On Thursday, Nick Griffin, MEP and leader of the racist British National Party, will take a seat on the much-hallowed panel of BBC Question Time…and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it.
The BBC’s argument for including the party on the show is that, having recently won two seats on the European Parliament, the BNP are now a legitimate UK political party, with undeniable voter support, whom they cannot simply ignore. Just as they occasionally allow members of UKIP and the Green Party to sit on the Question Time panel, it is only fair, they say, to offer the same courtesy to the recently elected BNP, no matter how reprehensible their views might be to the majority of the British public.
But are the BNP really the same sort of entity as UKIP or the Greens? Should an illegally constituted and inherently racist, white supremacist political party really be sharing a podium on national television with members of the Labour Party, Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats?
On the one hand, my dual beliefs in both freedom of speech and in the inherent paucity of substance that lie at the centre of idiotic far-right views lead me immediately to an I don’t agree with what you say, but I’ll fight to the death your right to say it kind of position: the only way to deal with deplorable and fascistic points of view is to expose them to the glare of public scrutiny and watch them shrivel and die.
Once Griffin and his followers receive a loudspeaker from which to publically hurl their hate, reasonable people, it is hoped, will then hear their assorted nonsenses and see them for the empty-headed fallacies that they are.
It is only by repressing and hiding vile and unsustainable philosophies such as these that we give them their power. They become the “truths the powers-that-be don’t want you to know” instead of what they really are: hollow ciphers of ignorance and intolerance that manipulate political confusion and prey on the intellectually vulnerable.
By taking away the cloak of mystique and and disallowing fascists to hide in the shadows of their marginalization, we educate the public and expose racist scoundrels for what they are. We see that these unjustifiable intolerances have no viable foundations on which they can be defended logically, rationally or morally, and that, under the most basic line of questioning, their positions indubitably fall apart.
The issue vis-a-vis Question Time, however, isn’t so cut and dried.
Although I agree that the best way of destroying the BNP is by exposing their heinous views to public scrutiny and convincingly discrediting them through argument and debate, it does not necessarily follow that Question Time is the correct platform on which to do that.
Whilst, say, a documentary-style feature that demolished BNP positions one by one – allowing people like Griffin to defend their poisonous views as much as possible, only for them to inevitably fall victim to the vastly superior arguments and indisputable facts put forth by their opponents – (or even a one-off live debate special between BNP leadership and a collection of anti-fascist campaigners, human rights advocates, and members of the general public) would be a possible way for the BBC to acknowledge the depressing fact that two of these racists now have seats on the European Parliament, Question Time is a different beast altogether. Question Time is not meant to be about putting each individual panellist on trial, but rather about answering the political questions of the day with a distinguished panel of politicians and cultural figures; the underlying assumption being that everyone on the panel is similarly qualified to answer the questions being put to them.
By appearing on the Question Time panel, your political voice becomes inherently legitimized.
Question Time is not a show designed to dissect BNP policies and Nick Griffin’s personal racism, but a show where the panellists are supposed to give their opinion on all the issues of the day – tax, immigration, law and order, foreign policy, the NHS, postal strikes…whatever. When we sit there and ask someone like Nick Griffin what he thinks about the ongoing dispute between the CWU and Royal Mail, or what the BNP’s position might be on the upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen, we are not exposing the British National Party to the glare of public scrutiny – we are accepting them into British political establishment as equals, whose views are as legitimate as those of the current Cabinet, or the major opposition parties, and something about that gives me a slightly sick feeling in my belly.
It is one thing to recognize that, unfortunately, a small minority of the British public voted for the racist British National Party in the European Elections this year, and to want to create a dialogue about that fact instead of sweeping it under the rug…but it is quite another to pretend that this is a political party like any other.
The BNP are, without a shadow of a doubt, a white supremacist party, who have only now, under the threat of legal action, started looking into changing their constitution of their party to allow non-white members. Not because they want non-white membership (or because they actually think there are any non-white people who would want to join once the constitution is changed), but because they must either do that or face drastic criminal charges that will end their political life.
Let’s just say that again for those who are hard of hearing: in 2009, the same year that the United States voted in the first African American President in history, the BNP quite literally do not allow people who aren’t white to be a member of their party.
Whilst I still do think that exposing people like Nick Griffin and the racist British National Party to public scrutiny is the best course of action, and that no view, no matter how reprehensible, should ever be censored…I remain unconvinced that denying a guest-spot on Question Time to the BNP is censorship. There are many other television-based platforms and many other ways in which this discussion about the BNP could have been constructively held, but the one which gives these unashamed racists the appearance of political legitimacy leaves a very sour taste in my mouth indeed.
Still, I think it’s wise here to remember the words of John Stuart Mill:
“the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
Though Question Time might well be the “wrong” platform on which the BNP should be trounced, it is still as good a place as any for Nick Griffin to have his litany of errors collide with the shining light of truth. The BBC could have handled this better, sure, but either way the conclusion is the same: we can only defeat ignorance by exposure and education, and it is my hope that on Thursday night, the BNP will be exposed.