No more Platform for Nazis on the BBC

Owen Holland makes the ‘No platform’ case against the BNP and explains why he and others opposed the BBC’s decision to host Nick Griffin on Question Time.

It looks as if the BBC’s decision to allow the leader of the fascist BNP onto their flagship political program Question Time has backfired. The idea much touted in the weeks leading up to the show – and occasionally in the anti-fascist movement as well – is that if you give them enough rope, they’ll hang themselves. If one were to judge by the triumphalism of the news headlines which appeared the following morning – ‘Griffin is slain’ etc. – one might be forgiven for thinking that this strategy had actually worked. Meanwhile, back on the ranch, a YouGov poll found that 1 in 5 viewers had said they would be more likely to vote BNP after the would-be-Fuhrer’s appearance and the fascists reported a 3000-strong surge in membership. Some people in the Question Time audience even applauded Griffin’s tirade against Islam and immigration.

The nervously hubristic swagger of the other panellists and the equally complicit audience members was sickening to watch. They would have done well to remind themselves of Max Horkheimer’s oft-quoted remark that those who ‘do not wish to speak of capitalism, should remain silent about fascism’. Each of the elected representatives on the panel fell over themselves to appear ‘tougher’ on immigration than the others, whilst simultaneously ridiculing Griffin for being a loathsome racist. To risk a parody of Slavoj Žižek: what they failed to recognise was that their one-eyed interlocutor was no more than the obscene supplement to their own position; the main parties spout the rhetoric of racial tolerance and harmony whilst at the same time advocating tighter border controls, increasing state surveillance etc.

It is, quite simply, a fundamental mistake – liberal myopia, if you will – to assume that fascism can be allowed into the rational, agonistic sphere of public debate. The stock, liberal response to this usually concerns ‘Freedom of Speech’. ‘But this is a democracy!’ they exclaim, going red in the face. ‘So was Weimar Germany, you amnesiac fool’, we retort. So, a question: would any right-thinking liberal be willing to countenance someone rushing into a crowded theatre (interrupting the Chekhov!) and shouting ‘fire’ ? No. It would be dangerous. ‘Lock up the lunatic!’  This, in short, is why I and hundreds of others were outside the BBC building attempting to throw spanners into the works of the whole ill-conceived fandango. No broadcast = no publicity, no new members, no new BNP voters. It was the police – willing lapdogs of the state – who stopped us from doing so.

As Griffin himself has said: ‘When the crunch comes, power is the product of force and will, not of rational debate’. So why does he attempt to engage in it? Simple answer: publicity, membership, voters. In this sense, they are the jealous understudies of the materialist worldview. The ‘Crunch’ has indeed come and it is the fascists who, as their traditions teach them, seek to exploit people’s fear for their homes and jobs in order to provoke division and racial hatred; as Walter Benjamin so aptly commented: if this enemy should come to power, not even the dead will be safe.

As for those myopic apparatchiks in the BBC, slavering over the enormous ratings, and the narcissistic babblers in the political establishment who would give a fascist a rope in the hope that he will hang himself, these people should not be surprised or have the temerity to complain when they find the space around their own necks becoming constricted.

9 thoughts on “No more Platform for Nazis on the BBC

  1. Well said. The whole premise of this show was wrong. Would these programme planners have argued that it was right to sit down over tea with Hitler to discuss the rights and wrongs of his final solution? The hackneyed recourse to ‘freedom of speech’ as a justification for broadcasting the vilest views overlooks the fragility of this concept which depends like all freedoms on its responsible use. Civilised society depends on proper boundaries and our politicians must set the example. The sight of the political establishment taking turns to engage with this objectionable creep demeaned all of us and more than compensated the nazis for the imbecilic flatulence of Griffin’s performance.

  2. The best summary I have come across, apart from the speeches outside the Television Centre. There were calls for Thomson to resign, which should be reiterated at every available opportunity in my opinion.

    To my eternal shame I did actually watch the second half of this awful broadcast, and I felt that the most telling mistake on the part of the other warmongers on the panel was to emphasise that ‘most of the people who voted for the BNP are not racist’. This kind of optimism was not backed up by any citation of evidence and, right or wrong, the statement underlined the oppressive tropes of the elitist agendas on display. A dance with the devil.

  3. The BBC was willing to broadcast this racist thug in a suit on primetime television, yet they refused to air the appeal for humanitarian aid to Gaza because it was too ‘biased’. What are their priorities here? The five minutes of the ‘debate’ which I watched on youtube could have been taken from a satirical sketch show: liberal asks fascist: ‘was that you photographed with a leading member of the Ku Klux Klan?’ Fascist replies: ‘yes, but he is now non-violent’. Boo, hiss. The English Defence League, the BNP’s violent wing, have been spewing their racist hatred on the streets of Leeds and attacking mosques. As the statistics show, Nick Griffin was given a prize opportunity for publicity on Question Time. This must stop.

