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The Oxford Union shouldn’t have invited Bannon, and the talk shouldn’t go ahead


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Steve Bannon’s talk was announced by the Oxford Union yesterday morning. By midday Unite Against Fascism, Stand Up To Racism and the Anti-Fascist Network had organised protests. By the evening I read in Cherwell that the OU was calling an emergency meeting with a view to rescinding the invitation and cancelling the event.

Steve Bannon // Credit: Micheal Vadon

Good riddance - he should never have been invited.

You can’t debate a white-nationalist, identitarian, conspiracy theorist. He’s not here to listen to logic, or to dispute it – he’s there to make the case for white nationalism. If the talk goes ahead it’ll be a rerun of what we saw on Channel 4 News in May, when Channel 4 allowed Bannon to weasel-word live in an 'interview' with Matt Frei for over 40 minutes.

The point is that most of our liberal paragons are horrendously ill-equipped to debate people who don’t respond to debate. On the one hand, liberals find it hard to debate “identitarians” (there are other words for those overly concerned with their racial identity, but I’ll indulge the Bannons for now) precisely because these identitarians are so apt at turning identity politics on their head. If a person’s stated identity is irrefutable, they say, then how can you attack me for just being a white nationalist? I am a white nationalist, what’s your problem with my identity? (C.f. the bizarre ‘It’s okay to be white’ campaign of 2017).

On the other hand, the intolerant are using tolerance against the tolerant. There is a double standard in debating the alt-right (these people attract monikers like flies, lest their fusty ideology be called by its true abhorrent name). They thrive on echo chambers devoid of balance like Fox News, the Daily Mail, and of course Bannon’s own fake-news-peddling Breitbart – did you hear about the actual German church that actually got burnt down by an actual horde of Muslims Christmas 2016? Yeah, you and the entire readership of Breitbart did. On the flipside, Bannonites demand that mainstream outlets remain “balanced”, i.e., they accommodate them. They want to be listened to. Of course, once they’re on a balanced programme they don’t want to listen.

Let me reiterate. Many of our liberal paragons don't realise how ill-equipped they are to debate the far-right and fascism – not just content, but strategy, intent. The latter are not here to debate; they are here to convert, to proselytise hatred and division. If Bannon is eventually no-platformed the argument will be made about civility, that we weren’t polite enough to listen to them. But the point is that in debate they don’t listen to us either.

I’m going to invoke Godwin’s law to bat away anyone proffering the barmy suggestion that fascists should be given widely-visible platforms because “sunlight is the best disinfectant”: there were 20th Century identitarian, white “economic nationalists” who got plenty of that metaphorical sunlight and were unscathed by it, leaving millions of people to suffer.

Presumably whoever in the OU is responsible for this travesty feels pretty edgy emulating the fatal “BBC-balance”, the kind that has a climate scientist telling us we’re boiling to death and a climate denier telling us we’re fine, and concludes that since on balance we’re merely simmering we don’t need to worry for the moment. It’s a pathetic pose, edgy because OU is one of the few organisations foolhardy enough to invite Bannon aboard.

Further and almost finally, obviously the Oxford Union lends Bannon prestige which he does not deserve. This gets to the point about free speech and free megaphones – Bannon may have the right to talk, to an unclearly-defined limit of obnoxiousness. But he does not, merely by the merit of distasteful opinions, have the right to such a prestigious platform as the Union lectern at one of the foremost universities in the world.

If you want to see how prestigious platforms become instant propaganda for the right, just search Youtube for Jordan Peterson’s gig at the OU and see near the top The Conservative Station’s video in which Peterson ‘DEBATES With Intelligent Student On HATE SPEECH’. Thrilling. An intelligent student? Where did they find one of those?

Just as a side note, the “keynote followed by questions” is hardly an effective format for keeping a weasel-worder accountable.

Unfortunately, if the talk goes ahead the protests outside just lends credibility in another way, as they illustrate a (spurious) narrative. If our thoughts weren't dangerous truths, why are they trying to stop us talking? Unlike AfD leader Alice Weidel, Bannon won't cancel to protests (not her given reason, but I’m making a deductive leap here). His point is that he's loud and proud with the truth, available to vanquish degenerate opinions wherever they arise, unafraid of the baying mob of whinging snowflakes.

It was entirely wrong-headed to invite him in the first place, so best that OU rescinds the invitation as soon as humanly possible. If not, then we will use the means we must resort to. The talk will be videoed anyway so I recommend you show your opposition from outside rather than inside the hall. Even if they use footage of the protests in their blogosphere to peddle the snowflake memes, we must at the very least display our disgust. No pasarán.

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