4. I was never a member, though I’ve been in the bar literally once or twice. It’s basically an attention-seeking society and as the fastest way to attract such attention is invite Adolf Hitler to speak, they duly do so every year or two. Nasty little bastards who don’t live in the same world as the rest of us, weren’t educated in the same world of us and never face the same real-world consequences as other people do.

  5. I’ve heard from a friend of a friend that some ethnic minority Union members have been sent letters from the Union warning them not to go near the building tonight for their own safety, does anyone know if there’s any truth in that?

  6. I haven’t heard anything like that David E (though I’m not an ethnic minority) and neither have my Jewish housemates to my knowledge.

    Just got back from the protest now. The UAF organisers wanted (quite rightly) to end it so that people could go home in groups for safety, rather than in dribs and drabs.

  7. Nice to see that the OU leadership hasn’t lost their penchant for racist provocation. Though I must admit, I’m rather ambivalent about the protests — I tend to think that the attention and outrage only encourages them.
    Were there in fact problems with thugs coming into town (or crawling out of whatever dank corners of Oxford where they normally lurk, for that matter)? Was anyone hurt, or menaced? All the reports I’ve read in the UK press only mention the anti-racist protestors,

  8. There were certainly thugs that had come into town. At one point, the anti-fascist protesters decided to march round the block (via Cornmarket first). On Queens Street, they were jeered by a number of individuals who were in small groups (though clearly not the huge numbers that it was feared would descend on Oxford).

  9. “I wish people would stop referring to the Oxford Union as providing, for example, “a prestigious public platform.” It’s neither public (being a private members’ club) nor prestigious (being run for as long as I can remember by a bunch of contemptuous contemptible attention-seeking clowns). ”

    The best two sentences that have been written about this entire sorry debacle.

  10. It makes no difference whether anyone was hurt or menaced. Inviting a racist whose avowed intention is to deport all non-white people from the country as an honoured guest, and then having tickets to this wonderful event sell out, is not far different from spitting on the faces of ethnic minorities. In one, the message is: ‘your culture, your self-respect, your security, your personal worth, are all less important to me than my self-righteous claims to uphold a principle which isn’t even clearly applicable in this case’, in the other, the message is: ”your culture, your self-respect, your security, your personal worth, are all less important to me than my private prejudice’.

    As such, the protests were merely a perfectly justified response; why should ethnic minorities be silent as lambs to the slaughter?

  11. I’m glad that the thug turn-out was relatively light (though sorry, of course, that any turned out at all); hopefully the fact that they were, from the sound of it, outnumbered prevented them from attacking anyone.
    In response to the last comment — certainly ethnic minorities should not be silent in the face of such insult. But I think it’s going a bit far to say that it makes no difference whether anyone was hurt or menaced — presumably, if people had been physically attacked, it would make a difference to them. I don’t think that the whole sorry business is perfectly all right because there seems not to have been any physical injury — but I am rather relieved that there wasn’t. That was the only concern behind my inquiry; I’m sorry if it seemed as if I were implying that lack of report of racist attacks suggested that there was nothing to object to.

  12. Josh: Yes you’re right it does make a difference, particularly to the putative victims of such attacks: all I meant to say was that the fact that no one was physically attacked does not mean, as Luke Tryl seems to have thought, that ‘common sense prevailed’. Nothing was further from the truth.

  13. Isn’t this all just a little bit self-righteous?

    While I think I agree it was a stupid idea to invite them, I know of only one person from an ethnic minority who got spat on the other night, and that was a Jewish friend of mine trying to walk into the Union to see David Irving. I also saw people with ‘against Hate’ placards chanting ‘kill tryl’ repeatedly, and as some of the anti-fascists punched and kicked other people trying to get into the Union, I heard them shouting ‘this is what democracy feels like’.

    Many of the comments above are correct. A lot of people were afraid that night. They were made to feel afraid by a baying mob gathered outside the Union building in the name of peace. Now I don’t want to be taken to be criticising all the protesters; a lot of people I love and respect were out there protesting that night and the vast vast majority were entirely peaceful. But that does not change the truth that almost all of the visible violence in Oxford that night came from the anti-fascist protesters, because the fascists were INSIDE the Union.

    What is worst about all of this is that they then came accross as peaceful, moderate, and respectable (which they are not) and the protesters outside looked like the mindless, violent thugs. The smug self-satisfaction in the comments of people like the OUSU President on channel 4 is entirely unwarranted.

  14. Is it all self-righteous? Maybe. I’m not sure.

    I don’t think anyone sensible is going to defend the shouts of “Kill Tryl”, which I didn’t hear, which – no doubt – weren’t intended seriously (i.e. as incitement to murder) but which, were, nevertheless, out of order. And I didn’t see the OUSU President on C4, so I don’t know what he said, etc.

    But: people like me remember when there was an active BNP cell in Oxford in the early 90s, and there was a racist murder of some poor Pakistani chap who lived down in East Oxford. Or – in a more trivial register, but not a non-trivial register – a friend of mine had to move house a few years ago, because by some silly cock-up the local BNP in his town found out where he lived, and were spotted making enquiries in his street, and he didn’t feel safe anymore.