    Owen’s article is a succinct and powerfully argued wake-up call to the many who argued that ‘whilst I abhorr all the BNP stand for, I will defend their freedom to speak’. Let’s hope we can all realise this argument can only play into the hands of fascists.

  4. Garbage.

    Ok, some of the points are valid, but I find para 3’s attempts to justify curtailing free speech desperately weak, not to mention potentially as dangerous as the scares you’re mongering.

    Also, phrases like “the police – willing lapdogs of the state” and “those myopic apparatchiks in the BBC” border on self parody. Remind me of Comrade Greetings Card from Futurama.

  5. Mope’s intervention is a welcome one. Owing to time constraints I will limit myself to this one, fairly lengthy response. S/he is right to question my readiness to withdraw the right to Freedom of Speech – sacred as it is to liberals of all stripes and sizes. When it comes to fascism, I maintain that it is both necessary and legitimate.

    It is but a short distance from the Mope to the Myope: noun. a short-sighted person. [F f. LL myops f. Gk muōps f. muō shut + ōps eye]. With this in mind, there are a number of recent events since Griffin’s election to the European Parliament to which Mope’s eyes have evidently been averted. Most importantly, there is the reported rise in homophobic attacks here, which is leading to the biggest LGBT mobilisations in years outside of the community’s annual pride events. If you believe this recent EU report on the non-reporting of racist attacks, then there is quite possibly a similarly unacceptable situation with regard to racism that is going unreported out of fear and resignation. Mope is faced with a choice here: is it me doing the scare-mongering, or is it the constant torrent of low-level racism churned out by the tabloid media and capitalised on by the BNP that is creating a climate of fear in the country?

    Far be it from me to suggest any libellously causal link between Nick Griffin appearing on television and a consequent increase in racist and homophobic violence. The situation is more complexly mediated than that. It is to do with confidence: racists and homophobes need to feel reassured and confident in their views before they go out into the world and violently act on them. One death, however, is always one too many. So it goes.

    One need only compare the situation in Hungary , where the far-right Jobbik party are in a much more entrenched position – complete with political uniform and side arms – to get a sense of how things could develop here, if they are allowed to. In Hungary, gay pride parades have been attacked in the past by organised, jack-booted fascist militias. To accuse me of scaremongering here is really to say no more than that such a situation could never, never develop in cosy little Britain, simply *because* it is cosy little Britain and such things are frightfully unthinkable here. This pathetic excuse for an argument is the worst kind of complacency. Of course, the Hungarian chatterers and babblers in the bourgeoisie are always suitably shocked and scandalised by Jobbik’s exploits. They just don’t know what to do about them.

    There will always be those who wade in on the side of the status quo, simply because the status quo is all they have ever known. The myope, in asserting that curtailing Freedom of Speech for fascists is the royal road to totalitarianism – turning me, by imputation, into a frothing little Hitler – makes a number of mistakes. For a start, the myope presumes that the difference between Nick Griffin and, say, Gordon Brown is simply one of degree, rather than kind. ‘They are both politicians of the right; one is simply further along the spectrum than the other’, so this line of thinking goes. This is nonsense. Fascism is a qualitatively different form of political organisation. Those who retain any illusions in this regard need to disabuse themselves very quickly.

    Once this recognition has been made, it is relatively easy to see that curtailing Freedom of Speech for fascists does not automatically imply some world-shattering precedent whereby every interest group from the RSPCA to the Bolsover Bonfire Society will be slung unceremoniously into the gulag. I have two questions to put to Mope: was Churchill wrong to lock up Mosley and the BUF under Defence Regulation 18B? What are you thoughts on Cable Street? I suspect that some of those with mopeish tendencies quite like Churchill, so there will need to be some gymnastics to get out of that one.

    One might also note how Mope’s response bears some similarity with Griffin’s own responses to UAF. I have seen him, a number of times in television interviews, when pressed about his response to those who claim he is fascist, fumble an answer by simply throwing back the allegation like a toy out a pram. ‘No I’m not! You are!’ One sees this on a lot of myopic comment threads as well: ‘UAF are the fascists, for uniting against fascism.’ I would often like to hear these people’s thoughts on Cable Street as well, unless of course they are just fascist trolls. Mopes do have a choice though. They can always ask themselves the question: ‘Which side are you on?’

