Should we ‘no platform’ far-right speakers? When Oxford University Student Union invited Steve Bannon, a former Donald Trump adviser accused of advocating far-right views, there was a predictable storm of protest. Some argued he should be denied the oxygen of publicity, others that his views should be challenged in public.
Bannon himself has rejected the term “white nationalist”. However, he also once boasted that Breitbart News, which he co-founded, was “the platform for the alt-right”, an online movement infamous for its strong far-right and white nationalist associations.
What do our readers think? We had a comment from Ana-Mari arguing that far-right politicians should be debated and argued with. Is she right? Or does debating with the far-right legitimises their ideas?
Against Debating with the Far-Right
Joe Mulhall, Senior Researcher, Hope Not Hate
For Debating with the Far-Right
Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European Studies, Oxford University
Unfortunately, I think she’s wrong on this one… At the very least, there are some debates that by having the debate you legitimise an illegitimate question. For example, should we debate holocaust deniers?
[…] There is also the issue of legitimising the characters, depending on where these debates happen. Quite often they’ll happen in academic institutions, and we’ll have far-right figures being invited to academic institutions to advance the politics of division, hatred, often racism, in an institution which lends them a weight of legitimacy…
The final point is that these debates are based on a misunderstanding that the truth will always win out in a debate, and part of the issue is that you can have a very proficient far-right debater advancing the fact that the holocaust didn’t happen, and they would ‘beat’ someone who is nevertheless telling the truth. It’s based on the false notion of this marketplace of ideas that, when scrutinised, often doesn’t stand up.
I think there are limits, Ana-Mari. I think, at some point – for example, when people are advocating violence – the law needs to get involved. But within the limits of the law, I think you couldn’t be more right.
A mistake we liberal pro-Europeans have made over the last thirty years is to try to ignore the people who are now nationalists, populists getting 20-30% of the vote. You have to engage with and refute their dangerous arguments, rather than simply trying to ignore them and pretend they’re not there. As the Americans say: ‘Sunlight is the best disinfectant’.
Does debating with the far-right legitimise their ideas? Or is sunlight the best disinfectant? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!