Union stands firm as Marine Le Pen controversy builds

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An officer of the Oxford Union has confirmed that Marine Le Pen will be  speaking on Thursday evening, despite  potential opposition from OUSU.

In the same week that Oxford University comes under fire for “actively censoring ideas on campus”, OUSU will vote on whether to condemn nationalist politician Marine Le Pen’s invitation to the Oxford Union.

On Wednesday evening, OUSU Council considered a motion mandating a letter to the Oxford Union, criticising them for inviting Front National President Marine Le Pen to speak. Whilst not necessarily a “no platform” motion, the letter states OUSU’s disagreement with the Union’s invitation to Le Pen.

The agenda for the meeting, held on Wednesday evening, states the belief that: “Freedom of speech includes the right of everyone to protest, but not the right of fascists to a platform for their views.”

If passed, OUSU Council would mandate a letter to be signed by OUSU Executives and sent to the Oxford Union standing committee. The letter will express “disappointment” over the Union’s invitation, and ask the Union to refrain from “inviting speakers with racist, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic and homophobic views in the future”.

Le Pen has been criticised for comparing the Islamic call to prayer in French cities to the Nazi occupation. Front National has also faced controversy due to its honorary president and Le Pen’s father, Jean Le Pen, being convicted for racial hatred and Holocaust denial.

The proposed letter continues: “Disagreeing with someone’s views is not a sufficient reason to stop listening to them, or even to refuse them a platform: but the views of people such as Marine Le Pen are so troubling, so dangerous and so extreme that we believe that in giving them a platform the Oxford Union, far from aiding the cause of free speech, in fact harms it by contributing to the intimidation of oppressed groups”.

The Council Motion also notes that “Marine Le Pen’s speaking at the Oxford Union will be upsetting to many students and others in Oxford, in particular those from marginalised groups”.

Aliya Yule, the student who seconded the OUSU motion, commented: “I am extremely disappointed that the Union has chosen yet again to prioritise inviting controversial speakers over considering the well-being of students and basic social justice.” She also asserted that Le Pen’s “words contribute to the stigmatisation of already marginalised groups.”

Yule, who serves as Vice President of Wadham’s SU, continued: “Whilst freedom of speech is important, the Union does not have to give a platform to such views.” She elaborated that Le Pen’s invite to the Union sends “a damaging message about the priorities of its committee. It is important that we, as a student union, speak out against these attacks on our communities, and send a strong message to the Union that we find their behaviour completely unacceptable.”

In the Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR) published by Spiked Online, Oxford has been categorised as ‘red’, meaning that the University “has banned and actively censored ideas on campus”.

Tom Slater, co-ordinator of the rankings, called the actions of anti-fascist groups protesting Le Pen’s invitation as“illiberal and patronising”.

He continued: “The students and professors who signed the open letter calling for Le Pen to be banned clearly think little of their peers.

“The idea that students need to be shielded from the invective of Marine Le Pen is patronising in the extreme. Oxford students should put more energy into tackling ideas, rather than silencing them.”

Spiked Online is edited by journalist Brendan O’Neill, who in 2014 wrote a piece in the Spectator accusing Oxford students of stifling free speech following  the cancelation of a debate in which he was participating.

To date, over 300 people have signed an open petition against Le Pen’s appearance at the Union and local councillors also expressed disapproval.

The Oxford Union did not respond to our request for comment.