Image Credit: Olaf Kosinsky (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Oxford Union, Oxford’s debating club and the largest society at the University, has been condemned for inviting Alice Weidel, the leader of the Alternative for Germany party (AfD), to speak on the 7th November. This has generated widespread criticism from campaigners, students and local politicians.
Controversies surrounding the party include its position on Islam, since it has called for state vetting of Muslim imams, as well as for a ban on the Islamic call to prayer, and their 2016 manifesto featured a section on why “Islam does not belong to Germany.” The party has also been routinely criticised for its record on homophobia, since the party tried to block gay marriage in Germany through a legal challenge, and a leading AfD figure was accused of suggesting that gay people should be jailed in 2016.
“Germany’s state prosecutor investigated social media posts she made referring to ‘marauding, groping, rioting, knife-stabbing migrant mobs'”
Alice Weidel, herself, is also particularly controversial. Germany’s state prosecutor investigated social media posts she made referring to “marauding, groping, rioting, knife-stabbing migrant mobs” in January. She has also received media attention for strong views against political correctness and same-sex marriage, as well as her controversial stance on immigration policy, and EU membership.
The Union’s description of the event on their term card reads: “As the current leader of the opposition Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, Dr Weidel is a prominent critic of Chancellor Merkel’s government.
She is also currently a member of the Bundestag, the German federal parliament, for the Baden-Württemberg region.
She says that she first decided to join the AfD party due to their opposition to the Euro, and she is also outspoken on issues such as the refugee crisis and traditional social values.
In a statement to The OxStu, Union President Stephen Horvath said: “The Oxford Union remains committed to the principles of political neutrality and free speech, and we invite a variety of political leaders from different countries and different perspectives. In recent years, those perspectives featured and questioned at the Union have ranged from Julius Malema, leader of the radically leftist Economic Freedom Fighters in South Africa, to Marine Le Pen”.
Alice Weidel is the leader of the largest opposition party in the German Parliament. After Dr Weidel’s speech in the Union’s debating chamber, members will be welcome to ask her questions, and challenge her views if they wish.
Anneliese Dodds, the MP for Oxford East, said: “It is very concerning to hear that the Oxford Union has gone out of its way to court a far-right politician in this way. The AfD marched alongside Pegida, an extreme-right group, during protests in the German city of Chemnitz last month, which featured protestors making Nazi salutes and openly threatening migrants.
“Indeed there is so much concern in Germany around the AfD that a majority of Germans believe they should be monitored because of fears that they will undermine democratic values. The Oxford Union should be aware that this move will lessen its standing in our city as a venue for democratic debate and tolerance.”
Whilst Ian McKendrick, from Oxford Stand Up To Racism, has said: “The AfD has a significant number of neo-nazi members and MPs. It has built up its following by stoking up racism against migrants, Muslims and refugees, and this enabled racists to go on a rampage last month against foreigners in Chemnitz.
“The Oxford Union remains committed to the principles of political neutrality and free speech”
“By inviting the leader of a racist party populated with Nazis to speak, the Oxford Union is helping to boost and legitimatise racism and fascism. At a time of rising racist attacks and increased far right and fascist activity in the UK, this is dangerous and negligent of the peace and safety of Oxford’s diverse community.”
Local campaigners, including the Oxford Students Stand Up to Racism, Oxford Unite Against Facism, Students Stand Up To Racism, and Oxford Stand Up to Racism, have planned a protest against the event during her visit. The organisers have argued that, “We want to send a clear message that racists are not welcome here, that we stand with German anti-racists and anti-fascists and refugees, migrants and Muslims facing AfD racism.”
Earlier this year, the London School of Economics SU Ethical Financial Society cancelled their event, inviting Weidel, to speak to a group of students on the 19th March, after the event was criticised by members of the student body who felt it was providing an unmoderated platform for racism and extremism on campus.
The Oxford Union itself has been criticised for its track record of hosting far-rights speakers.
In 2015, protesters rallied outside the Union in response to an event with Marine Le Pen. Similar protests were held against a speech given by Tommy Robinson, whilst in 2007, David Irving and BNP leader Nick Griffin spoke at the Union. They were disrupted by students who broke through the security barrier to stage a sit-in protest.