    It is, I repeat, a specifically liberal myopia which refuses to recognise the antagonisms that exist in society. And it is this attitude of contemplative, complacent distance which leads the mopes of this world to skulk listlessly through the back-alleys of praxis, content to pass remarks about the People’s Front of Judea, or Comrade Greetings Card. On the question of self-parody: I thank you for the compliment. Mope – again myopically – fails to make an important distinction about whether s/he deemed this to be unwitting or not.

    To end – and it really is the end, I promise – I would like to offer a re-definition of Garbage by way of a sideways glance at the real antagonisms in society. Garbage: noun. that which piles up on the streets (of Leeds and Brighton) when the refuse collectors and street cleaners come out on strike.

  6. Owen, thanks for taking the time to respond.
    Yes, fascism is apart from ‘normal’ politics, but does that really warrant censorship? Is it so dangerous a philosophy that it needs to be suppressed ‘for the good of society’? I ask myself is there any idea which would fall into that category? I can’t think of one. The BNP is technically, if only technically, a legitimate political party, allowed to stand for election, people are free to vote for them. Much as we all hate this, as Plato said, that’s democracy, bitches. There will always be stupid, fearful, people to exploit. On the other hand someone like Moseley whipping up a crowd to a violent frenzy, inciting violence… likewise extremist Islamic preachers, there’s a law against that type of thing now isn’t there? I suppose that’s the pragmatic side to my free-speech rose-tint. Given the rise in assaults you mention, does Griffin have a case to answer? Then what about the hate-mongering press? What about the perpetrator, the individual, seduced, driven on by the claptrap? Are ideas themselves dangerous? Yes, they can be. How do you stop this, by trying to stop the idea from being heard? I honestly don’t think so. But as you say, if this leads directly to violence, deaths, this position is hard, to justify. Isn’t there some better way to make people see the fundamental wrongness of these views? The fascists must be fought, but you advocate the wrong tactics. If there’s one thing a rightwinger loves to hate it’s the ‘liberal elites’ telling him what to think. Who are you to decide what is acceptable? he’ll say. The BNP provide easy excuses and scapegoats for my feelings of powerlessness and fear of change.
    It’s a lame argument on Griffin’s part to accuse UAF of fascism, but I expect if fascists were to gain any power then free speech would be the first thing to suffer. Therefore to deny them the thing that they would deny you seems, well, homeopathic? Deny the fascists free speech. Bit like not tolerating intolerance, or delcaring war on terror.

  7. I do see what you are saying mope, but i am do not agree with your conclusions. lets tackle you last point first. “Deny fascists free speech. Bit like not tolerating intolerance, or declaring war on terror” First of all we all know what was meant by the war in terror and the reality of it was two separate things. War on terror, a populist slogan, to carry out an imperialist war at the heart of which was economic interests. And as for not tolerating intolerance, when exactly has that been achieved? And even if it has is it commendable? You also ask whether it is the press who is to be blamed for hatecrimes or individuals who perpetrate it. Abu Hamza, the muslim cleric is suffering prison sentence, because of inciting religious fundamentalism. he was doing it in a mosque of east london. Nick griffin on the other hand gets a prime time locations. Would you not call this double standards? One hate criminal locked up, the other brought to you by the BBC! Some might even call it islamophobia. as for individuals to act on the anger and commit the crimes. the trafalgar square instance, it was young boys, encouraged and excitable. yes i can condone their homophobic impulse, but when the national media, can have a discussion about it, i can’t only blame the 15, 16 year olds. when older, wiser, richer people cannot understand the limits its futile to hold teenagers and young ones responsible. in my view thats scapegoating.
    you say fascismis apart from normal politics. i am not entirely sure what you mean by that. if you are proposing that, fascism is on a separate spectrum from normal parliamentary politics, yes that is historically accurate. however, times are changing and we have seen in france,italy and portugal how ultra fascist organisations have worked within the system being respectable. the greatest anti semite who ever lived was robert brasillach. he considered himself a moderate antisemite, the necessary alternative to ultra anti-semitism:
    “We grant ourselves the permission to applaud charlie chaplin,a half jew;to admire Proust, a half jew; to applaud yehudi menuhin, a jew; and the voice of hitler carried over the radio waves named after the jew hertz…we don’t want to kill anyone, we don’t want to organize any pogrom. but we also think that the best way to hinder the always unpredictable instinctual anti semitism is to organize a reasonable anti semitism.”
    Is it a shock or a fascination how our epoch has such an affinity with the above lines. we like bollywood films, chinese food and cheap labour. we don’t want to kill anyone. but in order to hinder the violent racism of the BNP we need to propose reasonable racist measures. after question time, even the ‘normal’ politicians have jumped on the abnormal positions of the BNP. they don’t want to organize any pogroms, but systematically deal with the “immigration threat”.

