Union matters.

I initially began blogging again the other day because I wanted to say a few things about Assange’s invitation to the Union. Now that similar fuss is surrounding an accidental Nick Griffin invite, I guess it’s time to comment on both.

So the Union is supposed to serve as an environment in which students can hear interesting and important people speak. That can encompass figures as diverse as Boris Becker and Shakira, but it also tends to cover people of political importance. When it does, the Union offers us the opportunity to engage with these people and question them directly.

Nobody doubts, surely, that Assange is someone who has shaped the political landscape of the past few years to such an extent that he meets the tests of being both interesting and important. Whatever you think about his absolutist liberal commitment to government transparency and free information, it is a view worth hearing about and discussing. When you add that to his direct involvement in facilitating so many high profile leaks through his organisation, these two facts alone justify his invitation to speak.

The protests focus instead on the fact that the man is stuck up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London, avoiding extradition to Sweden on a European Arrest Warrant for questioning about allegations of rape. Note, he has not been charged with any crime, he has offered to face questioning immediately within the Embassy, and he has offered to travel to Sweden if they will guarantee that he will not be passed on to the Americans after. Sweden refused, and this is thus his professed motivating fear. It’s hard not to forgive paranoia when the country you live in considers violating all diplomatic precedents in the name of making you answer questions by storming an Embassy, and when Bradley Manning is tortured by American authorities on a daily basis.

And yet, none of this apparently does anything to shake the view of many that because there have been allegations of rape against Assange, he should not be at the Union. To which I say two things. First, at least explicitly confess, then, that you deny that long-standing principle of innocent until proven guilty, or at least say you don’t think it should preclude temporary victimisation. And second, what sort of speaker do you think the Union would attract if everyone was subject to a moral filter as dubious as this? Assange has been invited to speak about the issue for which he is rightly known. If we can’t bracket this other deeply messy aspect of his current life, then the whole purpose of the Union is inevitably lost.

The same, however, does not apply to the case of Mr. Griffin. The topic for debate is whether gay parents are desirable. Griffin fails both the interest and importance tests. The BNP is dying, and if you seriously doubt whether Griffin has anything to say that’s worth hearing on the question of homosexuality – well, you have a short memory. Below is about the extent of his reasoning. I have more of a claim to speak at a neuroscience conference than he does to debate on this issue. Which is to say that neither of us have any claim at all.


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