Tim Squirrell is a PhD candidate in Science and Technology Studies at the University of Edinburgh. His research focusses on construction and negotiation of authority and expertise on the internet, with a focus on fitness and nutrition communities.

Oxford Union to give Platform to Steve Bannon

Oxford Union to give Platform to Steve Bannon

On Sunday, I made a video about why it’s a bad idea to give a platform to fascists. Today (Wednesday), the Oxford Union announced that they’re doing just that on Friday: they’re going to be hosting Steve Bannon.

Bannon is well-known as a fascist, or at the very least an apologist for fascism: relevant articles here, here, and here. There’s no debate about that. All that the Oxford Union can do is argue that there is some benefit to be gained from giving him a platform.

Unfortunately (though predictably) they’re giving him a platform in the worst way possible: a long, uninterrupted speech, followed by questions from the President and then from the audience. Here’s a video explaining precisely why that’s a terrible idea.

I know this is a bad idea. The platform given to a guest grants them a power that can never be equalled by any of the people interrogating them. Moreover, letting them speak for twenty minutes before being asked sanitised questions by the Oxford Union President is no way to challenge them.

You might say:

  1. “Steve Bannon is an interesting character and I want to listen to him speak.”

Fine. You can listen to him speak for as many hours as you like on the internet. That doesn’t warrant giving him a prestigious platform at the Oxford Union.

2. “We can only beat fascism if we engage with it!”

See video above. Fascism isn’t an ideology that can be broken down with logic. It appeals to the emotions of people who feel aggrieved, and it draws them in by that mechanism.

3. “Surely the Oxford Union are well-intentioned here - they just want members to be able to challenge him.”

I was President of the Cambridge Union a few years back. I think there is a fair amount of well-intentioned free speech absolutism among the kinds of people who do that job. Unfortunately, those people are mistaken about the capacity they have to do good, and they’re insulated from the consequences of their actions. They’re not going to be the ones victimised by the resurgence of fascism on every continent: they’re sitting having dinner in a listed building running a society that people pay £280 to become members of.

Then there are those who aren’t well-intentioned. You can do very well out of running a place like that. You can do even better if you have some publicity off the back of it, or a line in your CV about running high-security, controversial events. You can feel powerful. You can get some pretty great internships and grad schemes. Trust me when I say that not all Oxford Union committee members are nice people.

This is a terrible idea. The Oxford Union should disinvite Steve Bannon. I doubt they will. They haven’t learned a thing.

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