In the last edition of the Cherwell, we were asked by a protestor why the members of the Oxford Union clapped Le Pen at her talk; not only is this question readily answerable without slanderously assuming that everyone doing so was a fascist sympathiser, it also appears to be the least important question of all in that night’s atmosphere of OUSU-endorsed intimidation and violence.
So, why did people clap at Le Pen? There are several plausible answers; firstly, some of us (myself included) were in fact clapping at the remarks of the speaker in the preceding impromptu debate on whether we should have sympathy for the protestors, the speaker in question condemning their absolutism and arrogance. Indeed, Le Pen’s arrival was so low-key that I and others, including the speaker, were totally unprepared for it until she was standing in front of us.
Quite apart from that, I would have clapped anyway, firstly out of relief that, despite the violent activities of the no-platformers, the event had managed to go ahead, and secondly out of simple decorum; had anyone in the chamber wanted to be rude and abusive regarding the event, they could have joined the mob outside, instead of having to face unjustified accusations of Nazism followed by threats to their physical safety from people breaching the security of the Union. I’m sure that the reasons presented provide answers closer to the truth as to why many clapped than the disgusting suggestion that they were fascist sympathisers.
Finally on this point, it is incredibly disingenuous for the writer to suggest that we supported Le Pen even by clapping. Firstly, the audience made it clear by their questioning – which was robust and piercing, especially from the President herself – that they did not. In fact, when a questioner reminded Ms. Le Pen that attendance did not equal support, the audience burst into applause. Of course, the writer could not have known this, being outside the chamber. Secondly, this surely shows that even those inside the Chamber cannot be justified in assuming that the clapping was a warm welcome, since that would require imputing into the minds of audience members what is frankly the least likely mindset.
With that question answered, perhaps we can turn to more pertinent ones. For a start, how does agreeing with Le Pen on one issue make you a fascist sympathiser, as the writer seems to imply? By that logic, any left-wing student who agrees with her that some industries must be kept out of the private sector, and that we should not be slaves to the market, is also a fascist. This is clearly nonsense.
More to the point, why on Earth did OUSU think it could represent the interests of students by taking a side on such a divisive issue, especially when so many students wanted to hear Le Pen speak (and not because they were fascist sympathisers), and by encouraging people to come to a violent protest which directly threatened other students’ safety? Why did Oxford students deride their fellow students as “Nazi scum” for wanting to listen? Why were OUSU sabs more interested in condemning Le Pen than the extremism in their midst which was threatening fellow students? And, once again, how is it anything but hypocritical to protest the ‘extremism’ of a figure we know little about, while flying flags of an ideology, Communism, under which many million people have been killed and countless more oppressed?
These are the questions to which we still have no answer, and I suspect they are a tad more important than slandering students for being polite. So, having answered the question of why I (and others) would have clapped for Le Pen, perhaps we can get some answers from the other side.
This article was written in response to James Elliott’s article ‘Did you clap Le Pen’s speech?’ which can be found here.