    And incidents like these are part of the reason why people like me won’t go along with the “we don’t agree with them, but let’s have them at the Union because we don’t agree with them but they’ve got something to say and maybe we should listen” kind of argument. Fascist politics is far more dangerous than that, but it isn’t the wankers at the Oxford Union who bear its costs. And – yes – on the demo fascist photographers were in the crowd taking pics (and saying they were “independent journalists” to anyone who asked) and those pics are now up on Redwatch, which is one of the more hateful sights on the internet, and the people who hang out there are beginning the work of identifying who is in the pictures, and so on, and if they knew where they lived, they’d be posting that kind of information, too, on a site that is essentially a standing provocation to racist and homophobic and politically motivated violence; and I’m more bothered by this kind of thing than I am by the fact that the demonstrators might have been making some noise and making some people feel bad about themselves (or something).

    And the fascists almost certainly weren’t all in the Union last week: several people I’ve spoken to from last week reported sightings of black-clad groups of people on the streets of Oxford, and we know that Griffin said that he was bringing along his own “security team”, and who knows who they are, or what they like to get up to in their spare time.

    So, yes, if people were spitting at Jewish students on their way into the Union, that’s bad; and if people were chanting “Kill Tryl”, that’s bad; and so on. (Though I’ve no problem at all with booing and shouting “shame” at people who were going into the Union that night.) And, no, the protestors did not look like “mindless violent thugs” unless you were choosing to wear heavily-tinted spectacles, and to ignore most of the people who were out there and just focus, tabloid style, on the actions of a few.

  15. You’ll notice, incidentally, that many of the Redwatch photos appear to have been taken from inside the Union.

    I don’t think they should have been invited (as I said before), I’m quite happy to agree that the Union are – overall – a bunch of self-obsessed wankers. What I object to the is the self-congratulatory tone of the people who were at the protest. I was terrified that night. I saw a lot of violent, angry people shouting at me. Violent mindless thugs was exactly what they looked like. I was not alone. I don’t think my spectacles are heavily-tinted. Nobody comes out of this well, and to just go “no doubt not seriously intended” or “and so on” is just a little bit glib. It does not look like that when they are chanting at, or spitting at, or throwing punches at you.

  16. Our experiences of the protest were so sharply different, that there’s probably not much more we can usefully say to each other. I was there 7pm to 7.45pm, and then a bit later (towards 9pm, for about twenty minutes?), and on both occasions it was a fine protest. The chants were repetitive and unimaginative, to be sure, but it was a good crowd, and it was nice to see so many people I knew there — current and former students, colleagues from Balliol and the Department, friends from the local Labour Party, and so on; and a number of banners — the Labour Club, the UJS, the local UCU, UAF, etc. It was a good crowd; and while I don’t think “self-congratulation” is in order, and I doubt that many people in that crowd felt especially self-congratulatory, I don’t see why the people I’m describing shouldn’t think that they “come out of this well”, if that’s what they want to do, against your sweeping denial that anyone does. They certainly don’t have anything to regret, or to feel ashamed about.

    Booing and shouting “shame” at Union members going in still seems perfectly appropriate: the demonstration was there to make the point that it’s disgraceful to give fascists a platform, and the Union’s membership could have responded to its absurd President by staying away en masse and having Griffin & Irving speak to an empty chamber. Instead they chose both to reaffirm the desirability of having them speak in the ballot of the week before, and then to turn up to listen to what they had to say.

    If there was violence – the spitting and the punching you mention – it’s regrettable, contrary to the aims of the protest (which was called specifically as a non-violent event), and also puzzling, given the large police presence on the night, and whatever security arrangements of its own that the Union made.

    (Is the point about the photos that there were fascist photographers inside the Union, too, or that these pics were just harvested from around the web and there weren’t any fascist photographers around that night at all?)

  17. I don’t think there was any violence: New Inn Hall Street is a very narrow street, and there were hundreds of protestors. That doesn’t make for a particularly ‘peaceful’ protest, if your idea of ‘peaceful’ is very well-organised, very quiet, very orderly people making their views known. Crowds in crowded places generally look loud and intimidating, but that was entirely a function of the large number of people and the small amount of space. Union members claim that they were prevented from entering the Union buildings physically by the protestors. I don’t deny that: but it was not intentional — there simply wasn’t enough space available for both protestors and attendees, and since this was an open protest, not, say, a primary school trip to the zoo, there was no one there to ensure free lanes of access, etc.

    As for the spitting/punching/whatever, as I said I didn’t see any. I did experience, though, racial abuse at the hands of a Union member trying to get in to the Union.

    As Chris Brooke has very rightly pointed out, Union members might have been out for their ‘eine kleine Nacht of free speech’, but they are NOT the ones who have to bear the costs of that speech.

    As it happens, I think most of the self-righteousness came from Union members, who saw themselves as the vanguard of civil liberties against what they called the ‘fascists outside the Union’. I don’t particularly enjoy being called a fascist when speaking out against the fact that the leader of a racist political party — i.e. one whose *avowed* intention is to enact racist policies — is invited to my university to speak. This is a university, not a circus, and Union members have signally failed to recognise that perhaps, just perhaps, the right of ethnic minorities to feel secure and respected in their own university is quite a lot more important than that ‘eine kleine Nacht of free speech’.

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