  8. The reference to Plato is a little unfortunate for the case Mope is looking to build. In Book 3 of The Republic, in which Plato outlines his vision of an ideal society – for Plato that’s an oligarchy, not democracy – he commits himself precisely to the position that certain exclusions are necessary in order for a healthy society to function. Unfortunately, this leads Plato to ban poets from the Republic; it is perhaps because I am a socialist, not a Platonist, that I assert it is fascists who must occupy this position of necessary exclusion.

    Tolerating intolerance? I have friends who are lactose intolerant. I am quite tolerant of this. I would even extend my hospitality to those who are intolerant of Marmite, or The Merry Wives of Windsor. Up to this point, however, the question of tolerating intolerance remains largely abstract and hypothetical. We are more concerned with concrete realities. The sort of intolerance which is bred in the festering ambience of the BNP is the sort of intolerance which leads to the Brixton and Soho nail bombings and other attempted terroristic acts of right-wing extremism. This is not a form of intolerance which is in any way tolerable.

    Does Griffin have a case to answer? The Leeds Crown Court does not think so. But this goes back to the point I made above about mediation. Griffin knows he is legally disbarred from directly inciting racial hatred, so instead of talking about racial purity, he talks about identity: it is quite a cynical PR exercise; he has said so himself. PR for racism. Nonetheless, the real ‘message’ – of racial hatred, homophobia and bigotry – is there to be written onto Griffin’s text by those ready to receive it. By providing a public platform to Griffin, these ideas are able to spread. Griffin is not stupid enough to think he can get away with whipping up a crowd into a frenzy, as Mope puts it, but he knows that a more brooding undercurrent of bigotry and hatred will be an inevitable consequence of the BNP being allowed to organise and grow in number.

    Where Mope finds it impossible to imagine any idea which is too dangerous to be allowed the oxygen of being heard: I would quite simply say, that idea is fascism. It should, I hope, be clear what I think of liberalism from some of my previous remarks. In other words, where Mope seeks to ventriloquize the fascist response to my argument, s/he suggests I am putting the case of a ‘liberal elite’. Not so. It is, precisely, liberals who are left without any sufficient or viable answers in the face of a resurgent fascism: they look down from on high and find themselves unable to identify that the source of fascist mobilisation lies in real social antagonisms. I refer back to the initial quote from Max Horkheimer here. In the previous comment, Mope experiences the limits and self-contradictions of bourgeois, liberal pluralism. ‘Surely the only way to deal with the fascists is to listen to them, have them air their views’, whilst doing nothing to address the underlying antagonisms; all this does is allow the fascists to grow in size and strength. Liberals are structurally incapable of seeing the chaos that awaits them if they follow such a strategy.

    “The BNP is technically, if only technically, a legitimate political party, allowed to stand for election, people are free to vote for them. Much as we all hate this, as Plato said, that’s democracy, bitches.” So says Mope. The problem is, however, that we do not all hate this. If this were the case, as Mope complacently asserts, the BNP would not have achieved one million votes in the European elections. And the danger is that, as time goes on, fewer and fewer people may accept the proposition that we automatically “all hate this”. One million votes do not make race-hate legitimate, in much the same way that fascist deputies in the Reichstag did not make pogroms legitimate.

    This, again, is a problem with the liberal conception of representative ‘democracy’: because the choices it extends at the ballot box are only ever ‘formal’ choices, as opposed to substantive ones, the antagonisms which the system is structured to suppress return outside of the system in the form of racist violence, which consequently appears as fundamentally irrational, inexplicable. Liberals have no coherent materialist answer for racist violence; it is just unspeakable, ‘inhuman’, beyond the pale. The BNP must pose as legitimate, in order to be allowed to play the representative-democratic game – and they are very bad actors, so the fact that some liberals are taken in speaks volumes – but, as ever, their intention is to change the very rules and nature of the game itself. They play with live ammunition.

    Socialists respond to fascist mobilisation with quite different answers. Whereas Mope is of the opinion that there will always be stupid, fearful people to exploit – perhaps s/he deems stupidity and fearfulness to be intrinsic human qualities? – I lean strongly in the direction of hope because I continue to imagine a context in which we will have abolished exploitation.

    Tactics? UAF, in attempting to build a united front against fascism, apparently advocate the wrong ones according to Mope, but s/he does not venture alternatives. We do, however, seem to agree that making war on an abstract noun is patently ridiculous. I fail to see how this has anything to do with fighting the BNP, apart from the fact that the so-called ‘war on terror’ is most likely a main cause of their growing support.

    I could perhaps have cut this reply short but simply answering ‘yes’ to the majority of Mope’s rhetorical questions.

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